Fight Information Overload by Going Minimal

Information overload.

You live it every day – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. You’re more informed and connected than ever.

Yet, if you’re honest, you’re probably feeling more distracted than ever.

More lonely. More restless.

According to studies done by Barna Research:

  • 71% of people feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to stay up to date.
  • 36% of adults stop what they’re doing to check a text or message when it comes in.
  • 35% of adults think their personal electronics sometimes separate them from other people.

Being hyperlinked changes every aspect of our lives – and often, not for the better.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport

Minimalism is the art of knowing how much is just enough. Digital minimalism applies this idea to our personal technology. It’s the key to living a focused life in an increasingly noisy world.

In this timely and enlightening book, the bestselling author of Deep Work introduces a philosophy for technology use that has already improved countless lives.

Digital minimalists are all around us. They’re the calm, happy people who can hold long conversations without furtive glances at their phones. They can get lost in a good book, a woodworking project, or a leisurely morning run. They can have fun with friends and family without the obsessive urge to document the experience. They stay informed about the news of the day, but don’t feel overwhelmed by it. They don’t experience “fear of missing out” because they already know which activities provide them meaning and satisfaction.

Now, Newport gives us a name for this quiet movement, and makes a persuasive case for its urgency in our tech-saturated world. Common sense tips, like turning off notifications, or occasional rituals like observing a digital Sabbath, don’t go far enough in helping us take back control of our technological lives, and attempts to unplug completely are complicated by the demands of family, friends and work. What we need instead is a thoughtful method to decide what tools to use, for what purposes, and under what conditions.

Drawing on a diverse array of real-life examples, from Amish farmers to harried parents to Silicon Valley programmers, Newport identifies the common practices of digital minimalists and the ideas that underpin them. He shows how digital minimalists are rethinking their relationship to social media, rediscovering the pleasures of the offline world, and reconnecting with their inner selves through regular periods of solitude. He then shares strategies for integrating these practices into your life, starting with a thirty-day “digital declutter” process that has already helped thousands feel less overwhelmed and more in control.

Technology is intrinsically neither good nor bad. The key is using it to support your goals and values, rather than letting it use you. This book shows the way.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

While many leaders believe in the power of digital platforms, and recognize the importance of various specific applications, a growing number of those same leaders feel as though their current relationship with technology is unsustainable – to the point that if something doesn’t change soon, they will reach a breaking point.

According to author Cal Newport, people don’t succumb to screens because they’re lazy, but instead billions of dollars have been invested to make this outcome inevitable.

It seems we have stumbled backward into a digital life we didn’t sign up for.

My research on digital minimalism has revealed the existence of a loosely organized “attention resistance movement,” made up of individuals who combine high-tech tools with disciplined operating procedures to conduct surgical strikes on popular attention economy services – dropping in to extract value, and then slipping away before the attention traps set by those companies can spring shut.

The tactics below have proved successful in shunting aside relentless efforts to capture your attention.

Delete Social Media from Your Phone

The smartphone versions of social media sites are much more adept at hijacking your attention than the versions accessed through a web browser on your laptop or desktop computer. Because you always have your phone with you, every occasion becomes an opportunity to check your feeds. If you’re going to use social media, stay far away from the mobile versions of these services, as they pose a significantly bigger risk to our time and attention. This practice suggests you remove all social media apps from your phone. You don’t have to quit these services, you just have to quit accessing them on the go.

Turn Your Devices Into Single-Purpose Computers

The sentiment that temporarily blocking features of a general-purpose computer reduces its potential is common for tools that do just that. It’s also flawed: it represents a misunderstanding of computation and productivity that benefits the large digital attention economy conglomerates much more than the individual users that they exploit. As many have discovered, the rapid switching between different applications tends to make the human’s interaction with the computer less productive in terms of the quality and quantity of what is produced. This practice of blocking might at first seem overly aggressive, but what it’s actually doing is bringing you back closer to the ideal of sing-purpose computing that’s much more compatible with our human attention systems.

Use Social Media Like a Professional

Social media professionals approach these tools differently than the average user. They seek to extract large amounts of value for their professional and (to a lesser degree) personal lives, while avoiding much of the low-value distortion these services deploy to lure users into compulsive behavior. Their disciplined professionalism, in other words, provides a great example for any digital minimalist looking to join the attention resistance. To a social media pro, the idea of endlessly surfing your feed in search of entertainment is a trap (these platforms have been designed to take more and more of your attention) – an act of being used by these services instead of using them to your own advantage.

Embrace Slow Media

To embrace news media from a mind-set of slowness requires first and foremost that you focus only on the highest-quality sources. Breaking news, for example, is almost always much lower quality than the reporting that’s possible once an event has occurred and journalists have had time to process it. Similarly, consider limiting yourself to the best of the best when it comes to selecting individual writers you follow. Another important aspect of slow news is the decisions you make regarding how and when this consumption occurs. The key to embracing Slow Media is the general commitment to maximizing the quality of what you consume and the conditions under which you consume it.

Dumb Down Your Smartphone

Declaring your freedom from you smartphone is probably the most serious step you can take toward embracing the attention resistance. Dumbing down your phone, of course, is a big decision. Convincing yourself that a dumb phone can satisfy your need so that its benefits outweigh its costs is not necessarily easy. Indeed, it might require a leap of faith – a commitment to test life without a smartphone to see what it’s really like.

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

A NEXT STEP

According to author Cal Newport, if you are exhausted by your “digital device addiction,” it’s not only possible to say, “No More,” it’s actually not that hard.

Set aside some time (without your phone!) to review the following five suggestions listed above. For each, make a Pro/Con list for what it would mean to your life if you took that action.

Review the list, and make a decision to embrace at least one of the actions for the next week.

After the week has passed, reflect on what taking that action meant to you, in terms of time gained, relationships grown, etc.

Consider another action to undertake, and follow the same suggestions.

At the end of one month’s experiments, talk with your spouse or a close colleague who would have noticed the changes in your routine and its results. What do they have to say?

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 126-1, released September 2019.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

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