In 2020, it would be hard to refute the claim that we are living in a digital world. Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic and the following lockdown, our lives are becoming more and more entrenched in technology.
Statstia found that almost 4.57 billion people were active internet users as of April 2020, accounting for 59 percent of the global population, with China, India and the USA ranking in the top three countries. This is up nine percent from 2018. It’s not just that a lot of people use the internet, either, these people use it a lot: the average user spends just shy of seven hours a day on the internet.
Since the start of the pandemic, 88 percent of organizations have encouraged or required their employees to work from home. It’s looking likely that remote work is here to stay, too, with 74 percent of companies intending to permanently shift to remote working post-coronavirus. While remote working has loads of potential benefits regarding productivity, it’s unclear as to how working from home affects mental health. The Roberts Walsh survey found that a third of professionals claim remote working has negatively impacted mental health, with 35% of bosses mirroring this claim.
In this huge shift towards digital life, it’s important to recognise that the way we use technology, the internet, emails and social media, can be just as bad for our brains as it is good. One way to combat this is with digital minimalism.
Digital minimalism stems from the practice of minimalism: living with only the things you truly need and minimizing excess. The concept was first coined by Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. Newport developed the idea when he noticed how hard it was to strike a balance when it came to technology. As a computer scientist, he is hopeful about what technology can offer for our future, but he also has some criticisms of the Internet Era: “For example,” Newport writes in a 2016 blog post, “[I am critical] of our culture’s increasingly Orwellian allegiance to social media and am indifferent to my smartphone”.
Inspired by the works of minimalist bloggers (aptly named The Minimalists), Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, Newport came up with a definition for digital 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”.
Poppy Duffree echoes this sentiment. As a professional organizer, Poppy noticed the disconnect between how people treat their physical space compared to their digital space: “We often have our physical surroundings organized and which supports us in feeling calm and in control.
“But what happens when we then open our laptops and phones and are met with a barrage of unorganized files, unnecessary content, emails we’ve left unread for months and notifications everywhere?
“All of a sudden, our environment is actually our digital space, as that is where our focus is,” she told PC Guide in an email.
She warns that clutter and an unorganized space intensifies feelings of stress, having negative impacts on our mental health. In order to help combat this, Poppy created a PDF workbook called The Ultimate Digital Declutter and Organisation Workbook. The book features four categories (desktop, emails, ,and social media) and includes tasks to keep readers on track with their digital declutter.
According to Poppy, “once you’ve done a thorough digital declutter, you’ll find that you’ll be less distracted, more productive,and have freed up extra storage on your devices”.
Books like Poppy and Newport’s have inspired everyday people to adopt the practice of digital minimalism. Jumi, a journalist, has to spend a lot of time online for work. Much like Newport, Jumi found herself getting less and less validation from, and losing interest in, social media. She hates the idea of being glued to her phone or laptop, and while Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook do offer an insight into other people’s worlds, “it just isn’t the real world,” she states. After taking a week off social media, Jumi found that getting some time away from platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook was key for “getting some headspace”.
Lee, an environmental psychologist and wellbeing consultant and founder of Essentialise, has been mindful of his technology consumption since he became addicted to playing video games when he was younger. Lee found digital minimalism through his own psychological research into burnout. Naturally, he found himself embracing the practice with the purpose of optimizing his health and honoring his biorhythms, which are related to emotional stability, feeling, intuition, mood, susceptibility, creativity.
“[I do this by] training my attention by removing distraction, embracing boredom so I have space to be creative and reflect, and being present with my children and everyone I connect within my daily life,” Lee tells me.
Clearly, digital minimalism does wonders for mental clarity and minimizing stress, but there’s another surprising benefit of keeping your online life a little more limited – protecting your data.
“Choosing to consciously withhold personal data, by not signing up for apps you will never use, or newsletters you will never read means you can minimize the amount of information about yourself that circulates online,” explains digital privacy expert, Jo O’Reilly of ProPrivacy.
“Once your data is online it can be very hard to claw it back and regain control over your privacy.
“Purposefully abstaining from sharing excessive amounts of personal data, via mindlessly posting, commenting, and even simply scrolling, is the best way of reducing your digital footprint.
“This can protect you against both cybercrimes such as identity theft and pervasive surveillance capitalism”.
If you’ve read this far, it’s safe to say you’re probably looking at giving digital minimalism a try – here are some of Poppy’s best tips for getting started:
Delete phone apps you no longer use – This reduces notifications and means fewer apps to have to update.
Declutter your social media feeds – Be in control of the content you are seeing and unfriend/unfollow those accounts that do not provide you with content that is useful or positive.
Clear your desktop of all documents and folders – Opening up your computer to be met with clutter can be an instant stressor before you’ve even begun working on anything.
Reduce unnecessary newsletters – Search for the word ‘unsubscribe’ in your inbox and it will bring up any newsletters you’ve subscribed to. This allows you to start going through those that you no longer want and unsubscribing to them, meaning less emails coming in in the first place.
There you have it – your first steps to creating a relaxing digital environment. Thank us later.