A lot of us tend to purchase and use digital technology without thinking about the consequences. Once we engage with tech, we get to experience the benefits that technology provides, and start engaging with it more. Until it becomes hard to distinguish between the time and attention digital tech consumes and the benefits that technology gives. The smartphone, for instance, promised to make us so much more efficient, informed and productive. Which in so many ways it has. But, in so many ways it steals our time, distracts us, keeps us awake and keeps us preoccupied.
If you had to count the number of digital devices you engage with daily (including your smart meter, smartwatch, smartphone, laptop, etc) you may be surprised at how many devices you juggle. Or it may be that you are not at all surprised yet may feel slightly beholden to check and engage with them on a regular basis.
Many people advocate taking a ‘digital detox’. The problem with a detox (complete abstinence from technology for a certain period of time), is that once that detox time is completed, we tend to revert to old habits – despite being adamant at the end of the detox period not to do so.
Much like any project involving minimalism, a better option is to reduce the amount of technology available to use. In an interview with Jordan Harbinger, Cal Newport (a computer scientist trained at MIT) talks through his insights into Digital Decluttering. You can watch the video below.
What Cal doesn’t take into account is that within this decluttering, we need to consider the separation of work and home-based technology use. One area where having more technology is useful (especially for consultants, managers and the self-employed) is the option of having a personal phone and a professional phone. Although it is tempting to give your personal phone number out for business purposes and upload work emails onto your personal phone, it does mean that you never mentally leave work. It is too easy to check those emails just before going to bed. It is too easy to reply to that WhatsApp message on a Sunday. It’s too easy to pick up that call on a Friday evening because your client is working late and has a question they forgot to ask you earlier. By having a professional phone, it’s much easier to turn it off or leave it in your work bag or in the drawer of your home office in the evenings and weekends. It becomes just that little bit less easy to check and respond.
Digital decluttering should be about taking a more strategic (and then tactical) approach to how you use digital technology. Maximising the benefits and minimising the negative impact is an individual decision and depends on your job and home-based responsibilities. Making a choice to spend more physical time and mental energy with physically present people has greater (physical and mental) health benefits than spending time and mental energy with ‘digital people’.
A few additional YouTube interviews with Cal Newport on his book are included below.