Joshua Fields Millburn, cofounder of website The Minimalists says* he was a slave to his devices. He spent hours staring into a laptop at work and then went home to stare some more. Constantly checking his emails on his phone, and hopping from Facebook, to Twitter to Instagram. All the while bathing in the glow of a television screen. “The biggest distractions we face today are often the glowing screens in front of us.” He points out that even some new toasters have wifi.
So Millburn decide to eliminate the mental clutter that spending time staring at screen produces. He'd leave his phone in airplane mode, and only checking it a set times. Going totally off grid was never the goal; he says, it is “about being more deliberate with the tools that we have.”
From bloggers to academics, and entrepreneurs, (even myself) have claimed to being going on a "digital detox" and are trying to share the benefits and turn Digital Minimalism into the next big trend. Millburn’s website is devoted to minimalism in all areas of life but he says readers are especially interested in tips on managing their digital lives. The most popular podcast deals with the topic of reducing tech dependency. You can listen here.
65% of Americans agree that periodically “unplugging” or taking a “digital detox” is important for their mental health. But only 28% of them report actually doing so. People who constantly checked their phones reported the highest levels of stress. (According to the American Psychological Association)
In 2016, the average American spent 10 hours and 39 minutes a day consuming media on screens (Nielsen). An increase of one whole hour compared to the year before! That's a huge jump.
As with everything that's good, too much is bad. Technology can help us in many ways but being constantly connected can have a negative impact on both our physical and mental health. We’ve been reading articles about the need to "unplug" for years but it's reality it's hard to do when there is the expectation that we always online to answer emails and Facebook messages.
So in the same way people get satisfaction out of minimalist dressing and home decor. Can we do the same with our approach to technology? Can we consciously chose the few apps or social feeds that meet our needs and forget about the rest?
Fear of burning out
I have an Instagram and Facebook account but I think I could survive without watching 10 funny animal videos a day or reading the latest Games of Thrones meme. In fact it they weren't on my feed I would probably spend less time on these channels but more time engaging with the content that does interest me because I could see it more clearly if it's wasn't surrounded by, let's face it, often total rubbish.
One tap access from our phones to social media sites with algorithms that are engineered to be “addictive,” have created a new type of anxiety. FOMO, fear of missing out, defined as: Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.
What people aren't talking about is FOBO, fear of burning out! A lot of people feel very trapped and fed up with having to be on their phones and checking their emails or social media has become almost compulsory for some people.
If we are not intentional about how and when we use our devices, they can take control of our lives.
That said, "Digital minimalism" is catching on, people are starting to consider which digital tools and behaviors add real value to their life. Does Snapchat enhance your relationships with your loved ones? Will Candy Crush help you reduce your stress levels?
The New York Times published an article about the effects of removing digital clutter from your life, saying “It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life.”
Try "going '90s"
I've written before about going 24 hours without my iphone, then a whole weekend but you can start smaller. Here are some tips to help you catch the unplug bug!
- Leave your phone in another room when you take a shower or bath and properly relax. If you have once of those over bath iPad holders so you can watch Netflix, why not replace it with something else you enjoy. A book or nibbles.
- Have a phone-free dinner with a friend or loved one. Be totally present.
- Go for a walk, without talking a photograph or checking your whatsapp messages. Enjoy that tree in the moment and don't worry about your messages, they can wait until you get back.
You may find that the relaxation and stronger connections to your surroundings you feel during this tech free time gives you more than it takes away and you'll want more time without your phone.
*(I didn't actually interview Joshua Millburn, this is an excerpt from a longer interview he did with someone else. I could not find the original interview)