Digital minimalism in the time of social distancing

Less screen time doesn’t mean less contact or information

Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have enough of it. Especially now, when digital platforms are still for many of us, the only way to work, learn and stay in touch with our loved ones. They are the remaining option for us to be creative, entertained and informed.

When the world closed its borders, moving online in almost every single aspect of our lives became a ‘natural thing’ to do.

At first, I didn’t realize how much my behaviour and habits changed. From an average of ten hours, I went to being online for roughly fifteen hours a day. While trying to stay inside, the rest of my analog activities converted into their digital version. I would never believe I’d say these words, but I even managed to Skype with our dog. When you add my phone-time into this mash-up, you will get another one or two hours on top of my daily rate.

Undoubtedly, having the ability to be online expands our opportunities to face social distancing together while being separated and somehow continue living our lives.

However, in the same way as with almost everything else, there are two sides to our online-networking world.

It doesn’t take us much effort to fall down the internet rabbit hall.

It’s nearly impossible to avoid it with the increasing screen time right now. And why would you? I asked myself the same question. But you know what? After a while, being online turned just to another groundhog day activity.

I started noticing recurring headaches. My sleeping routine was partly gone. I realized I was often sitting and working behind the computer without taking a proper break. It was easier than I thought to forget about it. I became a bit of a stranger to productivity. Just because you spend a long time on your computer or phone, it doesn’t mean you are productive.

The breaking — news just started flooding in from all directions. It felt-like a never-ending avalanche of information.

There was and still is no end to increasing numbers of cases, rising unemployment rates, misinformation, uncertainty and disability of media or governments to find a united front on what to report. I felt more discouraged than encouraged to check the news.

The s*** broke loose, with everyone sending hundreds of pandemic-related emails. I get it; you try to inform us, your employees, clients and users. But there is a difference between staying informed and spamming.

On top of everything else, being self-isolated didn’t help. The uncertainty of when I’d be able to see my family pushed drew me to be online even more.

Staying connected has become a sort of lifeline for me. But to what extend was it healthy?

Going minimal

Digital minimalism doesn’t mean you have to remove yourself from the House Party app or whatever platform you choose, switch off the laptop, cancel your internet provider, never post a picture on social media and go off the grid.

I love technology. The words cannot express how thankful I’m for having a chance to talk to my family and friends, some of them thousands of kilometres away.

You’ll never get yesterday back.

I realized that on I started just drifting through my days glued to the screen. It felt like my online routine was stealing my time away. At some point, reading more news or participating in more video chats felt more like a chore than a way to improve my mood and reduce the feeling of loneliness.

Yes, technology is here to help us. But does it always optimize the way we use our time?

Often, it’s about a few small tweaks.

A good starting point was to bring back my online-work routine.

I split my working time into a few small-time blocks with longer breaks. It gave me time to stretch, grab a snack, rest my eyes and reboot my brain.

Outside of working hours, I try using my online time with an intention. Whether this is to research a topic for an article, do some additional learning or work on a personal project.

A good move was to distribute these throughout the week to reduce my screen time in a day. It gives me more time to breathe and switch off.

The same goes for watching Netflix. Although, I will not pretend like binging through ‘Community’ wasn’t the best thing ever. Let’s not be hypocrites. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Changing my media diet had the biggest, noticeable impact.

There will ALWAYS be something happening in this world. So unless you are in a crisis management team, you don’t need to check the news every few hours, nor daily. That might be just your shortcut to another daily dose of anxiety.

No one has to be a fortune-teller to know that new cases or problems will come up. Plus, there is also a lot of good stuff happening. The world is not as bad as the majority of news’ front-pages make it look. Try to check out some of these platforms for a bit of solution-based or positive-minded journalism: The Economist, The Guardian: The Upside, The New York Times: Fixes, The Correspondent, Fast Company: Impact and many others.

I try replacing online activities with their offline version.

Instead of chatting on Messenger, I try to pick up a phone and call a friend or record a voice message. A thumb up will not always cover all the emotional spectrum your voice can express. Weirdly enough, not once I had a feeling like I miss Facebook or Instagram, although you might find me to wander off to Twitter, rarely. Now, more than ever, all of them make me question their actual ‘community value.’

One of my favourite things to do is to listen to a podcast or radio — both excellent ways to keep you informed and entertained while not staring at your screen.

Now could be a good time to steal some time for yourself and occasionally be alone with your thoughts.

How many of us can do that? And, you don’t necessarily have to meditate. Trust me; it can be a wild ride. Often, it helps to quiet down the buzz in your mind and organizes your thoughts.

It’s about quality, not quantity

Tough times like these prove to us more than ever before how powerful and indispensable technology is in our lives. What we should remember is also the impact it has on our actions, behaviour and mood.

What the last few weeks taught me is that technology is neither good or bad. It is the intention we have that turns it into a benefit or potential harm. You know what they say. Too much of everything is now always good for you, even though it might impact us all differently.

So how you navigate through and optimize your screen time is entirely up to you. But, it might not be the worst thing to try and dial it down a notch even during your stay-at-home time (or even beyond). See what happens.

The choice is yours. You can always go back to more screen time.

I enjoy researching different topics, occasionally, I’ll turn them into articles.

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