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.