I follow a handful of minimalist bloggers on Medium. I’ve never read books by The Minimalists, but between friends, social media posts, and the aforementioned bloggers I’ve got a decent enough grasp. That said, if you’re looking for a CliffsNotes tutorial, you will not find that here (because my favorite minimalist blogger, Jennifer Chan, does a better job here). Instead, I intend to focus on something that plagues society, and myself along with it: technological distractions.
I love technology. And you probably do, too. Therefore, you don’t need me to opine on all the wonderful gadgets and utilities at (y)our disposal in 2019, or of the many still to come. I’m not a tech blogger, after all. I’m not even the most tech savvy member of my family–that title belongs to my elder brother, and it’s not even close. But one doesn’t need to be an expert in technology to appreciate it, or use it all the time. Smart watch? I had it. New cell phone–had it and it. Video-game console? Had it, and it, and it. You get the point. I was your prototypical consumer operating within a consumer society. And of course I’m not by any means “cured”–I still own some of these items. I mean, would you even call me on my house phone if I had one? Let’s get real.
But what I’ve tried to do over the past few years is take action to become more in the moment; to be aware of my surroundings; to actually try to remember every detail of what someone says by actively listening; to remember what I saw on my way to/from work. I am sitting at a dining table writing this. It is a cool, spring evening, and the windows are open letting in the slight breeze. The dogs are playing and getting their paws muddy from the weekend’s rain (ugh, wonderful). I am here now, taking in all the experiences around me. However, if I were to pick up my phone I would no longer be here, which is why it’s on the other side of the house, because if it were right here I would pick it up because that’s how I/we’ve become wired.
“Be with who you’re with, because that’s time you won’t get back, while you can always text people back later.”
I’m a somewhat-sober tech addict who still has more work to do–perhaps a lot, but a lot less than I did four or five years ago, or even last week. It’s progress nevertheless, which is why I want to share with you some of the steps I’ve taken during this journey that have worked for me, especially in the event you struggle with some of the same issues:
Get Rid Of The Smart Watch – What value is this adding to your life that reaching into your pocket, or retrieving your phone–or better yet doing NEITHER–can do? What value is it adding to your life that a simple analog or digital watch can do for a lot less of your valuable time and money? It’s an amazing piece of technology that we all want, but none truly need.
Don’t Upgrade Your Phone – If you’re still using a rotary phone, you’re amazing and I also probably haven’t spoken to you in a while. It also means this doesn’t apply to you (though a cordless phone would be a mind-blowing upgrade). For the rest of us, we don’t need the newest phone. Apple iPhones, for example, are supported on new iOS systems for approximately five years. Additionally, the strides made between your iPhone X and iPhone XS/R are less significant than the ones that were made between your iPhone and iPhone 3GS (but more expensive). A new phone is a new toy. A toy that–unless you’re using that rotary phone–you’ll want to waste time playing with, but don’t need.
Keep Your Phone In Your Pocket/Purse – If you’re at home, put the phone far enough away from you that you feel hassled to go get it. If you’re out, don’t take it out unless required (e.g., someone is calling to find out your location). If it’s too big to fit in your pocket, get a smaller one. Be with who you’re with, because that’s time you won’t get back, while you can always text people back later.
Get Rid Of Your Phone Notifications – The only notifications I receive on my phone are transactions (i.e., credit/debit cards), texts, and calls. These notifications don’t buzz me unless I set them to do so (pretty much every smartphone has this capability–Here’s a good How-To write-up for iPhones). Get rid of your social media or news notifications, and anything else that will compel you to click and take away from the present moment. There will be time to read it later, and if not then chances are that time was better used.
Spend Less Time On Social Media – Chances are you’re checking social media from your phone, so should you follow the above step that will help in this endeavor. However, if you don’t trust yourself, delete the apps from your phone and only use them when you’re alone in front of a computer/tablet at home. And if a phone is all you have, download the apps when you get home and then delete them when finished. This is doable, but also enough of a hassle to deter you from getting on your favorite social media sites as much.
Unsubscribe From Offer/Sale Emails – You don’t need to know about that sale. Buying stuff on-sale is spending money on things you don’t need simply because it’s less than what it usually is. Additionally, all it does is clutter your inbox and take you more time to get to the emails that actually matter (such as from family/friends/loved ones). When you need to buy something, buy it. With a little looking you can always find a deal.
You Don’t Always Need To Snap A Photo – These days, if I’m planning to take photos I’m bringing my DSLR, and I’m usually going about it alone. Not only does my phone camera stink, but I don’t always want to be pulling out my phone to snap a photo and then see that notification. There’s been much writing about how photos affect your memory of the moment, and it’s very clear that you should take less photos with your camera, and more with your mind.
Drive/Exercise In Silence – I love NPR, music, podcasts, and audio books as much as you do, so by all means continue to listen. But complete silence on occasion allows us to be with our thoughts and more present in the moment because there’s less to distract us. Try it out and you’ll be surprised at how much better you’ll feel. I don’t always run without headphones, but there’s no denying that nothing makes me feel more fulfilled and refreshed than a run sans phone at the end of a long day (if only because it means I had some time without said phone).
Read From Paper – Read an actual book. And if you loathe books, try a hard copy of your favorite publication. Don’t read long form via your computer, or tablet, or phone. A book or magazine doesn’t beep at you with notifications–technology does. Oh, and use the library! You can get a monthly subscription for $0.00.
As alluded to above, I love technology, and am by no means arguing that we should all throw out everything and move-out into the wilderness (although that does sound pretty fun). But I do often feel that the world is moving too fast for my liking, and hearken back to the simpler days of my childhood where I knew your phone number by memory, played outside daily, and was forced to pay attention to you because there weren’t any handheld distractions. And odds are you sometimes feel this way, too. The above methods are still a work in progress for me, and maybe some are for you as well. But it’s meaningful progress toward mindfulness, and when we’re looking back on our lives and experiences, it’s progress that will count.
Thanks for reading.