Reflection on our Digital Declutter

This September, Heidi and I read Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.

Newport first shows how our digital environment has stolen our attention and diverted it too often meaningless and wasteful activities.

Often, social media is described as the worse offender. But, I’m sure we can add several other activities, like television, gaming, or endlessly searching shopping apps.

Clicking a “👍” on an app has replaced the meaningful conversations that once maintained relationships with family, neighbors, and colleagues.

Newport instead invites you to evaluate how you currently use digital technology. Not so that we can remove all technology from our lives and live like the Amish, though I find it very interesting what Newport uncovers about their practices. Instead, he asks you to evaluate how you use the technology, and how does that use better your life?

For example, watching a YouTube video on how to repair a dripping faucet improves my life by giving me the ability to remove the annoying sound keeping me up at night. However, watching Chris Ramsay solve his latest puzzle does very little but provides me something to pay attention to while the drip in the background continues.

Newport makes the case that we’ve lost valuable time that could be spent on creating value and that we need to make an effort to reclaim our leisure time.

To kick-off this reclamation, he has you start off with a digital declutter. You remove as much technology as you can for thirty days.

During the digital declutter you evaluate what technology you no longer need and what you might still use, but change how you use them.

This declutter is what Heidi and I are just now completing, and I thought I’d share a bit of our experience and where we’re going from here.

I still have to rely quite heavily on technology for my work. So I couldn’t stash my phone away, disregard the email, and refuse all the virtual meetings that get thrown on my calendar.

However, we worked on removing as much of what we could in the areas that we have control over.

Our first “rule” was that the television only came on when we watched church service each Sunday evening. We would watch videos from Chris Ramsay, Big Living in a Tiny Home, Penn and Teller, and so on. All of these were removed, and I am no longer subscribed to their channels.

Social media was removed. Apps were deleted from our phones, and I set the firewall to block traffic from them as well. This includes any traffic to/from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and more.

I blocked “fake news” sites, and we turned off several of the “news” feeds you find on your phone and elsewhere.

I subscribed to the News-Tribune’s Sunday paper, and that’s pretty much where I get most of my news. News today is jaded, biased, and merely serves an agenda. This is true whether you get it on CNN or Fox. I’m sure the News-Tribune has its faults, but I’m able to keep a pulse on what’s going on beyond the walls of our home. Plus, Adeline loves the comics page.

The computers were only used when needed, outside of work. Also, we try to use computers instead of our phones for as much as we could. Having to do more “work” to Google what we thought was important helps one rethink how important that search really was in the moment.

I had to upgrade my machine because of a few technical issues, and I went with a desktop to make it less convenient. Now I cannot just plop down in my reading chair, on the couch, or in bed, and start wasting my time looking up how to set up a secure IP camera system.

When we left home, the phones stayed home unless it was necessary to take them. If we were running to the store, going for a walk, we left without our phones. This meant we couldn’t take photos to capture the moments while we were on our walk, but we had more opportunities to create moments to remember.

The first couple of weeks provided some difficulties. You notice the free time you have and the desire to fill it with something.

I did more reading, we broke out the board games more often (we even picked up my childhood favorite, Rummikub), and we finally renovated the dining room.

I also ended up putting together a new desk to remove me from the kitchen table, a new bed, and cleaned out a lot of junk.

The past two weeks of our declutter probably didn’t go as well as planned, as work completely eliminated my leisure time. However, I’ll gain more of this back now that the election is over.

I found it interesting how hand-in-hand digital minimalism and privacy are. I’m a bit of a privacy nut and, if you want to keep your privacy, you won’t use Facebook. It turns out, digital minimalism also means you’re cutting Facebook out. The less tech one uses, the more private they remain.

Now that the declutter is over, Heidi and I will continue the practice of digital minimalism. It doesn’t mean we won’t ever use tech, but we’ll control how we use it.

For example, we watched the first episode of season 2 of the Mandalorian last Friday for our “date night.”

But, we’ll refuse to open up YouTube any time we’re bored and watch whatever it feeds us for the next couple of hours.

I thought I’d breakdown how we plan to use our technology moving forward.

Television

We do have a few favorite shows, including The Mandalorian, The Profit, and the Shark Tank. Looking forward, we’ll keep our entertainment viewing to the few items we really enjoy. And that entertainment will be very contained into a small portion of a single evening during the weekend.

In all likelihood, the more we stay disconnected, the less we’ll probably end up watching, as we won’t artificially be led to potential new shows like we were before.

Gaming

This ends in a very similar fashion as television. Before, it was easy to unwind an hour before bed by turning on the Playstation. Instead, it too will be confined to specific points during the weekend. To make it more difficult, the Playstion will be removed entirely. I’ll keep my favorites on my computer, but I’ll no longer be able to lounge on the couch doing so.

Social Media

The blocks in the firewall will remain. There’s little reason to be on Facebook and Twitter. Instead, it’s better to call and speak to someone if we have something to share. It is even better to do so in person.

I’ve used Buffer for social media sharing. I’ll still share items on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, but I won’t see any responses. The potential addiction to receiving notifications to likes and comments won’t exist because I’ll have a barrier made. I can share but not respond.

This also means social media stays off our phones.

We may open up the firewall once or twice a month, just to see if there’s anything we need to catch up on, but I’m not sure this is likely. We discussed having social media “use days” at the beginning of our declutter, but those discussions dwindled as the month progressed.

Reclaiming Leisure

I think this is the most important of Newport’s points. Identifying that extra time and doing something productive with it.

First and foremost, my goal is to protect and maximize my “downtime” as much as possible. Part of this means to block it out on my calendar, removing distractions (also called notifications), and making an effort to use that time to create value.

That looks different for everyone, including me.

That time may take the following forms:

  • Spending higher quality and attentive time with Heidi and the girls
  • Reading more and spending time on personal development
  • Taking care of the home and getting it into shape
  • Further developing my hobbies and side projects

We’ll still need to work through some items. For instance, I’m sure the family enjoys it when we share photos of the kiddos on Facebook. But if sharing with our closest family is the goal, then do I need to be on Facebook reading a news feed of folks I only speak to once or twice a year. Probably not.

I keep a home server and may use a localized app to do some of that same sharing, rather than using a social media platform.

Again, to Newport’s primary thought, it isn’t that we remove technology, but instead use it to serve our broader goals and to create value, rather than to distract and waste.

As I mentioned in my previous post on Digital Minimalism, I highly recommend everyone read it. At the very least, it provides information that you should be aware of.

I’m thankful Heidi I took the time to read it and that we’ll be putting into practice steps to minimize our use and dependency on technology.

I believe this will improve our lives and strengthen the relationships we have with others.

Banner photo by dole777 on Unsplash.

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