60/100 — Hello, I'm a digital minimalist now*

Friends, it’s been a month since I decided to give digital minimalism a go. For the past 30 days, I put my phone down at 9pm every night**, I watched no more than one Youtube video a day (often not even that), I severely limited my time on Facebook and Twitter, and I am proud to say that apart from one day where I really needed to find something, I have not used Pinterest or Instagram.

I’m a better person now, right? I’ve spent an entire month doing the ‘hard but fulfilling work of cultivating a meaningful life’, right?! All my shit is now sorted, right?!


Here’s what went well:

  • I have broken out of my Youtube addiction, and I’m so grateful for it. The hours I’ve gained that I used to spend watching dog videos or people giving productivity tips I already knew about: I have them back now. All the hours. (I will come back to those hours.)

  • I sleep better. My anxiety has gone down a little and I haven’t had a migraine in a month. My ‘twitching’ for apps or websites has gone down considerably, and I’m more focused in general.

  • I’ve developed a better understanding for what’s worth my time and attention. It’s a weak ‘muscle’ yet and will need training, but over the past month I have unfollowed one or two people who make good content but whose (online) personalities just don’t vibe with mine – and it turned out that’s okay. So far, I haven’t felt like I’m missing anything.

So here’s what went less well:

  • Youtube is a horrible rabbit hole and its siren call is a strong one. There was one day on which I broke the one-video rule to watch a Let’s Play. Three hours later I re-emerged, half my afternoon gone.

  • The hours I saved with Youtube, I spent on streaming services. I’ve watched a stupid amount TV shows in May, and while they were all great and I don’t regret any of them (especially since I was able to give them my undivided attention), some nights I found myself going to bed with an itch to write or draw something. Yet I’d spent the evening watching Game of Thrones, and if you’ve seen season 8, you can imagine which feels like a more meaningful use of one’s time.

  • I’m on public transport a lot. Sometimes it’s only 10-15 minutes, or it’s crowded and a book just isn’t practical. And sometimes, during those minutes, my brain just yearns for something useful to do. Not that going on Twitter is useful, but it was all I had on my severely dumbed-down phone. (Browser-based, of course. The app has been gone for months. It makes exactly no difference.) Those felt like empty minutes, and I filled them with empty things.

  • I’m still barely any closer to what feels to me like a ‘meaningful life’. Part of that is down to the hours and hours I spent on flat hunting this past month. I’m forever on the go and on bumpy buses and running around Berlin. Maybe that’s setting up that meaningful life, sure. But I’m still not writing as much as I want to. I’m still not doing any of the online courses on my Skillshare list, and I’m barely drawing or making anything else.

What I found missing was that feeling of access to a creative community that I get from Instagram and Pinterest. Nearly all my exposure to art at the moment is work-related, and it’s not the kind of art I feel comfortable with. My offline life in its current state lacks other creators in it, so cutting myself off from that online community for a month pretty quickly felt like a stupid idea.

But I also noticed another thing: even when I do have that access, I don’t really feel a sense of belonging. Those creative online communities, I’m not necessarily a member of them. I feel like an outsider, watching. With this constant exposure to ‘inspiration’, how easy is it to just keep watching and never do anything? Living the life I want to lead vicariously through strangers’ Instagram accounts and vlogs? Not having that exposure (and distraction) made me realise how much work I still have to do, actually do, in order to build something for myself.

So what’s next?

  • Two rules are staying: the ‘1 video per day’ rule and the ‘no screens between 9pm and 7am’ rule. They make me a healthier person and I recommend them to anybody.

  • Creative inspiration and community are important to me. I have two Instagram accounts that I will consolidate into one, because I don’t have the time or energy for two. I’ll also reduce my follow list to no more than 100 accounts, because nobody can keep up with this many things.

  • Build something for myself, and be intentional about it.
    In Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport suggests something he calls ‘Seasonal Leisure Plans’. It made me feel sick when I first heard it and it still does, but apparently I too need to fight my lizard brain with all I’ve got, even if it’s marrying the concept of ‘leisure’ with the concepts of productivity and scheduling. (I shudder just typing that out.)
    The idea is pretty simple: schedule your activities. Create a quarterly objective (or whatever works) that supports the habit you want to keep up, then come up with a strategy to make it happen, and add an incentive to make you keep at it. For example, say I want to write a short story by 31st August. I will have to keep up the habit of writing daily, figure out when and how to do that, and by 31st August I’m handing it in for a competition, and I will get the satisfaction of having achieved one of my 2019 goals and take myself out for dinner.
    (I’m still working on this concept. But something like that.)

All in all, I’ve still got a long way to go. But maybe this time I’m actually on the right path to something like intentional living and responsible use of technology. It’s a process, and if it hasn’t healed me, this past month has at least helped me get a better idea of the direction I need to go.

42/100 — Digital minimalism: a list of things I'm missing

I’m 13 days into my digital minimalism fast, and I’m beginning to notice what I miss and what I don’t. And … it’s actually a little surprising.

I thought I’d be yearning for Youtube and Twitter. Before going off them, I spent hours on them. Maybe not as much as other people (like those who are actually active on Twitter), but a good chunk of my 40-minute train ride to and from work would be spent on Twitter. Youtube could take up any amount of time.

The thing is, I knew while I was doing it that I was killing time with these things. I mean, let’s be honest: I like her a lot and I want her to have a job, but it’s not important to my life, or most other people’s, to know what Jenna Marbles’ dogs are doing. But that’s where I was at a few days before I went on this technology diet.

Then suddenly, Twitter and Youtube were almost off the menu, reduced to five minutes and one video per day, and I’ve found I don’t use those allowances on most days. Whenever I browse Twitter, 97% of it is noise I don’t care about. I’m still on Youtube daily, but mostly for browsing. Again, 97% of it is noise. I can scroll for minutes without finding anything I want to spend my daily allowance on. So I don’t.

Now, I’m aware I’m in a good place mentally. There will be days again when I will need the comforting Irish yellings of Jacksepticeye, just as I assume many people will get some genuine value from knowing what Jenna’s dogs have eaten today. I’m very familiar with what platforms like Youtube can give people. But right now, I’m doing fine. I look at these platforms and don’t see anything I need on there, at this point in time.

It’s not like I’m currently filled with a sense of purpose and productivity. I spent 10 hours of this past weekend binge-watching The Terror on Amazon, and I don’t regret a single second of it. But I chose this activity, not because I needed to kill some time, but because it was the best possible use I had for this time. (It is that good. It’s fucking amazing.) And there is the difference. I don’t need to binge watch anything else right now, because I’ve finished watching what I truly wanted to watch. (Now I’m reading the book.)

Anyway; here’s a list of things I actually miss:

  • Instagram

  • Pinterest

That’s it so far. And I’m not completely sure why I miss these two. I have the slight suspicion that I remember them as better than they are, but I miss them nonetheless. Maybe I’ll figure out the reason in the next week or two.

30/100 — Hello, I'm gonna go become a digital minimalist

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Happy May!

As I already mentioned, a few days ago I had my third migraine within less than two months. On Monday I read a particularly trying work email on the S-Bahn, and almost sank to my knees with exhaustion. It then took another hour of sitting at my desk before the tears had retreated far enough for me to pick up the phone again.

You could say I’m not doing so great right now.

A lot of this is stress from the new job with, all its challenges. A lot of it is being in a new city, getting used to the environment, worrying about where to find a place to live, what to do on the weekend, and that ever-present question of whether I will ever have friends again.

Rest and quiet contemplation haven’t really featured on my schedule in 2019 so far, and that’s taking its toll now. The area I feel the most anxiety in is my technology use. I’ve long been aware that being near my phone gives me jitters, that I can’t tell the Instagram posts from the ads anymore, and that I get dangerously close to screaming at every new popup that interrupts something I’m doing. Every once in a while I find a nugget of information that I actually want (such as what my friend is doing on holiday), but overall, being online exhausts me.

That is, being online in the way I currently am. I hate the constant reaching for my phone, I hate that there’s barely ever anything worth looking at, I hate wasting hours on Youtube, and most of all I hate that throughout all the noise, I can’t hear myself think.

A few days ago, I bought the audiobook for Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. His concept of a “digital minimalist” sounds like someone in control of their life – someone who has figured out their own values, and only uses the technologies that best support those values. To become this kind of person, he recommends a 30-day digital ‘detox’.

Unlike the 30-day approach I already tried last year, Cal Newport’s system is somewhat radical: for 30 days, get rid of all optional technologies (‘optional’ being those that will not negatively impact your health or relationships when they are removed for a month). Use that time to recalibrate and figure out what your values are in life; what you really want to focus on. After the 30 days, reevaluate the apps and technologies you were used to, and only reintroduce those who fully help you live a life according to those values.

Today is May 1st, 2019. I’m starting.

Last night, I looked at each of the 55 apps on my phone and cut them down.

Some apps I’ve deleted (for the next 30 days at least):

  • Instagram

  • Netflix

  • Youtube

  • Pinterest

  • Messenger

  • Skillshare

  • VSCO

  • the Bullet Journal companion app

Some apps I’m keeping (because they are either essential or already in line with the kind of person I want to be):

  • Google Maps

  • Nike Run Club

  • Calm

  • Afterlight

  • the app my bank forces me to use if I want to transfer money

And here are some general rules for the rest of my digital use:

  1. no screens between 9pm and 7am

  2. max. 2hrs online time per non-work day (I’m using the TimeYourWeb Chrome extension to keep an eye on this; the only site not being counted is this blog)

  3. no Netflix on the small screen; the living room TV only

  4. max. 1 Youtube video per day

  5. max. 5 minutes of Twitter and Facebook per day (I’m promoting an event for mid-May, so I have to)

I will be keeping a few apps whose use I believe I already use appropriately (like Whatsapp and Spotify), but for the most part, I will be touching my phone as little as possible. Some of these rules are ones I’ve used before and I know they work (especially the 9pm–7am rule); I will see if anything needs adjusting during the next month.

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Here’s a bit from a conversation between Ryder Carroll and Cal Newport:

CN: Part of the unease people increasingly feel toward their online lives comes from the reality that they’re using these tools to escape from the hard but fulfilling work of cultivating a meaningful life. It’s easier to scroll through Instagram than to call a friend or read a good book, but it’s not necessarily better.

This is pretty much the way I’ve been feeling for quite some time now. Scrolling through Twitter is a lot easier than ‘the hard but fulfilling work of cultivating a meaningful life’, but I’m missing exactly that: a meaningful life.

I’ll report back if I’m getting closer to one over the next month.