sanlive

Digital Minimalism

I'm not game to 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 and NoSurf.

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

Brutalist Report is excellent for skimming headlines without the bullshit. Morning Brew (ref. link) is great for keeping up with the most important couple of talking points of the day. And SBS News is my current outlet of choice for dry, drama-free reporting that isn't exhausting to read.

I get niche content through topic-specific forums (eg. /r/fountainpens), podcasts, email loops/mailing lists, and discussion groups. Often if something is truly newsworthy, someone will want to talk about it and the story will find its way to you.

I keep up with some news and blog sources using RSS. In the beforetimes, I used Feedly after the demise of Google Reader, but something irked me about their subscription model this time around. So I shelled out for Reeder5 and it's been worth every penny. It's Mac-only, so I'm not sure what I'll do if I ever leave the Apple ecosystem, but RSS is an open format so there are myriad apps available for Windows and Linux. Emacs nerds are set with elfeed. And Thunderbird just does cross-platform RSS out of the box.

All this 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 no longer wishing to identify as 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: I tried Zoho Calendar, Proton Calendar and Apple Calendar, but none of these floated my boat. In the end, I realised I didn't actually like digital calendars all that much. Even when I was using Google Calendar, that just had enough features and complications to distract me from the fact that it was a pain in the arse to use. I now use an an analogue calendar.

Plaintext notes

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.

By chance I stumbled upon Write plain text files and The Plain Text Project, which made me realise that even if I whittled all those platforms down to one (which I tried with Zoho Notes), it just still just overkill that locked me into something proprietary.

Now I live the plaintext life. I still use a handful of apps, but they just give me different ways to access the same source material. Lightweight SublimeText is my day-to-day note-taking and VScode with a pretty skin is my code editing environment.

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 also featuring more regularly in my life. It's 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 I'm not sorry

Sorry/notsorry to all the web and interface designers I offend. Darkmode and greyscale are my defaults now and I feel much better for it. It's beautifully quiet, visually, and I don't find myself mindlessly using my devices anymore. I still use my devices A LOT, but my use is increasingly specific and intentional.

After just a few months of this, my devices felt more like tools than toys, though I still sometimes stare at my screens like I'm expecting something to happen. Old habits, I guess.

Socialising

I've come to terms with the fact that practicality and mental health require declining almost all invitations to "catch up" 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 a lot, which is very far from digital minimalism. I like to think DM refers to intentional and purposeful use of digital technology, moreso than cutting it out completely. Most of my digital socialising happens over email, Discord/Slack and texting. 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. I'm currently entertaining the possibility of joining an IRL hobby group sometime in future.

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. Like playing Wordle with my family, which is a lovely daily ritual I'm grateful to have at this point in my life.
  • Opt for physical books instead of e-books. Nice idea, but I cannot. The cost is prohibitive and I just don't want that many physical books in my home.
  • Rent a cabin in the forest, chop wood, and write your novel. Uhhhh, yes please.

Books for the budding 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