Digital Minimalism #1: Social Media

Ever since the smartphone age peaked with powerful devices coupled with fast internet; we have all admitted to the problems that came along with them. All sorts of addictions fueled our lives and we strove to find respite from them. A brilliant philosophy resonated with me which has been discussed for a few years now. There was (and is ) a popular subreddit r/nosurf which encourages abstinence from our digital ‘surfing’ habits and finding joy in going analogue; retro even. Professor Cal Newport breathed a new life into the movement with a new name: Digital Minimalism. In line with the core minimalist philosophy of ‘less is more’, Cal popularized this idea with his book titled Digital Minimalism wherein he proposes we should have our own philosophy of what matters most to us should be used while eliminating everything else.

I liked this philosophy more than the r/nosurf movement where the main idea was to move away from digital media as much as possible. They discussed things to do in real life (which is great). Overall, it was too broad an idea. I for one enjoyed the comforts of the new digital world; I just don’t want any of the disadvantages. I want to enjoy media to the fullest like I did as a kid when music, books, games and movies could be acquired only once in a while after weeks of pestering my parents; with the advantages of modern times i.e. the ability to get any media ever created, instantly onto my device. This is why having a philosophy of digital minimalism is important: to define what is important to you and not stray from it.

The Problem: The internet and it’s various services can be widely educational, entertaining and everything in between. The main problem is that they rob us of our time and attention and we don’t realize this until we have spent a sizeable chunk of our day on them.

Step Zero: Define your priorities with each platform. This may be difficult to do for some platforms but you need to put some time and think about it. I have this difficulty with Reddit because I use it for many different purposes; but I’ll explain how I overcame it. For now, decide the exact parameters of which social media is absolutely essential to you, why it is so, which content you need to access on it and how often. Or if you don’t know yet, just look at my process and take your time to figure out your own.

Instagram:
Purpose: Public account – Looking at inspiring photography and publicizing this blog. Private account – Getting updates from a very select number of close friends. Less than 30 minutes in a week.
Process: Severely limit who you follow, go to specific accounts directly, open only in browser
On my public account, I only follow photographers whose posts inspire me (nature scenery for the most part). This account is accessed once in a week on a browser on my laptop or iPad to take advantage of the bigger screen. I use this browser method deliberately in a way to look at the photos for a full 10 seconds or more to take it all in, enjoy the moment captured forever in time. My personal account is where I have a few friends ( around 50) where I post private photos once in a couple of months. Super low maintenance. I access this account also on a browser to check on close friends maybe once a a week or less. In both cases, I don’t have the app on my phone at all because that will mean the notifications will stalk me everywhere and I’ll always be tempted to just look for a few minutes when I have my phone in hand. Even posting can be done in the mobile browser so that’s just great. Besides, there is one more excellent way to use social media like IG that can only be done via a browser. I just type in my Firefox browser instagram.com/twicetagram which is t he official account of the k-pop girl group I like. I’ll check out their new photos I might have missed, check the story and that’s that. If you open the app, you will get tempted by the first image to scroll down and then keep going, forgetting the reason for opening the app.

Facebook:
Purpose: Vegan activism and blog publicity. Less than 30 mins in a week
Process: Use only in browser, use Facebook Container plugin, get out when work is done
I used to use Facebook a lot during my school and college days as my go to medium to talk to friends but I gradually weaned off it as chatting on a smartphone became much easier and most of my friends reduced their FB usage. Now I rarely open it (less than once a week) and then too, I am focused on looking at and sharing content that is compassionate to animals (veganism). I scroll for maybe 5-10 minutes, share a couple of posts and that’s that. I open Facebook only on my laptop Firefox browser. It has a plugin called Facebook Container which is privacy focused as in it restricts some of the tracking Facebook does on your other tabs. This affects Instagram as well and makes both these sites (especially Facebook, heavily) slow. I am fine with this because I have mostly lost interest in Facebook due to the sheer volume of political vomit that is thrown around there but my purpose is for sharing something that may inspire someone to save the animals. When I’m done, I get the hell out.

Reddit: (Now we are getting into the tough stuff)
Purpose: Participating in very specific discussions in a few chosen communities and blog publicity through them.
Process: Use only once a day, don’t go to next page, go to specific subreddits.
I use Reddit almost exclusively on the laptop browser because I can access old.reddit.com which was frankly a better interface. With the RES (Reddit Enhancement Suite) add-on (Firefox), I can limit the number of posts on the front page. There is something about the infinite scroll on so many websites that make us lose control. Whereas here I can just look at maybe one or two pages and quit. I use the same method of Instagram here as well i.e. going to specific subreddits directly. The ones I got into recently are r/digitalminimalism and r/nosurf. Both excellent, do check them out.

Bottom line:
I have found much success in eliminating compulsive Facebook and Instagram use thanks to doing other interesting activities and cultivating a deliberate boredom for these services. I would rather do something more fun like reading or listening to music than go on these two. Reddit is still a work in progress.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION:

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

Initially skeptic, I was intrigued by all the praise heaped onto this book. I was hesitant to buy it as I was already aware of the general advice all over the nosurf community and was afraid this book would not tell me anything new. I was surprised when I did take the plunge and it turned out to be a wonderful book. It is a complete guide to help you take control over your digital life, not the other way round.


(Click on the image to check this book out. If you buy it, I’ll get tiny commission from Amazon which will help support this website at no extra cost to you)

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One Comment Add yours

  1. I like how you outlined the specific purposes of each individual platform you use! I think most users would be unable/unwilling to pinpoint a legitimate, productive reason for their tech dependence, and it’s so important that we use our products intentionally. Ensuring that we treat our devices as tools rather than drugs is the key to reaping the benefits of technology without crossing over to tech addiction.

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