In Digital Minimalism the author, Cal Newport discusses the importance of solitude for helping you improve your work but also improving personal relationships. The first few chapters give an insight into president Abraham Lincoln’s longing for solitude which often saw him at times giving his personal protection the slip so he could ride home alone. The book Walden by Henry David Thoreau also gets mentioned quite a bit. If you know nothing about it, it’s a true life account of how Thoreau learns to live off the land and build his own home but as the book is nearly a hundred years old, it is rather dry but he lectures the reader on the distinction between you owning things and things owning you.
The theory in Digital Minimalism, is that solitude from the constant bombardment of social media, the 24 hour news cycle and distractions helps you appreciate these connections more and lets you sit and mull things over.
Whilst solitude may seem daunting, the author is quite clear to state that this shouldn’t be a case of cutting yourself off from the world by retreating to some remote bolthole—but suggests that solitude is what is happening in your brain and not in the environment around you.
The author argues that these days, people tend to never experience solitude like our ancestors thanks to things like having social media and the Internet at your finger tips. It’s so easy to distract yourself with whatever outrage is happening on social media that sometimes the connections you have in real life become secondary. How many times have you been sat in a pub or restaurant with a friend where they constantly check their phone? Surely there cannot be something more interesting going on?
For the detox, it is suggested that you should cut yourself off from things like social networks and news websites for a period of 30 days and then after that time, if you want to, slowly start reintroducing these services back into your life. The author mentions that when he discussed the concept of this, funnily enough on social media, that people were genuinely excited to try this detox out. Whilst I didn’t share this level of enthusiasm I was interested none-the-less to see how this would work out.
The first things I wanted to kick were social networks. I’d already dropped Twitter in the past as I felt that anything you tweeted was open to attack or misinterpretation and I personally didn’t see any value in hearing every single person’s opinion on every single thing. The next one was Facebook. When I first started using Facebook, it was much different to the beast it is today. Nowadays, it influences elections and spreads false information freely. I closed my Facebook account and at first, none of my friends really noticed and the ones I did were quite puzzled as to why I’d done such a thing.
I was also an avid news reader and would check the BBC and Guardian websites several times a day at work. Whilst I like to be well informed, I kept thinking about the proverb Ignorance is bliss and wondered how all this negativity was affecting me mentally.
As I wasn’t really following a formal structure I can’t say how long I’ve quit these distractions but I know that it has been longer than 30 days so far.
As I mentioned earlier, after the initial 30 day detox, it was time to start introducing social networks, news sites etc back in to your life—but I didn’t. I’ve kept off them and anecdotally, I do feel better. I can’t say that this is because of my digital solitude for sure but I’m not sure what else to pin it on. I still partake in WhatsApp conversations and read the news every now and then but not with the vigour of before. I’ve even stopped buying as much stuff. As the band James once sang if I hadn’t seen such riches I could live with being poor. Maybe ignorance is bliss? I’d suggest anyone who spends a lot of time online to give it a try, even if you have a break, it may make you appreciate it more!