I like to think 'digital minimalism' refers to intentional and purposeful use of digital technology, moreso than cutting it out completely. However, I understand they can sometimes look the same, since stopping the use of digital technology can sometimes raise questions about how much we needed it to begin with.
The idea of going back to using computers as tools appeals to me now that I've tried them as a lifestyle. I'm not game to actually call myself a digital minimalist, but in redesigning my life after social media I have become enamoured with certain DM practices, as well as some practices that borrow from other movements like Degoogle, NoSurf, degrowth, and slow productivity.
Here's a bit about where I'm at, what's working for me, and tips I've tried and/or seen recommended by others.
News & timely content
I subscribe to blogs and news outlets via RSS and use a TUI reader called Newsboat to fetch my feeds. This allows me to curate my inputs and be deliberate about reading when I'm in the right headspace. Once in a while, I use Brutalist Report for skimming headlines without the bullshit. For niche content, I go through topic-specific channels, forums and discussion groups (mailing lists/email loops).
Leaning into RSS has made me realise how important it is to support platforms with more open policies around access to information. And to support publications that don't throw up paywalls and login walls, unless of course their content is of a high enough quality to make it worth signing up.
Email and calendar
Degoogling my email and calendar was a huge undertaking and I can understand why people may be hesitant to do this. It was a personal decision for me, driven by wanting more control over my data, and hoping to reduce my digital carbon emissions by no longer being a digital hoarder.
Email: Right now, I use a mix of hosted email services through Zoho, Namecheap and Protonmail, selected for privacy, convenience, and affordability. Other services I've seen recommended include Mailbox.org, Mailfence, Post1, Fastmail.com, and Tutanota.
Calendar: After degoogling, I tried Zoho Calendar, Proton Calendar and Apple Calendar, then realised I didn't actually like digital calendars after all. I now use an an analogue planner.
Before turning the Eye of Sauron on my notes, I had data spread out across five different platforms. In case you're curious, they were Google Drive, Apple Notes, Bear, Roam, and Workflowy. Redundant much? I just liked trying out different user interfaces.
After reading Write plain text files and The Plain Text Project, I decided I could be satisfied with the plaintext life. Plaintext is interoperable, reliable, and has been around a long time, and Markdown means you can do a lot with plaintext without sacrificing readability.
Plaintext means I can pick the most suitable app for my needs in any given situation. The apps I use regularly are vim, Obsidian, SublimeText, and Runestone (iOS).
Note that plaintext editors are a bit crap on a mobile phone. Some struggle with the way the device connects to third-party cloud storage, so you may want to use integrated cloud storage (eg. iCloud or Google Drive) just for making quick notes on the go. Collaboration is unfortunately very inconvenient, so don't be surprised if you need to keep the odd note on Google Drive or Apple Notes just for this purpose.
Analogue notes are a staple in my life. They're slower and less convenient, which might make it better for memory and learning, but there's something enjoyably tactile about it when using a lovely pen and stationery.
Darkmode, greyscale, and cutting out the pretty
Unless I'm doing stuff where colour matters, my devices will default to darkmode and greyscale. It's visually peaceful and, while I still use my devices A LOT, my use is increasingly specific and intentional.
In some ways, I have reduced the amount of 'pretty' and 'easy' from day-to-day use, going as far as RE-introducing friction into certain workflows. It's the antithesis of infinite scroll and autoplay next. It provides natural pause points where I get to ask myself if the thing I'm about to do is a worthwhile use of my time.
Sorry/notsorry to all the web and interface designers I offend by doing this. Our industry produces beautiful work, undoubtedly, but it's more complicated to say which applications of such genius are of positive benefit to human well-being.
Most of my socialising happens synchronously now, and I am far more deliberate about saying yes to things. I've come to terms with the fact that practicality and mental health require declining almost all invitations to "catch up" or "hang out" while prioritising purposeful social contact that offers enrichment or comfort to those involved. Yeah, I'm sure that sounds pretentious, but hey, it's the best I can articulate this at the moment, so thanks for understanding.
I still socialise digitally. This tends to happen over email, texting, Discord/Slack, and (parasocial) slow blogging. I do not miss algorithmic feeds and scoll holes.
It wasn't hard to find new social networks after de-socialing, but it very much felt that way at first. That's no surprise, right? The feed is suddenly cut off and there's bound to be a period of adjustment and transition. I started by leaning more into the less public networks I already had, like professional-social groups and cosy spaces.
Other DM tips and how I feel about them
- Swap to a dumbphone. Good advice for some, but not for me. My smartphone helps me do things that would be just that bit too hard with a dumbphone.
- Opt for physical books instead of e-books. Not completely, but increasing the proportion of physical books has stopped my reading list from feeling overwhelming.
- Rent a cabin in the forest, chop wood, and write your novel. Uhhhh, yes please.
Books for the aspiring digital minimalist
- Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
- Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
- A World Without Email by Cal Newport
- Stolen Focus by Johann Hari
- Dopamine Nation by Anna Lembke