Thursday, August 8, 2019

Digital Minimalism (What Am I Even Doing On Here?)

Okay, so at the end of June I read Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport (he also wrote Deep Work, which I read a while back and really loved). Long story short on this one is that I loved it. I'm a Cal Newport fangirl, I love the way he thinks and works, and he's the kind of person that if I ever met him in real life, I'd want him to like and respect me and the way I work.


This book also kind of led me to an existential crisis about what I'm doing here and whether I should quit blogging entirely.

Okay, so the premise of the book is that we are all way too addicted to our phones, and social media in particular (though technology in general) is specifically designed to keep us addicted because they make money off our attention. Now, I've never considered myself to be super addicted to my phone. I mean, I have an iPhone and I find it useful for lots of things and I definitely enjoy being on Instagram, but I'm nowhere close to the addiction levels Newport describes in his book (or that I see regularly in my freshman on campus). I don't have Facebook on my phone (and while I still have an account, I probably only check Facebook a couple times a year), I mostly try to keep my phone out of sight during the day (hiding it from my children), and the number one thing I use it for is listening to audio books (which, okay, is something I do a lot of, but I don't necessarily consider that a bad use of my phone).

But after reading Newport's report of how social media is specifically designed to create addiction, and how much money they make off of our attention, it just made me feel icky. For phone addicts, Newport recommends an extreme 30 day digital fast, cutting out any electronic interaction that isn't strictly necessary for your livelihood. I didn't feel like I had an addiction problem that needed fixing by such intentional means, but I inadvertently found myself feeling so conflicted about social media after reading this book that I just didn't even want to open up my Instagram app, or check the news, or read any blogs, or do anything (even email). I didn't want to give my attention to anything there.

So, for most of July, I accidentally took a social media fast. I just lost all enthusiasm, and generally stayed away. I wrote two posts here on the blog (one a belated reading recap post, and one a book review I felt obligated to put up after signing up to be on the launch team), and posted once on Instagram on each of my accounts (again, related to that book review I had signed up to promote), but otherwise, I just stayed away from these platforms. I doubt many people noticed what I considered to be my "absence." After all, when I'm really busy during the school year, that's about my regular posting rate anyway. The difference for me was that I actually had a ton of posts planned. It was the summertime, I had time and space to devote here, this was my hobby, and I was going to write a bunch of things.

But after reading that book (here's the existential crisis part), I felt aware like never before how my creation of content asks for attention from you, my audience. I'm asking you to give up precious moments of your valuable time to read my posts, like my pictures, listen to my stories, and engage with my content. Should I be doing that? Should I be asking for you attention? Should I be encouraging you to spend time on these platforms by creating my content, or should I be encouraging you to get off by not creating anything? I thought about that quite a bit through the month of July.

But here's the other thing I realized through my month off. Newport tells us in his book that if you are going to embark on his digital fast, then you need to have activities in place to fill that time (otherwise you will be bored out of your mind and revert back to all your old social media habits). He recommends specifically creative outlets, hobbies that require you to interact with real people and/or produce tangible things the way the digital world doesn't allow you to. And this is where I had a bit of a crisis.

You see, my creative outlet is creating content here. My hobby is this blog, and accompanying Instagram account. So what did I fill my time with in July? Well, I read a ton of books (surprise surprise), but then I just wanted to talk about them here. I played lots of board games (a Newport approved hobby), but being married to the man I am I do plenty of that anyway. I practiced the piano a little (now that we have one), which was positive. I even found an evening to sneak away for a long solo hike through our local nature preserve, and it was a wonderful, magical experience (well, except for the chigger bites, because I forgot bug spray, rookie mistake).

But I missed writing. I missed writing here. I missed posting to Instagram. I missed having these outlets to talk about books. These are my hobbies because they fill me up, they provide me with joy, they make me happy, and feeling like I needed to quit them actually made me depressed. I really was kind of depressed through much of July. I discovered that this blog and related social media provide a deep value to my life.

So that means I'm staying. I'm sticking around here. I'm creating content here because I need this outlet in my life.

But I'm going to do it with as much respect as possible for the time and attention of my audience.

I've never been one to seek out rapid growth or a huge following either here on the blog or on social media. I'm not much of a self-promoter. I've always only ever done this for fun, and this book convinced me that I need to keep it that way. I am not going to put my time into growing my audience or producing more regular content or asking people to pay attention to me. If people happen to find me, if they happen to appreciate my content, if they happen to like or comment or engage with me, I will be forever grateful for the gift of their precious attention. I will try to provide them with something interesting, something worthwhile, and a wonderful new book recommendation to take away with them. But that is all.

So I guess, after all that, what I've decided is that things aren't going to change much around here. I'm not abandoning my digital hobbies, but I'll also not be taking them any more seriously than I already do. I'll post what I can when I can, and I'll try to make it as useful and interesting as possible. But I think that's what I mostly already do.

And for everyone who follows along, thank you so much for thinking what I do here is worth your time and attention. I just love talking books and ideas and life so much, and it is so much more fun with an audience. Thanks for being here with me!


  1. I plan to read this one soon, though now I'm a bit nervous that I'll have the same reaction! Since I don't have a smartphone, I find that I tend to not be as addicted as some, but since our laptop is right in our kitchen, I get it on a LOT during the days when we're at home a lot. It's definitely something I need to work on!

    My thoughts on being a content creator are this--if people are going to consume content via the Internet (which most are), then as long as I'm providing them with something worthwhile, inspirational, etc., then I don't feel bad about it. Better to read something that might make you better or that might make you want to read a new book or something than to fill that same time with fluff. That's how I justify it, anyway :)

  2. Yes, I think that's what I've come to feel about content creation too. This book helped me feel free of the need to post more regularly or have a "schedule" or something like that with the goal of boosting numbers, as I want to make sure I'm only posting stuff that actually matters to me (and hopefully my audience), not just content for the sake of content or keeping eyeballs on me at all times.