I’m sharing a room with at least a dozen other people, none of us talking to each other. We’re all staring at our screens instead. I’m constantly refreshing to see if I have any new messages, playing the social slot machine.
No, this is not me today, although it could be. This was me in college in the late 80s. I went to an engineering school where one of the students created a chat room. We also had email, and I was immediately hooked on both. Many of us would spend hours typing to each other even when we were in the same room. Years later, I spent way too many hours chatting on online forums and searching the web to explore the huge world of information now at my fingertips.
Which is to say I’ve struggled with being addicted to certain technologies even before Web 2.0 algorithms were designed to make them actually addictive. That rush of meeting people online or learning something new, that’s simply being human. Today’s tech companies hijack that rush to keep people on their platforms as long as possible (this is not news to anyone, I hope).
These days, I usually manage to not waste too much time online. Lately, I haven’t done as well and I feel the effects, none of them good. I also realized that even though I’ve tried to minimize my online time in the past and have implemented some strategies from both DEEP WORK and DIGITAL MINIMALISM by Cal Newport, I’ve never been systematic about it and haven’t explored the full potential of reclaiming my attention.
To fix that, I’m going to formally do his digital declutter challenge and see what happens. The challenge:
1. Take a break from optional technologies for 30 days and set ground rules on the technologies that remain.
2. Explore activities and behaviors I find satisfying and meaningful during those 30 days.
3. At the end of 30 days, reintroduce optional technologies starting from a blank slate, determining its value and specifically how I’ll use it to maximize that value.
Step 1- list my optional technologies:
- The big ones (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, etc.): The good news is I don’t have any social media accounts. The bad news is I still sometimes check the news and doomscroll on Twitter (easy to do these days) since you don’t need an account to do so. Ground rule: Avoid these platforms completely for the same reasons I avoid processed food and alcohol–they’re terrible for my well-being.
- Web browsing both on my phone and my computer: I removed the Safari icon from my phone, but I need to stop unlocking it. I also waste too much time browsing on the computer for no reason. Ground rule: online from 4-5pm only, and only for specific tasks listed ahead of time.
- Email: Not a problem since I don’t have it on my phone. Ground rule: check between 4-5pm.
- TV/video/streaming: Not applicable
- Podcasts: This is a tough one because I get a lot out of podcasts, but I often use them to procrastinate. Ground rule: Avoid them for the next 30 days and then re-evaluate.
- Spotify: Music brings me joy, so no limits on this.
- Texting: I only text with a few people, but even then I should keep mornings for myself. Ground rule: text only after noon.
- WordPress: Blogging is something I’d like to do more of, but not as a substitute for creative work. Ground rule: blog only after 4pm.
Step 2–explore meaningful activities. That’s easy because I know what I want to do more of (write, read, draw, knit, craft, exercise, explore, drum, etc.). It’s getting myself to do them that’s the challenge because wasting time online is easier.
Well, it looks like I have a game plan. Compared to most people, it’s downright ascetic, but I’m a minimalist at heart and it works for me.