Apr 13, 2019

Why I'm embracing digital minimalism

I'm currently reading Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism. Halfway through the book, I'm just blown away - too many "aha" moments, evoking so many emotions as I'm nodding my head and underlining powerful lines in every single page. Will do a detailed review once I finish reading the book. As I was reading, many thoughts came gushing from the top of my mind on why digital minimalism is important to me. 

Cal Newport's earlier book "Deep work" had made such a huge impact on me when I read it in 2017. Since then, I have taken multiple breaks from social media and I have also realized that I'm not as addicted as I thought to be. One of the powerful takeaways for me was to set an intention for every technology we use - why am I using it? How is it aligned to my goals?

Since then, I realized my goals for using social media were related to spreading awareness about healthy eating, food and nutrition and also share my perspectives on topics that are important to me - productivity, parenting, writing, learning etc. I stopped posting personal updates on social media - vacation pictures, important events like birthday/anniversary, funny memes, forwards etc. I uninstalled FB and Twitter apps from my phone and access these accounts only when I'm in front of my laptop. My time spent in these two social media platforms had come down a lot in the past two years. But I had also started to spend a lot more time on Instagram around the same time. I was convincing myself that I have found like-minded people and have made friends through this platform. Though the posts I was posting and the people whom I'm connecting with through this platform tie closely to my goals, it certainly doesn't justify the ridiculous amount of time I had been spending on it. I do take Insta breaks often by uninstalling the app from my phone for a few days. Surprisingly during such breaks, I don't feel fidgety or seem to miss it much.

Let me admit, my 7-year old daughter D had told me a couple of times, "Why are you seeing your phone always?", "Are you in love with your phone?". It felt like a tight slap and I knew I needed to do something to reduce my phone usage. I installed an app to measure my phone use timings and I learned that I use my phone 2-3 hours per day on an average. The main concern is that the phone use has been staggered throughout the day, which explains the 50-60 times screen unlocks per day.

I do believe that deep, focused work is extremely important to get anything worthwhile accomplished. Whenever I'm working on my blog posts, I'm completely in FLOW - I can sit for 2-3 hours at a stretch without getting distracted and finish my posts. So I had to come up with ways to be in FLOW on activities that matter to me, apart from writing. 

When you seek something, a solution appears. I stumbled upon this app called Forest a few weeks back. You can set a timer whenever you are involved in something. During this time, you cannot use your phone. For each focused sitting, the app rewards you with a grown plant/tree (virtual of course!). If we check our phone while the tree is growing, it withers. What a great use of gamification! 

I decided to get D involved in this activity as well. We would sit together and read our books while the Forest app grows our plant during the time we are focused. She is super excited about this app and would pull me often during the day, "Come, let's use Forest app". Thanks to this app, I have been spending more time on reading these days.

I also realized that whenever I'm traveling, I hardly use my phone, except for clicking pictures. I'm engrossed in observing new places and surroundings. But when I'm at home, I mindlessly check my phone whenever a tiny flash of boredom strikes.

During our last vacation to Kerala a few days back, my husband and I were sitting in the balcony of our hotel room, admiring the beauty of nature all around and sipping chai one afternoon. I said to him, "It is so nice to sit here without our phones". He then asked me, "What did we used to do back in 2007-08 without our phones when we are on quiet vacation like this?". I replied, "We used to read a lot, go for walks or just sit idle". Such idle moments of nothing have become such a rarity these days.

Another experience that made me feel bad about how times have changed was during the same Kerala trip. We were waiting in KR Puram railway station one evening. I was so excited to be at the train station that day as I was traveling by train after a long time - the sight of trains arriving and departing at different platforms, vendors shouting "chai, chai", book shops selling magazines etc. Watching the hustle and bustle in an Indian train station is just so exciting and makes me quite nostalgic. Growing up in the 80s, train travels have always been very special. But when I looked around that evening, it made me feel sad to see a sight like this - everyone on their phones, some watching youtube, reading WhatsApp forwards, one of them watching a movie on Amazon Prime, all eyes hooked to their smartphones.

Addiction to phones/gadgets is quite similar to addiction to junk foods. Just like how junk foods are carefully designed with the right balance of sugar, salt, fats and other flavor enhancers which make them addictive, many apps that we use on our phones are carefully designed with the right reward mechanisms and continuous streams of validation that we seek because of our inherent psychological triggers.

Going forward, I'll share my progress on how I'm embracing digital minimalism. It is certainly the need of the hour to claim back our TIME - the ONE resource that is given equally to all of us on the planet.

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