Hey, We’re Trying: Digital Minimalism in Quarantine

My take on screens, from a screen

My lovely people,

As we’ve continued to be left to our own devices (yes I can re-use a pun) for the past few months, our relationship with our screens has become more of a new normal than something we actively monitor. I know I came with a ton of energy at the start of quarantine about how I was going to use the downtime to disconnect, but even I’ll admit it’s been damn near impossible to maintain a healthy balance between how much time we spend looking at a screen. My screen time (below) hurts my little minimalist heart.

Considering I’m up for 15–16 hours a day, this is wild.

However, the time since I finished classes has provided me with a chance to experiment with some ways to create space between our digital and physical worlds that have helped me as I’ve transitioned into work. Might as well share them with you all:

What I’ve Learned: My Tips

1. Separate Church & State (Phone & Computer)

One thing that’s become increasingly obvious to me as this period has gone on is the functional overlaps we allow between our phones and computers. Since both connect to the internet, we assume both have to be able to do exactly the same things at all times. This seems redundant to me.

Phones are great extensions of our computers for when we’re out of the house and require mobile power for things like music, podcasts, and texts, but what good are they for when we’re trapped inside? Besides the occasional phone call or Snapchat, we can do everything on our phones or tablets on our computers. Do you really need apps to check the same thing you’d check on your computer?

For me, that amounts not having social media (at all), email or my work messaging app on my phone and have disabled all notifications except for phone calls. I’ve also unsubscribed from as many email lists as I possibly can to ensure my inbox stays minimal.

Tl;dr: Try deleting a few things like social media, news apps, or (if you’re bold) email from your phone or keeping your phone off when in the house and see what happens. I’ve found that avoiding the buzzing vibrations and full-screen notifications (the 2 most addictive features of smartphones) has reduced my urge to constantly check.

2. Show Your Eyes Some Love

I get it. Screen time is an inevitability. That doesn’t mean you can’t try to optimize it. I bought blue light glasses in early May and they’ve been game changing. Enabling display alterations such as night shift, dark mode, or reduce white point are also great ways to reduce any potential eye strain. I have all 3 of these features on all the time, and wear blue light glasses so much that everyone I work with thinks I have bad eyesight. Boy are they in for a surprise when we return to the office.

3. Experiment with “Digital Nakedness”

Once you get comfortable with your phone being off a fair amount, going for any portion of your day unplugged is a great way to add some balance into your day. I’ve become a fan of walking for roughly 30 minutes early in the morning without my phone; I find it’s a great way to get some exercise in before my day even starts so I don’t need to worry about it afterward. I always find something new to appreciate each time too.

On non-work days, I also set hard limits for when I allow my devices to be on (9 AM to 9 PM) to enforce some self-discipline around my routine. This has been huge for me; I find starting and ending my days without screens helps my brain ramp up and slow down much more gradually. This was much easier before I started work, but I’ve found that implementing boundaries to afford myself some “me” time has become an every day necessity.

4. Invest in the Physical (Buy a Book!)

I know I sound like a bit of a boomer here, but I’m serious. Reading is a great way to give your eyes a break from screens, not to mention a great way to learn new things. I read 15 books in the 5 months from when I came home to finish my Senior Year to starting work, and a few more since I started work. Pretty cool. Reading in general is a great low-level stimulation to begin or end your day.

If books aren’t your thing, find an activity that allows you to disconnect. Whether it’s board games, cleaning, or even enjoying a cup of coffee/tea, it’s essential we give our brains time to breathe. A study from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry points to a similar strategy of intentionally seeking things to do instead of screen time as the most optimal way to maintain a balance.

In sum, the key isn’t to be perfect, but just a little bit better. I hope some of this resonates with you (as you 100% read it on a screen) and you continue to take care of yourself.

Until next time,

Carter

A Chinese Garden I strolled through while in Portland during Summer 2018. Makes me wonder how people passed their days in such simpler times.

My completely intentional ramblings on all things human.

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