some weeks ago, i wrote my first entry in my journal in my links section about a book i had read, that being cal newport's digital minimalism. for the past month since reading this book, ive been trying to actually gather the courage to do what newport calls a '30 day digital declutter'.
in this period, newport asks the reader to put aside a 30(ish) day period to step away from optional digital technologies, and spend this time instead exploring and rediscovering hobbies and passions. after this period, you are to reintroduce technology based on the new blank slate youve created informed by your values and what benefit it can bring to your life. he exaggerates the term declutter rather than detox, as a detox implies returning to the old digital habits, but the declutter will help change them.
as ive written about a couple times, i have grown up alongside social media and smartphones, and as a 24 year old woman ive been struggling for a few years to untangle how this has influenced relationships, career, and my overall development. even though i left social media 2 months ago, i have come to realise that despite the benefits from having taken this step, the problem runs much deeper and is ingrained into how i operate as a human.
ive taken social media breaks, ive implemented tips such as muting notifications and removing certain apps from my phone, ive even left the majority of social media i once used for the sake of my artwork - but where i have grown up alongside these things it has conjoined itself into my behaviour and the development of my mind. newport hammers home numerous times in the book that simply attempting small measures like i described is not enough, you need to wipe the slab clean. and so, this is what i shall be spending the mext month doing.
the first step is to identify what is considered an optional technology or a critical technology in my life. i have spent the day creating a list for myself of things i am allowed to do, for the sake of work, banking, and communication with loved ones etc on my computers and my phone, and a list of things i am BANNED from for the next month, but with a particular emphasis on staying the hell away from my computer, laptop, and phone unless absolutely necessary. thanks to years of relentlessly attempting to create a productive relationship with my technology, this list did feel like an easy thing to curate. below is the current list.
i am prepared to add things to this, however, as after leaving social media i did notice i will try and find this void with other bullshit. not everything is listen here - i have been using leechblock for a couple weeks, which allows me to block certain websites for a custom period, but allows exceptions as well. for instance, the majority of client work i get comes through twitter. with leechblock, i can block the whole website apart from the branch /messages/, so that i can communicate with my clients but if i attempt to visit home or explore, the tab just shuts down. to add another layer of staying-the-fuck-off-twitter to this, i have DMs sent to my email first so i am not constantly checking the site itself which could lead down bad rabbit holes. i feel as though being away from my computer is going to be difficult, and so is leaving spotify, as i spend an embarrassing amount of time on both lol. ill also be attempting to make my phone a little more inaccessable, for example, i currently place it on my bureau before i go to sleep, and i think i will place it there as i have dinner etc.
the second step is to "explore and discover activities and behaviours which are satisfying and meaningful". newport mentions many of his participants find the first couple of weeks to be hard, and i am prepared for them to be exceptionally difficult. ive been addicted to using computers and phones since i was just a kid...i have a list of things ive been meaning to get done but just havent which can hopefully ease the (necessary) pain im probably going to go through ive also got a list of habits id like to properly reintroduce (i am one of those people who likes habits and gratitude and waking up at 5:30am and bullet journalling and shit) which ive had trouble doing so as of late.
i have lots of books i want to get through, including another of newports publications, 'deep work'. my good friend meg bought me a knit your own mittens kit four months ago for my birthday which i havent touched. i have lots of jigsaws id like to actually get through too. ive got art projects id like to get stuck into, particularly a big one which is time sensitive as well as a film ive been meaning to make for months. i want to start carving time to refine my art skills, i want to get back into learning spanish, and inform myself of other topics im interested in. im hoping in this time i may be able to actually create something, as anyone who follows my artwork will know ive not been able to create much bar sketches ive posted on patreon and shared among friends. during this time i will also be keeping a journal on my thoughts and feelings, which i may end up sharing excerpts of here.
the final step is to reintroduce technologies - but only if they serve a real benefit to what should hopefully be your refreshed sense of what is important to yourself - but this is for future lauren on the 2nd of october to be concerned about. this is also the day i will be returning to neocities, as i shall be including neocities in my list of blocked sites. i am starting this declutter tomorrow, as id rather start on a monday than the 1st of sept. the last day will be the 1st of oct, which gives me the weekend away from work to contemplate the experience with the final step in mind. 33 days. so, i shall see you around that time my friends......who knows where this journey may take me and may take you...stay safe out there and have a splendid september...and when i come back ill sort out this blog situation that seems to be happening on my site now lol...also i wrote this in one go so sorry if it makes 0 sense..ok peaceout motherfuckers
in my previous blog (thats right... i blog now), i outlined my intentions for participating in cal newport's 30 day digital declutter as outlined in his 2019 book digital minimalism, including my reasoning and the guidelines i were to follow. the declutter started on the 30th of august, and ended on the 1st of october. the format of this blog shall be as follows: i will take you through the 5 weeks, referencing my journals, and talking about the problems i found and the solutions ive created.
the first day of the declutter was a bank holiday monday so i had that day off work. i had planned to spend the morning giving the knit-your-own-mittens kit a go, but upon reading the jargon-heavy instructions and having zero experience on knitting i spent the morning watching the same three tutorials by sheep and stitch and desperately trying to figure out why i couldnt manage a simple rib stitch. i got there eventually, and as of today i have 1 and 1/3 mittens knit.
something i observed not just while knitting, but at any other possible time during the day, is just how often my mind has the knee-jerk urge to search up something online, and how difficult it actually is to resist doing so. i think after years of social media use, this is another way for my mind to try and get a quick hit of dopamine in a similar way it does when i get likes on a post. its satisfying to immediately get an answer but it runs the risk of tripping myself down SHITTY RABBIT HOLES online. in the beginning of the declutter, this happened numerous times - especially on youtube.
in newport's publication deep work, which came out before digital minimalism, in the chapter embrace boredom, he suggests while doing focussed tasks to block internet usage into 10-15 minute blocks. for example - lets say i have a couple hours to sit down and do some artwork. these two hours will be void of internet use, apart from pre-scheduled 10 minute blocks in which i am allowed to use the internet for whatever reason. if during my no-internet time i realise i need to look up a reference online, or if my brain hands me some random shit it would like googled, i write it down to be searched later in the internet block. the reason for doing this is that your attention in that hour does not become fragmented everytime you decide to search something up online, and as i mentioned, risk falling down SHITTY RABBIT HOLES. you are able to focus more clearly on the task at hand. newport shares research by clifford nass which delves into how switching constantly between sources of distraction has a lasting negative effect on the brain, and how difficult the addiction to this is to shake. i do wish newport had included a lot of this information in digital minimalism, as i think it does apply to someone who is attempting his declutter. internet blocking is not a practice i have tried yet (though i have done similar things as a student, using the app forest to force myself off the net to study), this may be a good technique for those of us who do have to work digitally to implement. however for this to work, you either need an extremely powerful sense of discipline (something i also think newport had neglected to mention in his book), the willpower to turn the internet off and keep it off, or blockers which ill speak about in the next couple of paragraphs.
skipping ahead to wednesday of that first week, i was back to the routine i experience for the majority of the year - i have several hours free in the morning, before i need to prepare and commute to work, which i am at through to the evening before returning home with a few hours left in the day to spare. ive always seen the value in the hours i have free, and its important to me not to waste them on SHITTY RABBIT HOLES. at this time, i was fulfilling client work, which i do at my computer. i have found since leaving social media that my computer is now my biggest source of tech distraction, finally dethroning my smartphone after almost 10 years. during the declutter, i found most of my pitfalls happened while using my computer, which is frustrating as i use it to work, and focus on what i am doing.
newport mentions freedom as a potential website blocker in his text, but seeing as you have to pay for that, id like to reccommend something different. for my day to day internet use, ive been using leechblock. this is the best FREE site blocker ive used, and is extremely flexible. i explained in my previous blog post how it allows me to still access twitter messages, where i get most of my client work, but if i click anywhere else on twitter it will shut the entire tab. over the declutter i have fine tuned this to let me use twitter only to access messages and the specific URL to schedule a tweet, but nothing else ï¿½ allowing me to solely use twitter professionally. above i also mentioned forest, which ive used on my iphone since 2015 and on chromium based browsers since 2018. as an a level student, i used this on my phone to stop myself opening up social media apps. the premise is simple ï¿½ you choose a time, say 40 minutes, and in this time you must keep the app open to grow the tree. if you leave the app (or on desktop, click a forbidden site) your tree will die, and you will have a dead tree in your forest forever. below is my 2015 forest....with one sad, sad dead tree where i failed. nothing like a good guilt trip to force you to work.
the day previous i worked 9am - 6:30pm, with a commute either side of these hours as well as getting ready routines and my (unpaid....) breaks. for me, i use these commute hours to read books. commuting is a good 50 minutes of my day for me which as a teen, i used to spend listening to angsty music or messing about with friends. as a university student, i found the only time of day i could really concentrate on reading was my long journeys to and from campus. this is a habit ive continued into my current stage of life. sometimes i do allow myself the treat of listening to music if i dont have a book, or i will simply sit in silence and mull things over in my head. this keeps me from going down SHITTY SAFARI RABBIT HOLES on my phone and adding to unnecessary screentime, and on the days were i choose music or silence, its nice to observe the scenery in my local area and listen in to what people are chatting about. id reccommend finding unconsidered hours in ones day such as commuting and repurposing those to have some kind of benefit.
by the end of the first week, i had begun to reintroduce a couple habits which im happy to say im still consistently doing. in my journal, i wrote 'the first 5 days have allowed technology habits i was not perhaps so aware of to come to the surface, and i do think this is something newport maybe fails to mention to anticipate throughout the declutter'. my declutter feels like ive been peeling back layers of habits, as i remove one thing my brain finds a way to manifest what it is craving through something else i wouldnt have expected on day one. the declutter puts you in a hyperaware state of mind about how you use technology. i do feel if perhaps youve never attempted any kind of digital cleanse this might be an overwhelming or unexpected thing to encounter.
around the 16th of september, so over the halfway point of the declutter, i found it began to derail. i was having difficulty having a good grasp on my own discipline. after enjoying a splendid tech-free weekend with friends, i contracted the SUPER COLD which if you know...you know the struggle. as of today, the 4th of october, i am still fighting the infection off. i tend to become a potato when ill and let all my habits fly out the window, which is what happened that weekend. on the 19th, i contemplated restarting the declutter as i felt i had failed. i felt frustrated that i couldnt feel the sense of relief or calmness i had read other people experiencing. i spent much of the next two weeks trying to recover from this horrendous cold, all while going to my job and spending my mornings pissing around and avoiding my projects. towards the end of the month, feeling a little better, i forced myself to get back in the saddle, and focus on things i had coming up.
on the 26th of september, i wrote a journal entry about how i felt i was committing images to memory better, and becoming more observant of what around me - i recalled in detail seye' outfit from the damon albarn concert i attended that week and looking over the thames that same night, and how vivid my memory of the bonfire i had with friends was, particularly watching the burnt greenery spit up, then fall upon us and extinguish.
this past week, i created the first two finished pieces of work ive made (posthumous cancellation and clems room) outside of client work and sketches since the end of june, which is a good fucking sign in my book, and ive planned to draw more things this week. both of these i returned to neocities early to post i must admit, but i missed neocities god damnit! i thought a lot about my site and the things i want to add to it and change.
a core goal of newport's digital minimalism is that during the declutter you need to fill your newly found time that you have created by decluttering your technology with hobbies, projects, relationships, solitude, and even boredom. out of the eleven goals i had written down for this period, i completed seven, among achieving many other things i didnt write down. i finished three books in this month, which is something i havent come close to doing since i was a child. though my newly knitted mitten looks horrendous, i can say that ive picked up a new skill, and that grandma needs to watch the fuck out. i reinstated a couple habits ive wanted to. though i didnt make as much progress as i wouldve liked on my big project, ive managed to push that little progress bar along a bit. i spent a good amount of time with friends and attended a concert, which i wouldve done anyway, but its nice to not have these things fragmented by unnecessary iphone checking - and now i need to figure out how to stop my friends getting distracted by their phones.... and as i mentioned, i managed to complete some artwork just for myself :o)
at the end of the declutter newport invites the reader to reintroduce optional technology back into their lives, but only if it directly supports something of value. for me, i havent changed much of what i originally wrote down in my guidelines, in fact, i want to reinforce and fine-tune these guidelines to serve me better.
as previously mentioned, ive arranged leechblock so i can post to twitter and tumblr. i do wish to make a career out of my work, and i realise i need some sort of social media presence to make that happen. however as explained in this blog post, i refuse to let it taint my work and mindset, hence the heavy restrictions on how i use it. my phone continues to be more like a travel and communication tool and follow the guidelines i had written down, but i still find myself randomly looking things up in safari and spending more time than i probably ever have looking a bbc news as that feels like the closest thing to a social media feed i can get. i have a lot of trouble trying to bend iphone's downtime feature to do what i want and work effectivly, so im still trying to figure that one out.
in a journal, i wrote down what things i had banned that i had actually missed. the only things i missed were spotify and neocities. my issue with neocities is that i can spend too much time browsing random sites.....which i like doing because i find lots of cool sites this way, but i also need to restrict the time i spend doing this because i can waste a spectacular amount of time doing it. neocities is a crucial site for me to use to manage my website. my current solution is blocking the main site (with the search options, and the dashboard which shows me people i follow updates) during the day but keep the URLs avaliable i might need to update my site during the day, and in the evening, have the rest of neocities open.
i also wrote down youtube channels that i actually missed, and ended up clearing my subscriptions down so i only get about 7 or so videos a week in my subscription box, and it felt good to give my 11 year old youtube account a good clearout. this is something i did often when i used instagram and twitter, but i found it hard to do because of weird parasocial mutual follows happening and how these sites have figured out how to keep you on the app even if you follow only a few people. youtube also has this problem, which ive solved for many years by having my bookmark link go to my subscriptions page only, i rarely see the trending or home page which is littered with reccomendations - on a tangent, i remember when youtube first introducted the option to turn history/recs off and it worked for a few years but now youtube shamelessy breaks this promise by giving you reccomendations even when you have it turned off!! WTF.....but anyway.....
going forward, i am not really going to be changing much on my little list. it is something i am going to continue to fine tune, in the hopes of reducing my issues with distraction and increasing my ability to focus deeply. i hope the improvements i found with how i see life continue to develop also.
ive set myself another 28 days to improve the usage of my computer as a tool, and work my way through a small list of goals which require me not to get distracted by technology. an action ive taken right now, for example, is writing this blogpost on my 2003 ibm which runs office 2000 and cant connect to the net. its working splendidly, and ive managed to pretty much write all of this in a morning. clippy is starting to piss me off though. taking fucking naps while im typing up a storm
i do recommend trying this declutter if you need to seriously evaluate how you use your technology and you feel that it is hindering aspects of your life. i think its important to check in with yourself and any guidelines you have set for yourself daily, and keep yourself busy with things you want to and need to do - really plan whats going to happen in that 30 days, else you will find yourself sliding back into unwanted digital habits. i do wish there was a way (in my life, anyway) to literally remove computer/phone/internet access without any reprucussions on my day-to-day life, but alas.....