Digital Minimalism in the Midst of a Pandemic

“Digital Minimalism: A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

Our family has been experimenting with a no-social-media-life. Aaron left social media a year ago and I’ve been taking more frequent and longer breaks from Facebook and Instagram in the past few months. Almost as long as we’ve been married, we’ve deactivated or signed off of Twitter and Snapchat, and haven’t downloaded TikTok or any of the other more recent apps.

Even in the midst of COVID-19, social distancing, and remote work, we’re not itching to see what everyone else is doing. It probably looks similar to what we’re doing: staying home. We catch the news from our state’s website our local NPR station, and one or two other online newspapers or non-profits. It certainly cuts down on the amount of irrelevant clutter or distractions.

(I’ll take this moment and say that while narrowing our intake of information, we have not simply cut out opposing views in favor of sources that are likely to “agree” with us. Selective media exposure, according to research, has consequences. In limiting our intake of digital media we have been conscious of this. Well-rounded media consumption can still happen in thoughtful, small portions.)

When I was initially debating a minimalist approach, I wasn’t sure if I would be successful. I gave myself a few questions to consider.

  • What causes me to pick up my phone and check these apps?
  • How are these posts edifying my life or the community I live in?
  • How does scrolling through my feed make me feel afterwards?

My answers to these questions will probably look different than yours. Maybe you enjoy a 24 hour break. Or maybe you’re looking for a long-term change. I know that my online presence can directly influence how I handle anxiety and how I interact with others in real life. But this isn’t a universal experience.

“We all need empty hours in our lives or we will have no time to create or dream.”

— Robert Coles

Observations I’ve made in my own life since signing off:

  • In the past two months neither of us have had access to the “normal” feed of photos, articles, and memes and have not felt FOMO (fear of missing out) or uninformed.
  • Social media is a place to share your life but you are not obligated to friend/follow the lives of anyone and everyone around you. I’ve “unfollowed” most of my “friends” on Facebook so my feed is now very brief. (Don’t worry, we’re still friends. I just don’t see everything you post.) If I were to sign on, I now only see the posts from a few family members and close friends.
  • Sourcing news from social media is not the only way to stay updated on important events and changes in your community. By taking news related media (and many of the well-intentioned opinions of Facebook) off of my feeds, I’d say I feel better informed by going straight to the sources. (Take this chance to strengthen your media literacy!)
  • “Liking” a post does not equal true connection. Call or text that person. Write a letter or email. Have a (virtual) coffee. It’s much more satisfying than the dopamine rush you get from your notifications.
  • My digital presence feels different based on if I’m using my phone or laptop. My laptop does not follow me into the bedroom, but my phone usually does since it’s my alarm clock. My laptop is more often used for writing and more professional endeavors, while my phone is seen as more casual.
  • Simply deleting the apps from my phone and signing off made me less likely to jump back in. Making it harder to access my feeds, makes it easier to find something else to do.

Things I’ve done instead of scroll: take longer walks, spend time cooking & baking new recipes, reading, several projects around our apartment, complete a sewing project or two, weekly counseling sessions, painting, sort and organize for our upcoming move, and of course, enjoy moments of boredom.

“All television is educational television.  The question is:  what is it teaching?”

— Nicholas Johnson

All that to say, I’m definitely not anti-social media or digital consumption. It’s a wonderful tool for connection and creativity, and sharing pieces of our lives. I look forward continue to use it thoughtfully, especially as it has become vital for so many during COVID19. I love having the instant access to inspiration, new and old friends, and sharing what interests me.

Have you considered jumping off social media or taking a different approach to your digital life?