Digital Minimalism: Book Review

In June 2019 I caught up with my mate Adam. I arrived at the restaurant in a bit of a fluster because I had been texting him constantly from the moment I parked my car up until I was walking up the stairs at Zaza’s. I saw him and instantly berated him for not texting back immediately. He told me he hadn’t checked his phone and was using it less these days. I looked at him confused. What does that mean and why?

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Did you know that the average person check their phone 47 times a day and 80% of people use their phones before sleeping, which actually keeps them awake for longer. This means they then scroll more. A study found that young people experienced withdrawal symptoms such as increased blood pressure and heart rates when they were separated from their phones (Clayton, Leshner & Almond, 2015).

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Adam told me about a book he had read which had changed his life. He now only used his phone for the bare minimals: texting people back when he happened to use his phone, or calling and Facetiming people at prearranged times, a little like a phone date. He had reduced his use of social media considerably, and after our dinner decided to delete his Facebook profile. I just listened to him baffled by the concept. However as our dinner went on, I felt a physical urge to check my phone. I picked it up when Adam had gone to the loo and I found myself on Instagram scrolling, even though I had no reason to and staring at my lack of messages on Whatsapp then back to Instagram to mindlessly scroll again.

 

When I realised what I was doing, I told myself to stop. I looked around the restaurant. Then picked up my phone and started scrolling again. Even as I type now, I am wondering why I did this. Cal Newport, author of “Digital Minimalism” describes how and why we are addicted to our phones. I could go into this in a lot more detail, but I would probably get done for plagiarism. The highlights which blew my mind were that social media corporations have entire departments whose entire purpose is to keep our attention focussed on their websites, and they use technology to manipulate our dopamine levels (happy hormones) to think we just need that one last scroll, okay one more, one more. They have added things like “Likes” and “seen by” to give us that extra buzz that keeps us going back to the site for more. Staring at our phones like zombies watching those likes roll in (or not roll in which also impacts dopamine levels…. And our sense of worth).

 

I ordered the book at the restaurant to arrive the next day (Amazon Prime- another source of “I must have it right now immediately” dopamine manipulation). And so my journey began. These are the things I have learned from the book:

 

Digital declutter: Put aside 30 days which you can put aside to have a break from optional technologies. In this time explore activities that you hold meaningful to you such as walking, reading, crafts. At the end of the break, you can reintroduce these optional technologies.

  • I decluttered by deleting half the apps on my phone which were of no use to me. Some of which I had not used for months.
  • I turned off my notifications. I did not need to know every single message that came through as it came through. Most people do not expect an immediate response from me yet I gave them one. And if family or friends needed immediacy they could have called me (they never called me). I learned to put my phone away and my body no longer had a huge physiological reaction every time I heard it buzz or saw that blue light flashing. I noticed my body calm down as days went on, and when I did check my phone I noticed my tummy go funny as I opened my Whatsapp. I was grateful that I wasn’t having that reaction all the time, like I had become accustomed to.
  • The people close to me did not expect me to be switched on ALL the time. I thought I would lose family and friends. They noticed that I didn’t reply immediately, and that I wasn’t “online” every blinking minute of the day, but were so happy that I had finally got myself a life. I was able to reply to all the chats within 5 minutes, rather than short 30 seconds bursts throughout my day.
  • I developed technology rules like I can only use Instagram for max 5 minutes in the morning, and 5 at night. I will put my phone away in a drawer and check it after I have had a meal.

Cal Newport introduces simple practices through the book and explains very well why digital media strips away the essence of you. He recommends that:

  • You learn to be in your own company. We are so used to picking up our phones when our mate goes to the loo, standing at the bus stop, standing in the queue at Tesco. Being without our phone sends us into a tizzy. Putting my phone away meant I was able to look around and people watch. And enjoy it. This also means you can enrich your life with new activities such as crafting, or walking allowing your body to use its full sensory capacity.
  • Don’t click Like. Wean yourself off the dopamine hits. Once you stop liking, you feel better for it. Promise. You can then enjoy real happy hormones in the meaningful activities you engage in e.g. catching up with a friend, or basking in the sunshine. Also not using social media and not liking posts, means you have all this extra free time to connect with your near ones in a meaningful way. I have allocated friends to phone dates per day. My relationships are better for it as a result as I get so much more from a 10 min phone conversation on my commute than I did off Liking a picture they posted online, and assumed they were okay. Not all my friends were as okay as I had assumed from social media.
  • Reclaim all your free time. It’s a little like leaving a toxic relationship where someone demanded all your time and attention, but made you feel incredibly exhausted (because you scrolled until 1am for no apparent reason) and demoralised (X looks so great in that dress and here you are, in your PJs on a Friday night eating Haribos). Think of all the possibilities this could mean. I have reclaimed reading, exercising, and all my low quality leisure (Netflix) has been scheduled in advance so I have no guilt in watching what I love- trashy and truly terrible rom coms. 

The first few days were incredibly difficult to do. I would find myself holding my phone and already on Instagram, when someone asked me the time. But as time went on, I began to enjoy not being attached to this mini brick. I spent more quality time with my family and friends, and had big belly laughs in the moment, rather than frantically trying to take a picture before the moment passed.

The book is well written, and has lots of metaphors and stories to explain why each principle is needed, and why not following minimalism maintains addiction. I thought it was well laid out and easy to follow, and I can dip in and out of it as I wish months on. It becomes slightly repetitive towards the end, however so is the way I scroll through the Internet. Who am I to judge? I highly recommend the book if you would like to kickstart weaning off digital media.

Six months on, I must admit I have relapsed. I have fallen into old habits and feel that same urge to scroll, scroll and scroll again. This December I am going back to the principles set up by this book and plan my leisure schedule ahead of time, as well as only using Instagram twice a day.

Who wants to join me?

Lots of love,

Aman

REFERENCES

Clayton, R. B., Leshner, G., & Almond, A. (2015). The extended iSelf: The impact of iPhone separation on cognition, emotion, and physiology. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication20(2), 119-135.

Deloitte . (2017). 2017 Global Mobile Consumer Survey: US edition. Deloitte, 1–29. Retrieved from http://www2.deloitte.com/be/en.html

Newport, Cal. (2019). Digital Minimalism: On Living Better with Less Technology. Penguin Business.

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