[Discussion] Digital minimalism

Digital burnout is a thing. Does it affect you and how?
How have you historically managed it, and how do you want to better manage it?

I listened to this podcast, and it really struck a bone.

The Ezra Klein Show - Cal Newport has an answer for digital burnout.

TL:DR version: 20 years ago, it was difficult to spend an entire day without any mental solitude. Today, the opposite is true – we can go days without having any time without someone else’s thoughts being constantly piped into our brains.

Halfway through this podcast, I paused it, then went and deleted every game off my phone (barring a few I keep for my kid, and a couple of local MP games I play with my wife and friends). I had an epiphany that they’d stopped being fun and started being work.

It got me thinking a lot about the intentionality of how I spend my time, and how it’s high-time I instill some digital minimalism into my life, and regain some minutes of idle solitude. Here’s the things I’m going to focus on:

  • No more games with “dailies” – they’re sucking a lot of the intentionality out of my time.
  • No more phone games whatsoever. They’re literal time-wasters, tools I use to get through time that isn’t “used” by other things.
  • Don’t default to putting a podcast on when I’m driving.
  • I’ve already got app notifications entirely turned off (exceptions - texts get a ding and a banner, emails just get a banner), I quit Facebook a couple of years ago (and haven’t regretted it once), and have no other social media outside of GWJ.

What areas of your digital life could use some pruning? Where do you find minimalism a useful approach?

Spoiler:

One final note - I recognize and appreciate the comedic irony of posting about this on a forum that I have a questionably addictive relationship to. :)

I'm very interested in this topic, because it seems to be a big challenge for everyone right now. Ian Bogost's "Play Anything" helped me think about this problem quite a bit. He talks about how a lot of people are trying to get a handle on the overload of the world by trying a sort of asceticism. An alternative that he poses is to look at these things around us as the raw stuff of play and fun, and that the clutter of the world, digital or otherwise, gives us opportunities to make things fun. He also talks a lot about what fun means, and how in many cases it's essentially hard work (see also: grinding in RPGs or learning a game like Dark Souls).

So I've tried to set up what sort of digital diet I have based on those possibilities and which things make me feel more content when I go to bed at night. I've tried to stick to social media, like this forum and its associated slack, where I can build more meaningful and deeper relationships with a smaller number of people. I've reduced my twitter usage a ton as a result because it felt like everything was transient and I couldn't have conversations with people anymore because that platform has turned in to a focus on celebrities and ever amplifying bombastic sh*tposting.

Similarly, I've focused my video gaming to be less generalist and I'm way happier for it. In line with that, I only play small games like solitaire on my phone, and then rarely. If I'm gaming I'm gaming, but if I'm elsewhere I try to be more there.

As for podcasts, I've been drifting away from the group of friends around the table chatting model too. They were a crutch for not having much social time, but having this weird celebrity relationship with folks on the other end who don't know you has felt increasingly harmful and isolating for me. So I've been shifting to podcasts that rekindle hobbies I don't have time for, like music or fiction. That's made me feel more like a whole person unto myself and less like someone on the outside looking in. The time I've taken from roundtable podcasts to listen to music is also when I tend to make some time in my own head with my own thoughts, which is helpful as well.

One thing I'd love to get back is to have the focus over weeks to consistently read books to completion again, but I haven't succeeded yet. I don't know if any digital diet short of living in the woods on dialup would get me back there though.

It's telling that so many mobile game reviews go something like, "... 5 stars, great way to kill time..."

What I've tried to do is reduce what I call "idling" - doing something because I can't decide what else to do. Usually that means social media but sometimes is one of the time-wasting games or even reading news (how many articles do I need to read that say pretty much the same thing?). What I'll do is sit down for the evening and think "should I play Factorio, read whatever's on the Kindle now, or watch Game of Thrones... man I dunno which I'll like better, I'll log into Quora and vote down idiots while I think about it". And I don't have time for that crap.

One of the principals on the Conference Call talked about having the ability to just jump into an activity without second-guessing "would I be having more fun if I'd chosen to do X instead?". I envy that because I decidedly do not, and it's the analysis paralysis around that that I'm trying to avoid.

I'm an admitted podcast addict and I've got something going almost any time I'm not too focused on something else (or alternatively too unfocused- I can't just sit and listen or my mind will wander.) So I'm not likely to change that any time soon, but I'm pretty ruthless about which podcasts and individual episodes I'll run.

Jonman wrote:

I listened to this podcast, and it really struck a bone.

The Ezra Klein Show - Cal Newport has an answer for digital burnout.

Love Cal Newports work. I highly recommend his book on workplace happiness, So Good They Can't Ignore You. I found it to be really useful and practical.

I've recently identified that most of my digital time wasting is spent on things like social media and certain podcasts, mostly to fill a social void that's missing in my real life. On another recent episode of Ezra Klein's podcast, Johnathan Haidt likened it to junk food - it gives you a fix, but doesn't provide the real substance that you actually need.

Unfortunately, I'm pretty terrible at knowing how to build and maintain the real world relationships that I'd like to have, especially in my current situation, so I'm finding it hard to ease off the junk food-style interaction. For example, I know I should pull the trigger on deleting my reddit account, but then I'd lose a place to talk about MMA, Star Wars, gardening, travel, kettlebells etc. Perhaps I
just need to be more comfortable with my own company.

On a more positive note, I'm finding that mindful meditation is helping me. An increased focus and awareness of the present means I'm starting to gravitate towards more meaningful ways of spending my time.