Derek Tillotson

Digital Declutter

A couple days ago, I wrote about how I was leaving Twitter (at the end of May). Plans change, it seems. One of the things I mentioned (and linked to) in that post was Cal Newport's TED Talk "Quit Social Media." Right after publishing that piece, I fell down the rabbit hole and found myself reading his book Digital Minimalism. Here is a link to the book's page on his blog.

I'm far from finished right now, but I've made it through the most important chunk of the book: The digital declutter. Essentially, Cal argues that spending 30 days away from optional technologies gives the brain a chance to reset so we can assess which optional technologies provide genuine value to our lives, and whether or not we should reintroduce them.

I've taken the guidelines of the 30 day declutter and adapted them for my life. This is the long list of rules I've come up with:

No video games. This is probably going to be the toughest one for me. Video games have been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is watching my dad play some sort of martial arts game on a Sega Master System. Since then, it's been rare for me to have a day where I play no video games, especially in my adult life. I'm not certain what's going to come from this one, but however I feel at the end of thirty days will dictate how I proceed. The one exception I'm making to this are puzzles. Specifically, I'm allowing myself to play 1-2 nonograms a day. Right now, the plan is to do it on the phone at home, but I haven't looked for other websites to do them.

No social media. This post is the best description I can give for this point I was going to do it anyways.

No YouTube. The one exception right now is if the Indoor Football League gets its season back on track any time soon. Then, I'll be watching Oakland Panthers games, as I'm a season ticket holder.

No subscription-based streaming video. That includes Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, pro wrestling streaming services, and countless other things I've subbed to at some point over the years. It's too easy to get lost in all of that and waste half a day. I'm also including services that allow me to login through a cable provider and watch video.

No podcasts. I think ultimately, this will land in a place where I allow myself to listen to specific things during specific circumstances. Like listening to something to teach me about a specific topic while I'm cooking or walking from the bus stop to work.

No Google Maps outside the home. This doesn't come up often, especially because I'm only leaving the house to go grocery shopping or go to work right now. Still, if I need to find directions, I can do it before I leave.

No news. Almost all major news is built to cause fear and anxiety. I'm at my happiest when I'm actively avoiding the depression of mass media.

No audiobooks. I don't listen to a lot of audiobooks anyways, but I imagine this will ultimately fall into the same level as podcasts.

No unneeded online shopping. During a pandemic, there may be more reason to do more online shopping. I haven't really found a reason to do it yet, other than maybe ordering meal delivery so I can keep supporting vegan restaurants.

No checking email on my phone. Email is weird. I rarely get anything of value unless I'm making an effort to receive something of value (job applications, personal notes, etc.). But I still check my email a dozen times a day (at least). I've disabled Gmail on my phone and if I can do it on my Chromebook, I'll just leave email for when I have time to sit down at my desktop.

No excess texting. I don't text nearly as much as others do, but I still do my fair share. Before I send anything, my rule will be to ask myself "what will this accomplish?" if the answer is of quality, then I can send it.

Remove all optional apps from my phone. The only big exception is Konami Pixel Puzzle Collection so I can play 1-2 nonograms a day. Other than that, my phone now has the default apps (a bunch of Google stuff), along with stuff like Uber, Lyft, and a couple work-related things. I've deactivated YouTube and I'm willing to do the same to the browser if needed.

Ebook shopping must be done at home, on my Kindle. The Kindle is a piece of technology I'm allowing myself full use of for three reasons: 1) Reading ebooks means no clutter from physical books. 2) The San Francisco Public Library has a strong ebook collection. 3) Even if the previous points didn't matter, I'm writing this during a pandemic. As for ebook shopping, I've found that I spend too much time browsing the Kindle store when I'm accessing it on a computer and I'll mindlessly browse it on my breaks at work. This rule is mostly an efficiency hack.

No screens 30 minutes before bed. I'm defining "screen" as anything backlit. TV, phone, computer, and tablet are kind of the big four (without video games to distract me). In practice, the only screen I'm allowing is my Kindle (and that's because good ebook readers have side lighting, that's why they're easier on the eyes.

Avoid multitasking when possible. Same goes for distractions. In Digital Minimalism, Newport points out how most people, even when not properly "multitasking" still frequently distract themselves by shifting their attention away from their work to do something trivial, like checking email or send a message. That distraction still breaks our focus, which is difficult to reclaim.

Can only use my Google Home for alarms, timers, and weather. This is standard use for me at this point anyways, but I'm putting it in writing.

No mindless web browsing. This is a tough one. Having had internet access least two-third of my life, I've grown fond of getting lost in a sea of information. Not allowing myself to do that should create less distraction and allow me to dive deeper on the information I choose to pursue.

Handwrite at least part of my blog posts. I do that for the most part anyways. Oftentimes (especially on the shorter ones), I'll handwrite the whole thing. Well, the first draft, at least.

Listening to music is only allowed as the main focus of entertainment. Or when cooking. The other rule of this is that my music choice must be intentional. I can't just turn on a playlist and let it roll.

I don't know where this is going to take me. Like many/most people, technology has become such a big part of my life over the past decade (and more) that it's difficult to imagine what I'd do without countless information and entertainment hitting me in the face all day. But I'm going to give it a go and see what things are like on the other side. I expect to share my updates here, especially without social media.

Written April 8, 2020

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