I am at the end of my 30 days of minimal digital use. It was a surprisingly easy experiment, and there are few things that I “can’t wait” to get back to tomorrow.
I was not perfectly adherent to all the rules. Especially in the final two weeks, I gave myself some “small permissions” such as looking at my email and checking blogs a couple times of week, and looking at NYTimes a few times at work. Nonetheless, these 30 days were a dramatic change in my habits and behavior, and with just a few modifications, I think I can carry this forward, with these “small permissions”, as my digital minimalist life.
A few things I learned: I read a ton. And my commute doesn’t suck. I finished 7.5 books in 30 days. All those little bits of time I spend on my phone add up! I really enjoyed reclaiming my commute for reading. It felt centering, like an act of self care, whereas listening to music or podcasts made me feel scattered. It turns out that my train is quiet, and listening to music was adding noise rather than blocking it out. Also, I felt pretty superior sitting on the train with an actual book. One woman told me she loved seeing people with books. BEAM!
I need to cultivate other hobbies and social activities. I tried to foster regular piano practice, and I enjoyed rapid progress with a few songs. I would to do this more often and with more concentrated effort. We got out for several hikes and toured around LA, aided by out-of-town visitors. Exploring our city is something I really want to focus on more.
These are all very solitary (duotary (?) ) pursuits, and we both need more social connection. Although it’s uncomfortable for us, we need to find an activity or a group to socialize and to feel more connected here.
I did not miss news, reality TV, podcasts, Reddit, or Instagram. I will likely add my reality shows back to my routine in a more careful manner, like saving episodes for weekends. Regarding online news, the truth is that while I don’t like the concept of being uninformed… it actually hasn’t impacted me at all. When I have visited NYTimes.com, for example, it feels like an overwhelming click-bait splashpage, designed not to inform me but to grab and shred my attention into a thousand little pieces. This has me thinking about resubscribing to The New Yorker. I learned a lot from their stories about current events, longer-standing situations, and, in fact, creative non-fiction writing, an activity I would like to do more of myself. Reading it felt nourishing rather than depleting. Maybe I will give up my WaPo and NYT subscriptions and go all in on The New Yorker.
I did not miss Facebook. Not one day. This lesson has been the most unexpected of this experiment. Facebook is a convenient tool for keeping communication channels open with far-flung friends and family. But day-to-day Facebook use is neither nourishing nor useful. “Constructive” posts such as photographs, life updates, and interesting thoughts make up a small percentage of FB content. It’s link after link, meme after meme. Some funny, some aggravating, but who gives a crap about any of it? It’s vacuous. While I won’t delete my account, a weekly check-in, maybe upload a couple of photos, will suffice.
I don’t need any of these services on my phone. All hail the return of using a computer for computing, and leaving the phone for calls and texts. One thing I learned for certain is that I don’t need ANY of the apps I deleted except…
I missed music. I want to keep my commute for reading, but I did miss being able to pop on a song here or there, while walking or driving for example. I still want to listen to more music mindfully (listening to albums rather than shuffling songs, for example), but I think music, even on the go, on my phone, in short shuffled bursts, is a net good in my life, and I look forward to bringing it back tomorrow.
Overall: I heartily recommend everybody try a period of drastically reduced tech use. What felt dramatic 30 days ago — deleting all my phone apps — now feels fine, and I struggle to remember many of the apps I deleted. I’ve enjoyed the increased peace and quiet, the progress in my hobbies, and the pride in letting go of “crutches” I didn’t want to need.
One final credit to the man whose ideas and practices I find compelling and beneficial: Cal Newport and his new book, Digital Minimalism.