Digital Minimalism - How Can Less Be More?

Digital minimalism revised

Who are the pioneers of digital minimalism?

Why is it getting increasingly popular?

Which ideas are applicable?

Technology has entered our lives and homes and it is here to stay.

Although the above stated facts seem worrying, the use of tech is not only inevitable, but also extremely useful, one can hardly argue against that. In the contemporary economy, digital literacy has become imperative for the access to the labour market, and our everyday life unimaginable without our smartphones, computers, the Internet...

On the other hand, excessive use of modern technologies creates big issues from psychological and social perspectives. That is why the developed world has recently seen a massive rise in movements and initiatives aimed at helping people reduce their screen time and return to the fundamental human values.

One of such movements is digital minimalism.

What is digiital minimalism

Digital minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools (and behaviors surrounding these tools) add the most value to your life. 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.

Cal Newport

This movement includes an informal group of bloggers, podcasters and writers who advocate a simpler life where individuals can focus on fewer things which are the essence of meaning and value in human lives - to the detriment of myriads of other activities and items imposed upon us as objects of desires.

So, at issue here is not some reactive force that tries to deny the progress of science and technology. These are the guys deeply involved in the topic concerned and some of the most skillful users of the very technology they criticize, or, more precisely, our relationship with technology.

Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.

Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus 

It starts from the basic assumption "less is more", that it is actually better to focus on a few key values than to wander through the labyrinths of imaginary choices. The digital noise we are exposed to is extremely stressful, humans have neither cognitive nor biological capacities to handle all that.

Our brain is not a server, nor a hard disk, to store and process such huge amounts of data that we keep feeding ourselves with on a daily basis.

Besides, our attention span is quite limited and pretty vibrant and jumpy, led by basic instincts, caught in constant pursuit of new content.

It is exactly due to this inherently curios and inquiring mind that we have fell prey to cheap and shallow information that we immoderately consume in the fear of missing something important (better known as FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out).

Minimalists claim that missing out is not negative at all. Quite the opposite.

In order to commit to something and be good at it, we have to abandon something else. Every time we say yes to something, we should consider what we have just said no to.

Selective focus is something quite normal and desirable. As a counter-measure, the notion introduced is called JOMO (Joy of Missing Out). However, to willingly miss out on something requires extra efforts nowadays, as the challenges are many, lurking at every corner.

Distractors are all around us and they are very alluring. A lot of people fight for our attention, sparing no effort or money to entice us into clicking their particular link, information, photo, clip, ad...

Needless to mention the quantity of data we store, collect, turning ourselves into data hoarders.

Have you tried recently to find a photo from the last summer holiday, or an mp3 file on your computer or smartphone? You probably don't store them on physical devices, they are usually kept on Cloud servers.

Music and movies are more easy to watch/listen to over streaming services such as Youtube and Sound Cloud. And if a photo is not saved on social networks, it is considered almost lost.

The labour market and professional upgrade

The changes come down on us so fast, that we are constantly in the condition of anxiety and dread whether we will manage to keep abreast of everything. It applies to our jobs as well.

We are in constant perplexity as to whether we would be able in a couple of years time to meet market demands, to keep track with the industry development within our respective professions. There is a prevalent sense that we are never good enough, that we should constantly improve and upgrade our skills.

There is nothing wrong with that, but even if we wanted, we could not follow up everything, so that even from professional point of view, the useful life of an employee will be getting shorter.

We will have to adapt and be capable of constantly changing, boosting, upgrading, updating what we have.

I wouldn't be surprised if we were to have some slots built in our brains where we could insert memory cards which we would be able to daily update with new versions, just like Android phones. Or, perhaps, we would become a sort of cyborgs, if biotechnology keeps progressing at the present rate.

kiborg apgrejd

In that regard, digital minimalism offers an alternative. It is not against the use of digital technologies, but it does promote a more reasonable approach and moderate use of devices. A sort of a filter protecting us from the clutter we are overburdened with.

That is the only way we can reap maximum benefits from technology and keep things in control, and yet retain human qualities, emotions, social ties, the joy of living.

To make myself clear, if you are a technophobe or an analogue bore, we are not on the same page.

There probably used to be those who refrained from using the wheel when it was invented, and rolled the stones over logs and stumps instead. But these guys have not survived for long. So, stop acting like Sisyfus by rolling the boulder uphill.

Some things have truly changed our lives for the better and it cannot be denied. Try to imagine your life without the Internet, maps, navigation, e-payments, online booking of accommodation and airplane tickets, or without computers at your work place. The benefits and shortcomings of revolution 4.0 were addressed here.

If it doesn't suit you, there is always a choice. Off-the-grid communes always admit new members and it is a perfectly legitimate choice. A life in nature, free from all devices and distractors.

Just stop acting like a smart-ass, who lives in modern civilization, in a big city, in the midst of revolution 4.0 and refuses to use the computer. Then your place is not in the city.

The point is to separate the wheat from the chaff, to bring technology to its original purpose - a useful tool that enhances human life.

Who are the pioneers and early adopters of digital minimalism?

Cal Newport, computer science professor at the Georgetown University, is considered one of the founders of digital minimalism. He is the concept designer of digital minimalism and the author of the recently published book bearing the same title.

Cal Newport

Cal claims that we have become tethered to our tech shackles, not of our own guilt and will. We fight against the multi-million industry that spares no money trying to develop the devices and software as addictive as possible.

An unhealthy relation to technology and devices is fostered and people complain of losing control and autonomy.

State-of-the-art technology, unlike earlier inventions, has enabled the state of constant distraction.

That is why Cal suggests we pass a 30-day detox and declutter period. Detailed break-free techniques will be addressed in one of the following posts - link.

Professor Newport says that we have to learn again how to be alone with ourselves. That's when new ideas emerge, self-consciousness and closeness to other people, when the actual human encounters take place.

And that we should sincerely dedicate ourselves to the job/hobby/people/things we are really fond of and keep ourselves in a constant creative drive.

Create more, consume less!

Restrictions and digital fasting cannot yield results if the void in our leisure time is not filled and prepared in advance with meaningful contents and activities.

New technology, when used carefully and appropriately, can make a better and more fulfilled life, even more so than the extremes such as luddism or uncritical acceptance of all novelties.

Tristan Harris

Tristan Harris

Tristan spent three years working at Google as the ethical consultant for the design and user experience. He developed a framework under which technology should ethically divert the activities and thoughts of billions of people away from the screens.

As a co-founder of the Centre for Human Technology he is currently involved with former tech industry insiders in a mission to mitigate adverse effects produced by technological platforms and to tailor them to human needs.

Tristan claims that digital devices operate according to the principle of a slot machine. Every time we activate the device, we are in a state of anticipation before an uncertain result, similar to that when we use slot machines.

slot mašina
the graph borrowed from the website VirtualVirus

In this case, the win is translated into a notification of a new mail, text message or a reaction of our friends on social networks. This uncertainty results in the excretion of dopamine every time we check our phones and it makes us do it compulsively and habitually.

Tristan is one of theorists and philosophers regarding the design and quality of user experience. He suggest numerous practical solutions which may produce quick fixes, just as well as those that would permanently resolve the problem and reconcile the demands of tech giants and their clients.

He does not advocate a radical withdrawal from technology, but rather its humane usage, primarily that by content creators.

Nick Wignall

Nick Wignall

Nick is a psychologist and therapist who is trying to bridge the gap between science and self-help literature, by applying his therapeutic experience, as well as the best ideas from psychology and behavioural science. As he says on his blog, there are three main pillars of digital minimalism:

1. Technology use should be intentional, rather than habitual and compulsive.

2. Technology is for making meaningful stuff, not for feeling better and for entertainment.

3. Technology should never come before people.

Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo, a declutter guru from Tokio, helps people get rid of the excess and thus achieve psychological and spiritual balance.

She started with arranging living quarters, by removing excessive things, but then she expanded her activities to encompass digital hoarders as well.

This cute Japanese woman is extremely popular, their episodes on Netflix Tidying Up With Marie Kondo are watched by millions. She patented her KonMarie method.

Her secret resides in the fact that she appeared at the right time with the right narrative. People grew weary with loads of analogue and digital trash and they started looking for help, and Marie came up with exactly what they needed.

Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle

Social science professor at MIT. At the following link you can watch her TED talk.

She studies the relationship between people and technology, i.e. the way technology affects people's perception about themselves and the surrounding world.

Sherry reasonably claims that there is still no sufficient historical distance to derive relevant conclusions about the changes brought by the 4th industrial revolution. They cannot be characterized as simply good or bad, but we can discuss the phenomena and negative effects on human bahaviour.

When they first appeared, telegraph, telephone, automobile, even a book, have caused similar caution and controversy. The only reason why modern devices are more complex to handle is because of human exposure to manipulations and new addictions they create.

Sherry states that the usage of social networks affects our behaviour, mood, it causes depression and creates a false image of "welfare" as presented on other people's profiles, which can be particularly dangerous for teenagers.

Sherry Turkle brilliantly notes that today people spend more and more timealone together. Just like the families who are gathered in their living rooms while everybody is glued to their screens.

Besides, people tend to use practical skills and trades less often, they buy almost everything as finished products, served for immediate use. Manual work is automated and rendered meaningless.

Devices eliminate silence from human lives, as its necessary ingredient. Loneliness appears as a problem to be solved. Unless we teach our children how to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely. 

As a result of hectic lives we lead and digital communications, we sacrifice conversation for connection. We expect more from technology, and less from each other. Technology aims at our soft spots.

I will tell you what is wrong with conversation. It happens in real time and you cannot control what you are about to say.

Sherry Turkle

Catherine Price

Catherine Price

American journalist, motivational speaker and the author of the book "How to Break Up with Your Phone", tries to explain natural mechanisms and human psychological and biological limits which are conducive to our unhealthy relationship with our phones. She also describes and criticizes all the tricks of the content and entertainment industry aimed at stealing our attention and focus.

Cathie has designed a 30-day declutter programme with a very detailed description of actions to be taken. The fight against technology with technology itself. She uses certain apps that help create an optimal phone-life balance.

Digital detox

This interesting programme has been designed by Levi Felix and her partner, Brooke Dean, who escaped the urbane lifestyle and metropolitan noise and set up 17 digital detox retreats.

Their slogan isDisconnect to Reconnect. Reconnect with life, real social hum, connect to your own thoughts and feelings. As they say for themselves, they are not a startup, rather a slow-down

They also organize digital detox camps - Camp Grounded  

Camp Grounded

This 3-day summer camp is designed for adults who can take the opportunity to disconnect, take refuge from the buzz of civilization and become children again.

The activities are many, but what they all have in common is that they are unplugged: arts and crafts, yoga, typewriting, paintball, meditation, swimming, talent shows, dancing, bonfires, archery, climbing, trekking, star-watching, healthy nutrition, face painting, calligraphy, analogue photography and many others.

Burning Man festival

The festival that takes place every year in late August in the Nevada desert, USA. It is described as a contemporary artistic experiment where avant-garde artists create unusual and disproportional artifacts of industrial design which eventually get burnt (therefore named the Burning Man).

They come here, these architects of our internet world, from the Silicone Valley, to give vent to themselves and to make symbolical sacrifice by burning the figures, and thus escape the thing they unleashed on the rest of us.

Andrew Sullivan
Burning Man

Minimalism as a trend

How serious it has all become is perhaps best testified by the fact that Google and Apple, who always keep track of the latest trends, have joined the fight against technology?!

They introduced, in a sort of cannibalistic fashion, the apps designed to help people reduce their screen time. The question arises whether they have suddenly become so worried for us, or for themselves and their profits.

They realized that people got fed up and that minimalism was becoming trendy, so they are trying to be one step ahead. Now we have the entire industry of digital wellness!!!

Americans are ingenious when business is concerned, we should really all look up to them. They are capable of turning everything into its opposite and, needless to say, into profits. I suppose that is why their capitalism is so dominant and invincible.


Velika harvardska studija
The great Harvard study

The great Harvard study conducted over the period of 75 years, monitored the lives of 724 Americans. They asked them what true happiness meant for them. They followed their life stories, professional careers and their health condition.

Some of the respondents have died in the course of this study. Those who survived, have predominantly declared that what makes them happy are quality interpersonal relations, love, connection and the option to rely on someone.

Not the money, not luxuries or travel, nothing of the stuff we are chasing.

Just closeness and love.

In that regard, we should reconsider our priorities and devote more time to our beloved ones, as we reinforce to our own health that way.

At the end of the day, the term digital minimalism could be replaced with a forgotten and undervalued word - HUMILITY.

Further read on this topic and how my family managed to reduce the internet addiction is available in the following post...