How to avoid your phone: Digital minimalism in 2020

Katy Sunshine

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Before you read this post, I want you to look at your home screen. How many notifications do you have? What are they? If it’s anything like mine used to be, it’s the following:

  • A news article about COVID-19 that makes you slightly anxious (or something political)
  • An Instagram message about someone else’s post -- someone you only follow on the margins
  • A text from someone asking a clarifying question about a work issue (that should have come through your email)
  • That Snapchat group you never check
  • Hooray! A brand you occasionally shop from is having a sale!

Do any of those notifications actually impact your life? Inevitably, the only ones that should matter are those from your loved ones. And because they love you, it should be okay if you don’t see it, or you wait until you’re in a better headspace to respond, or it’s a quick reply like “yes -- more almond milk please” that should take you approximately two seconds.

Here’s the thing: I love social media. My online community is what allows me to do and share what I love. I also adore that I’ve been able to have and cherish such valuable conversations with others I never would have crossed paths with otherwise.

Even the process of making content, like shooting a promotional video for a new leggings brand with my husband. If you'd like to see the video of Devin’s incredible drone work, click here. Shooting content together is an extremely gratifying way to spend an afternoon with my husband celebrating products and companies that we love.

It can be a thoughtful way to make the world smaller, especially now as we’re reliant on the Internet as another mode of living. While we can’t actually go to bars with our friends or meet up in person across the globe, we can keep up with our loved ones’ updates and hobbies via our social media platforms.

Being more tuned in than ever -- especially now -- has its drawbacks, however. For one, we don’t emphasize this nearly enough: our phones are engineered to be addictive.

That dopamine hit you get whenever you check for a new notification? Engineered. They have the timing right too. Our phones know to withhold notifications for long enough to make us crave them, but not for long enough to be frustrated. It’s enough to keep us constantly coming back for more, more attuned to our devices than those around us. (Check out The Social Dilemma on Netflix for some more information behind this phenomenon.)

I don’t mean to sound like I’m demonizing technology. There’s always good and evil in it (and always has been. Every generation has an equivalent.)

But nowadays, I’m hearing a lot about people saying that it’s COVID-19 that’s exacerbated our screen time. It has, don’t get me wrong, but there was a reason to be on our phones before the crisis and there will be reasons to be on it afterwards. We’re addicted to the latest disaster, to the swell of news, even when it makes us feel terrible!

I’ve gotten way better at maintaining a lifestyle that’s respectful of my digital presence without being controlled by it. It’s a balance that we really have to consider for ourselves, and consider as a huge element of our holistic wellness.

A PHILOSOPHY OF MINIMALISM

I’m a minimalist in many regards. Physically, I’m minimal with my household and decor. We don’t just accumulate stuff for the sake of it, and I need relatively few things to be happy: purpose, my husband, a space we love, etc,. Financially, we’re frugal. I don’t normally spend a lot of money. Digitally, I try to be a minimalist, but we’re still working on that as a society. Only recently has digital minimalism really sprung to the forefront of what we’re thinking about.

What that means to me is remembering what’s important. Genuinely, there is nothing wrong with pulling your phone out to document an important moment, or responding to a text immediately. Like veganism, I see too many people adopting an all-or-nothing approach.

HOW TO BALANCE YOUR SCREEN TIME

This is my biggest piece of advice in achieving peace of mind, and I will repeat it time and time again: you should turn off your phone notifications. Keep your phone on do-not-disturb. Although a lot of my career revolves around Instagram and media, I never have notifications on.

Why should I? When I’m ready to tackle work questions, I’ll check in and tackle questions or content when I’m in the proper mentality to do so. If I have someone personal I want to check in on, I’ll text them or message them myself. When you think about it, notifications are pretty inconsequential, but they’ll steal your time and attention throughout the day, chipping away at it until you can’t focus properly.

I suffer from ADHD, so I know the feeling all too well. Which is why I learned how to quit it.

So many social media freelancers I know adopt this habit (which is also why I think they’re so good at it -- they recognize when to separate Instagram from reality): log out of your accounts when you’re not using them. Or, delete the app altogether! If you’re running multiple accounts, it’s a great way to separate your work and pleasure hours. If it’s just yourself, the extra 30 seconds it takes to re-download the app might keep you from going on it. You might just realize that scrolling on IG is an autopilot response rather than an intentional way you want to spend your time.

I’ve also learned over time that people don’t constantly need access to you. Protect your energy. You don’t constantly need to be online, and if you see a question from someone, you don’t immediately need to reply. Additionally, that way you can mull over things better. Listen. Reflect before responding. In Deep Work by Cal Newport, he discusses having designated email check in times, and letting others know that he will not answer outside of those designated times.

Your focus is a finite resource, and you should protect it.

I have SO many other thoughts on this subject, especially as someone who works so intertwined with the digital space, and love learning about the subject. (Actually, my friend Grace is a book blogger and writes about digital minimalism all the time.)

Have thoughts on it? Ironically, leave a comment below or reach out on my Instagram to discuss. But turn your notifications off, so you won’t see right away when I reply.

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I write about mental health, holistic living, and how to find joy and meaning in your life.

Honolulu, HI
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