2019 – a year of digital minimalism

I have been a geek for a long as can remember, from listening to shortwave radio as a kid to building technology brands for much of my career.

For the longest time, my natural instinct has been to be an enthusiastic early adopter for technology solutions, from to-do lists to listening to music to using AI in the home.

But something changed in 2018. Rather than feeling liberated by tech, I felt trapped by the multitude of tools I was using in both my professional and personal life. And once I took stock, it was hard to escape the conclusion that the majority of my activities were now being tracked in some way, presumably to add data to my digital footprint and with the end goal to… sell me more stuff.

Reading a book on a kindle involves sharing with Amazon what I read, where I read, how long I read for, etc, etc. Listening to music on any streaming service builds a detailed persona of my listening preferences, my musical taste and no doubt my mood and feelings.

More and more, I felt that I was outsourcing my life to an army of algorithms. 

Something had to give. So during the lazy days between Christmas and the new year, I did the following:

  • Uninstalled all apps on my phone that were not delivering daily value.
  • Took a long hard look at all digital tools I was subscribed to and disconnected from those I was not using, deleting data where possible.
  • Put google home, Spotify and Apple Music on pause, dusted off our record collection and started listening to vinyl again, in the process re-discovering many albums I used to love.

I use G-Suite as my central hub for email, so I audited who had access to any data and disconnected the majority of apps. 

I had switched from e-books back to paper some years ago when I had taken the time to read through the licensing agreement that comes with the electronic version of books (hint – you don’t actually own anything) and we had re-subscribed to a printed newspaper early in 2018. So now I can read where I want, what I want, for as short or long as I want without anybody looking over my shoulder. And, what bliss, no inane comment section to make me question humanity. 

I can share the paper with my wife, or bring an interesting page to work, I can lend a book to a friend, I can gift it, share it, do whatever I feel like doing with it. It feels incredibly liberating to return to a technology I worked reasonably hard, for much of my career, to make obsolete. 

Other changes? I am maintaining a paper calendar that I use in parallel with my G-Suite calendar. While this may sound a little strange, there’s a very simple reason behind it – it forces me to think through my meetings and appointments rather than hitting the “Accept” button mindlessly. The pages in the calendar rather accurately demonstrate the passing of time and make planning highly visual and intuitive. I still have a calendar on my phone, but day after day I am relying on it less and less. 

I am not suggesting that I will give up on tech altogether. But I need some air, I need, as one might say in a relationship that has become questionable, some space. 

I still listen to podcasts. I still check on transit on my phone and use apps to find restaurants and recommendations. 

But, I don’t begin and end my days in front of a screen anymore. In the evening, the cut-off point if 9:30. In the morning, I don’t open my email until after my morning meditation and run. 

2019 is the year in which I am making the switch to using technology with intention, rather than allowing myself to be used by it. 

 

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