It’s not typical of me to read nonfiction by choice. I read it for academic purposes, I read it for book club discussions, but by choice…that’s rare. And this year seems to have a theme: minimizing tech, or rather, utilizing it in a way that it doesn’t control me.
This has been something of a journey I’ve battled with for several years now. I’d scroll endlessly through FB in college, I would tweet silly things about my life, I’d post pictures on IG. But then I became an agent and everything I said was scrutinized down to the letter. So I backed off Twitter over the years, to the point where I only tweet agent-related business. No more scrolling and shouting into the echo chamber and losing focus. Then the 2016 election happened and I had to back off FB because it hurt so much to see so many loved ones be so…closed-minded. And then IG makes me roll my eyes constantly because people are concerned about stats and numbers and followers and likes, and frankly I don’t give a damn about that — I just like the pretty pictures and book recommendations and travel shots.
But that’s just social media. What about other media? Binge-watching TV, my laptop constantly on and open, frequently picking up my phone…these are habits I’ve developed over the years and I know I’m not alone. What are ways I can minimize tech and live a full life?
Enter Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport (★★★★★). Newport utilizes history, anthropology, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and his own experiment with 1600 participants to explain why we are addicted to our phones/tech/social media, and how we can reclaim our lives—our hobbies, our solitude, our social selves. It’s not anti-tech. It’s pro-minimalism. And we all need this book. If you find yourself reaching for your phone while waiting in line just to check the screen, you need this book. If you find yourself scrolling and liking and commenting while your child is taking a bath and trying to show you their imaginative underwater adventure, you need this book. If you feel anxious and overwhelmed at work so all you do during breaks or when you get home is crash on the couch exhausted, binge-watching Netflix and playing games or scrolling through social media and you still feel drained and exhausted and worthless, you need this book. If you’ve taken social media breaks cold turkey for a few days and came back and felt FOMO or overwhelmed, you need this book. If you say “I just don’t have time anymore” when someone asks about your past hobbies or long-term projects, you need this book. If you don’t have a whole lot of apps on your phone, your screen time each day is tracked at about avg 2 hours/day, and you still text instead of actually talk/see your friends, you need this book.
I’ve since set perimeters and limits on app usage and daily screen time on my phone, and though it’s difficult, it’s actually been quite the blessing. I’ve been able to focus on work better, I’ve been able to dabble in old hobbies again, and I’m able to read more too. Conversations with loved ones are deeper as well, which leads to my next recommendation…
You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy (★★★) discusses the difference between deep, natural listening, and surface level listening. We know what listening looks like (eye contact, nodding, reactions), but really listening involves “reading between the lines” of what someone is saying. This is absolutely something I need to work on. Other forms of listening—but without tech—is to put the phones down, turn off the TVs, close the laptops, and actually have a conversation away from tech. Family dinners, basic chores and tasks, even if you’re doing something else but without tech, you’re more receptive to deep conversation. Listening isn’t latching on to what someone says and talking about yourself and how you compare; it’s hearing the context of someone’s joys and concerns and asking for more about that. It’s amazing how many people feel they aren’t heard. And it’s sad. While this book didn’t have concrete exercises for me to try like Digital Minimalism, it did give me a lot to think about in conversations with others.
This isn’t a standard book review post, I know. But I felt these books needed some context for my journey. Next up on the library holds list is Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving by Celeste Headlee. Though not in the realm of digital minimalism, it will be in the realm of learning to step away, take deep breaths, and reevaluate priorities.
I’m quite excited about this journey. I hope to learn from it and utilize the tools they provide.