Hackernoon logoIs Digital Minimalism Working For You or Against You? by@ryan-geddes

Is Digital Minimalism Working For You or Against You?

Ryan Geddes Hacker Noon profile picture

@ryan-geddesRyan Geddes

Digital Minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools and behaviors add the most value to your life. It encourages you to live intentionally and aggressively, eschewing low-value digital “noise” in an effort to live a more balanced life. This is often achieved by reverting to older methods and technologies that are perceived as less addictive, intrusive, or upsetting. 

As Cal Newport in his book “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life In a Noisy World” states: "in addition to reverting to less engaging technologies, it is possible to limit the use of social media and other modern technologies to maximize their value while avoiding their perceived negative effects".

Nostalgia is "the excessively sentimental yearning for a return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition". The solution for digital minimalism is often anachronistic in its attempt to avoid the “evils” of modern technology. The belief that inferior technology (like a flip phone) is somehow “safer” than a “state of the art” smartphone is nothing more than a belief that things used to be better and things have somehow become drastically worse because of modern technology.

Digital minimalists are nostalgic for a time that is no longer relevant and often more analog. The belief is, through the use of old technology and doing more “work with our hands” we can channel some of that happiness into our time. In reality, the easy becomes difficult, and the digital routine replaced by a more analog one solves nothing that self-discipline wouldn’t.

If every digital minimalist lacks the ability to control their own online behaviors, I’d argue their problem is far deeper than opinion or lifestyle. 

Trading a hammer for a rock is not going to make you a better carpenter, even if the hammer companies marketing department is evil.

Digital Minimalists are happy to point out how Social Media companies have purposely turned the world into engagement seekers. Engagement equals dopamine, and if we get dopamine hits on a regular basis from likes and follows, then isn't Social Media the same as drugs or alcohol?

Anyone who has seen or experienced a real addiction knows that there is a vast difference between checking your phone regularly and addiction to a substance. If someone is unable to check their phone for a few hours, it's unlikely that they will be driven to steal. There is more than dopamine at play in substance abuse problems just as there is with gambling problems, sex addiction, or other behavioral addictions. So why is it that digital minimalists look at Social Media or modern communication in general as such a negative thing? 

Internet addiction is not officially recognized as a psychological disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Food addiction is similar to other behavioral addictions you can’t outright quit. With food addiction, every day is a struggle. You can’t quit eating altogether, so the only solution is to moderate and monitor your food intake for the rest of your life. With social media, email, search engines, and all the other trappings of modern society, it would be difficult to work a job - let alone have normal relationships with friends and family without moderate use of the latest communication technologies.

We can try to hide from technology, but doing so is just a veiled attempt at hiding from our true selves.

What virtue is there in attempting to solve the problems we have with modern technology by reverting to antiquated technology? Do we need a 1980's cell phone to save us from being distracted by a smartphone? Is nostalgia for the technology we remember being from “better times” really the solution for the supposed biological condition of modern communication addiction? If you can’t discipline yourself to turn off your wifi even though it distracts you from work  — you shouldn't blame technology for being too alluring — it’s doing what it's supposed to, it's up to you to determine if the distraction is a character flaw, an addiction, or an attention deficit. It’s up to you to determine whether you need a doctor, a priest, or you simply need to try harder.

Temperance is the only solution to the dopamine addicted masses. Digital Minimalists are the “dry drunks” of our techno-age.

Growing up in an evangelical Christian home, I was taught that whatever I spent the most time and effort on was my god (or addiction). In the early ’90s before the world wide web, cell phones, and social media, evangelical Christianity (and my parents) were concerned about how our family was spending our time on this planet. I spent most of the late 80s and early 90s glued to a monochrome computer screen, taking things apart, or teaching myself how to play my guitar. My parents were addicted to religion, food, and reading, the rest of my family was “addicted” to television.

On my fridge, there were a few religious magnets that encouraged trust in God and reiterated the idea that God wasn't finished with any of us yet, no matter how old we were or where we were in life. The biggest magnet on the fridge had a picture of a television set on it and the words of King David rewritten to reflect a modern message  — to remind us that we should keep our eyes on God and not on the distractions of the present age. For those not familiar with the Bible, the below is Psalm:23 rewritten to present a modern message:

The TV is my shepherd,
I shall want more.
It makes me lie down on the sofa.
It leads me away from the faith;
It destroys my soul.
It leads me on the path of sex and violence
for the sponsor’s sake.
Yeah, though I walk in the shadow of Christian responsibility,
there will be no interruption, for the TV is with me.
It’s cables and remote control, comfort me.
It prepares a commercial for me in the presence of my worldliness;
It anoints my head with humanism and consumerism;
My coveting runneth over.
Surely, laziness and ignorance shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house watching TV forever.

(The TV Is My Sheppard)

Before Digital Minimalism, there was a distrust toward technology. In my case, there was a distrust of television and the messages it spread. The same arguments that were made against watching television excessively are the same arguments being levied against social media and other modern forms of communication. There is no question that technology has a massive impact on all elements of our lives, but do we look at the television with such distrust now? My parents worried about the television at a time when we barely had a dozen channels to watch.

It's not the medium, it's the message. There is nothing inherently wrong with modern technology. It's what you take a picture of and send to your friend that's the problem — not your smartphone's camera. Social Media and other tools allow blocking, muting, unfollowing, and a host of other features we would have died for decades ago.

We are living in the most exciting time in human history. Most of the world is at our fingertips. What we do (or don’t do) with it is our choice. We can choose to pick up our phone every time we receive an alert, or we can ignore it. We can feel like our friend is mad at us for not getting back to them immediately, or we can stop mindreading. 

Communication is only a two-way street if both parties allow it to be. The messages we receive, the photos we see and the people who comment on our posts are only visible because we allow it. Burying your phone in a coffee can in the backyard is not going to stop your following from posting hurtful comments or doing things that make you feel uncomfortable.

Television has a one-way message we are all comfortable with — if we don't like it we change the channel. Social Media, email, and chat are no different. You can literally bury your head in the sand (along with your modern technology) to try and avoid negativity or anxiety — or you can determine that who follows you is causing you problems, and the people you follow may be as well. You don't need to delete your accounts and switch to a rotary phone. Muting, unfollowing, and deleting contacts or starting a new profile is a far simpler solution. 

Temperance is a virtue because it's hard. It's difficult to look at a situation, admit that you have control over it, and change it. Unlike Digital Minimalism, temperance is something that is not confined to technology or communications, temperance is habitual moderation that requires you to practice two other virtues, wisdom and courage.

Previously published at https://www.ryangeddes.com/tech/digital-minimalism-social-media-and-temperance/


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