The air is crisp, my conscience clear. I'm on a tiny island, just off the coast of Antrim. It's off-season, and that means there's no one around. To my left, the landscape is mostly green interrupted with little white blotches. To my right, a rasping, bubbling basin of water laps at a rocky beach.
Sheep lazily graze, judging me in silence, almost nudging each other as if to say, "Why on earth is he here? It'd founder a pig, sure!" The cows are much more forgiving, and less judgmental if you offer them up some cud to chew.
There are dark, ominous-looking clouds on the horizon promising torrential rain, but I'm not worried. This is my idea of paradise. As Robert Frost once mused, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference."
The weather would make plans for us, cancelling the passenger ferry, and forcing us to stay two extra nights. We didn't mind. "Ye can hitch a ride wit one of tha fishermen, sure. 'Pends on how desperate ya are ta get back, ya know?"
We were not that desperate. We made the most of it.
I found myself in a paradoxical situation: I'm the least connected to people back home and work, yet I'm also the most connected I've ever been in my life. Connected to myself, and my surroundings, which could be best described as agrestal.
We went away to remove ourselves from our ultra-connected lives, and we certainly achieved that. I didn't know it at the time, but this was a form of digital minimalism, a concept I've unintentionally distanced myself from as technology has become more prevalent, diminishing my capacity to embrace a simpler, more community-based world.
But what is digital minimalism, and why is it all the rage? Simple: it's a rejection of the notion of always being connected, and while it's not a notion I could subscribe to on a permanent basis, there are lessons here.
Welcome to the Great Untethering
Digital minimalism is a lifestyle and philosophy that promotes the intentional and mindful use of digital technology to simplify our lives and reclaim our time and attention. It can take many forms from using technology less throughout the day, to taking yourself off to an island with poor network reception, though the latter is probably a bit extreme.
We know we live in a world inundated with smartphones, social media, and constant digital distractions. Digital minimalism isn't a movement to remove technology altogether but rather seeks to counteract the negative effects of information overload. And there are negative effects, this much is true. Addiction for one.
"The ‘urge’ to check one’s social media may be linked to both instant gratification (the need to experience fast, short-term pleasure) and dopamine production (the chemical in the brain associated with reward and pleasure). The desire for a ‘hit’ of dopamine, coupled with a failure to gain instant gratification, may prompt users to perpetually refresh their social media feeds." Rhys Edmonds on Anxiety, loneliness and fear of missing out
Social media is here to stay, making it prudent to focus on developing strategies for countering its potential adverse effects, with digital minimalism, a realistic, actionable, and viable approach.
At its core, digital minimalism encourages individuals to evaluate the digital tools and platforms they use and eliminate those that don't bring meaningful value to their lives. It's about decluttering the digital landscape, reducing screen time, and fostering more meaningful offline experiences.
Putting It Into Action
By prioritising quality over quantity, digital minimalism helps people focus on what truly matters. This approach can lead to improved well-being, increased productivity, and enhanced relationships. It also advocates for the deliberate use of technology for specific purposes, rather than mindless scrolling and constant connectivity.
For most, taking themselves off to an isolated island in the winter probably isn't an option. Truthfully it isn't really an option for me most of the time, but there are other things that I do to reduce my use of technology.
In March this year, I wrote a brief piece on why I love playing older game consoles. It was titled, Back to Basics: Why I Find Joy Playing My Ageing PlayStation 2, and while it was certainly a love letter to days gone by, it was also somewhat ironically, an admission of love for digital minimalism.
In the article for Superjump, I went on to say, “Hooking up the PS2 feels like therapy at this point. It's the gaming equivalent of disconnecting from a connected world and going for a walk in the woods. No notifications, no massive updates, minimal UI, one wholly singular experience at a time.”
Whether you're reducing your social media usage, enjoying extended walks in natural settings, indulging in offline gaming with vintage consoles, or even escaping to a remote island, all these activities adhere to four distinct steps that promote the practice of digital minimalism in your life.
Four Distinct Steps
Set Clear Boundaries: Define specific times of day when you'll use digital devices and social media. Outside of those designated periods, disconnect and focus on other aspects of your life.
If you're a social critter, get out there and mingle with the community. It doesn't matter what specifically, mingling with actual people does wonders for your psyche. If you're more hermit than a social critter, like myself, embrace nature. Fire up that PlayStation 2, or dedicate time to reading a good old-fashioned book.
Remove Unnecessary Apps: Delete or hide apps that you find particularly distracting or time-consuming. This will make it less tempting to engage in mindless scrolling.
Really question how much value the likes of Facebook or Twitter are bringing into your life. If it's more pain than pleasure, you don't need that in your life. If it's too much pleasure, refer to point one. Set clear boundaries - define specific times of the day when you're okay with tech in your life.
Curate Your Digital Life: Be selective about the content you consume. Unfollow or mute accounts that don't add value to your life, and subscribe to content that aligns with your interests and goals.
Remember that social media will often have you going down rabbit holes you didn't know existed. This can be particularly dangerous due to the amplification and repetition of ideas. Problematic if those ideas are toxic or hurt your self-esteem.
Embrace Offline Activities: This is a big one, and one that's most likely to bring you immediate mental benefits.
Fill your time with offline hobbies and activities that bring you joy and fulfilment. Whether it's reading, exercising, or spending time with loved ones, diversifying your interests can reduce your reliance on digital devices.
Practice Mindful Consumption: Before opening an app or visiting a website, ask yourself if it serves a purpose or if it's a mindless habit. Being mindful of your digital consumption can help you make conscious choices and reduce screen time.
"Do I need this in my life?" This simple yes or no question can make you more aware of what you're consuming, and if you need to continue consuming it.
In the past, I used to be addicted to the news, constantly checking for updates. However, I've come to realise that the news frequently focuses on the world's most distressing events, and this constant consumption can be detrimental to your mental well-being. Now, I'm mindful that, yes, I want to stay informed, but not at the cost of my mental health.
Digital minimalism is especially valuable when the news is inundated with negativity and despair. It allows us to reclaim authority over our digital existence, restore equilibrium, and discover simplicity and purpose in a world of ever-growing digital complexity.
Digital minimalism is whatever you want it to be, and sometimes it's just about taking the one less travelled by. That will make all the difference.