I’ve just finished reading Cal Newport’s new book Digital Minimalism and I’ve really enjoyed it. I felt it more accessible than Deep Work (that I loved but found a bit boring in the beginning) and it provided me so much food for thought. It made me realize I’m on the right path (not quite there but I’m working on it) concerning digital minimalism.
Here is Cal Newport’s definition of Digital Minimalism:
A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.
For me, Facebook is where it all started. I joined it back in 2009, right after finishing high school, with one of those silly couple profiles where the name was something like Alice-Boyfriend’s Name (please, don’t judge). The main reason why I joined it was not just because I was missing my friends after starting University (no WhatsApp back then) but because I wanted to play Farmville. I managed to resist for the whole 2008/2009 school year, firmly stating that I didn’t care about Facebook when it first got popular here. But then I caved, only because of a digital farm to run, not because of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). I’m quite proud of it to be honest, haha.
3-4 years in and Facebook quickly became the first source of anxiety and comparison trap for me. At that time, I was having some issues with my University career, going through a break-up and all I was doing was to keep scrolling my home page watching my friends’ accomplishments and amazing lives while I was struggling and feeling miserable.
In the meantime, joining Middle-earth News made me meet so many like-minded people and, since I didn’t want to share my private life with everyone, I created a second profile. I ran two different Facebook profiles (going against the platform guidelines) for almost a year, when I suddenly realized that I was spending all my time in my newest account interacting with fellow Tolkien fans rather than in my “official” profile, that, at that point, I occasionally visited only to end up comparing myself to my friends. Around 2013 or 2014, I decided to close for good my original “official” profile and just keep the second one to interact with my online friends.
During the last few years, though, I started using Facebook in a specific way:
- I only check it from my laptop browser and I don’t have the app on my phone (I’ve never used Messenger to communicate).
- I unfollowed everyone and every page/group so my home page is always empty and I don’t get distracted (this drives Facebook crazy and it constantly asks me to follow new stuff).
- I use it pretty much like a Reddit alternative. I only engage in a couple of closed Groups and I occasionally manage the Middle-earth News page.
The way I use Facebook is similar to what a digital minimalist would do with social media, according to Cal Newport. However, I didn’t sit to plan my rules to use Facebook, it just happened over the years after going through a very bad season of my life. I know this is not for everyone, but when I hear people saying how much they hate Facebook and that they would quit it but can’t do it, I usually tell them there is another way.
What about friends and family? Well, I keep in touch with them via WhatsApp and if someone in my everyday life asks me if I use Facebook, I usually say I don’t, which to some extent is true. I occasionally receive friendship requests from people who know me in person but I’ve become very selective when it comes to accepting them and, if I do it, they never interact with me because I never share updates on my profile nor leave comments on their posts.
For Twitter, I have a similar approach. I don’t have the app on my phone, I only check it from my laptop browser or tablet. The Twitter app on my phone was incredibly addicting for me because it made me waste a lot of time compulsively scrolling the feed throughout the day. Instead, my tablet and laptop aren’t always with me.
Instagram is still a big issue for me, mostly because I interact a lot with my online friends via Direct Messages and, while I don’t post a photo every single day anymore, I’m still addicted to Stories. That’s the main reason why I started taking social media free weekends. However, I still have to find a way to use Instagram more mindfully since the browser version is very limited.
As you can see, I didn’t set specific rules to use social media like “you can check Twitter only 3 days a week at 6 PM” but still having some kind of barriers helps a lot for me. I almost treat them like a job and it can be useful if you’re concerned with your privacy like me. Before sharing anything online I usually step back and evaluate if the content is too personal, if I would be ashamed to see it reposted somewhere else (remember that even Instagram photos and Stories can be downloaded or shared on Pinterest these days), if it can be perceived as offensive, and so on.
I’m going to end this post with a quote from the book that I found very inspiring.
[…] approach social media as if you’re the director of emerging media for your own life. Have a careful plan for how you use the different platforms, with the goal of “maximizing good information and cutting out the waste.”