Charlie's Blog: Charlie's Quick and Dirty Guide to Digital Minimalism


Charlie's Quick and Dirty Guide to Digital Minimalism

The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Because, let’s face it, checking your “likes” is the new smoking.

Digital minimalism is becoming a thing. Part of this is due to Cal Newport's new book and interviews. The other part is the inevitable backlash as people realize their new habits are actually bad habits. As all of this is happening, I have to laugh a bit because I was a digital minimalist before it became a thing. You will see various articles extolling the benefits of this new lifestyle change and giving you various tips all while urging you to like and subscribe to their social media feeds. These articles are all crap. They basically tell smokers they should cut back a bit instead of going cold turkey. So, I am putting this out there as my way of practicing digital minimalism. It is extreme, but it totally works.

1. Get rid of your smartphone.

I have never owned a smartphone. I have been using a flip phone for over a decade. It fits in my pocket. I receive phone calls and texts. That's it. People wonder how I live, but I live just fine. As for apps, I don't need them. The one thing smartphones do that is cool is the use of GPS. But I own a Garmin which costs about 1/10th of a typical flagship smartphone. Basically, the smartphone is a trick to get you to pay monthly rent on devices you used to own outright.

When you have a dumb phone, the first thing you notice is a world full of idiots with their faces buried in their smartphones. You sit down at a dinner table for a social event. but no one is looking at you or talking to you because their attention is on their devices. It's so bad now that musical performers have taken to insisting that fans at concerts turn off their phones during the show. Then, there are the numerous traffic accidents caused by smartphone idiots who would rather kill you and themselves than let that text go unanswered.

2. Go cold turkey and delete all of your social media accounts.

I have been on both Facebook and Twitter, so I know their addictive allure. So, becoming tired of being a social media addict, I deleted those accounts and vowed to never use them again. When I did that, sanity returned to my life. There is no good reason to have any of these accounts. When people tell me they will just use Facebook or trim their friend list or use an egg timer, I know they are not serious about digital minimalism. They are merely at the bargaining stage where they think they can have things both ways. Then, they are mystified that they still have a problem. It's like the smoker who just cuts back instead of throwing away those cigarettes.

Go cold turkey. It will take you about two weeks to overcome the social media urge. By the end of the month, you will wonder why you wasted any of the precious minutes of your life on such crap.

3. Get rid of your tablet devices.

I have never owned an iPad or other tablet device. These things are basically large screen versions of your smartphone. I am saddened to see so many children on these Devices of Mass Stupidity. Remember this one thing. Steve Jobs forbade his children from using these devices. This is because he didn't want his kids to become imbeciles like your kids. Nevermind that he had no qualms making billions of dollars from the dumbing down of your children.

Kids should read real books and play outside. They shouldn't be buried in a tablet as their bodies and minds turn into jelly.

4. Use an old school desktop or laptop computer.

I still use a desktop computer. My wife uses a Chromebook. I believe that your devices should come with a physical keyboard. This makes them a bit inconvenient. When I sit down on the couch, I don't have my smartphone or my iPad to distract me. I sit down with a regular book and read the thing. No notifications pop up to draw my attention away from what I am reading. I call this "deep reading." I highly recommend it.

5. Rediscover email.

Once upon a time, the internet was a good thing. Instead of waiting days for a letter, you could get the same correspondence in minutes. The workplace latched on to this and turned email into a bad thing. But email remains the best way to keep in contact with people online. Even social media has email functions where people can send you personal messages. People claim that they need Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family. This is a lie. Email was the original social media and remains the best.

Most people's email accounts are filled with unread emails from various sources. This could number into the thousands. If you're receiving too many newsletters, you should unsubscribe from them. There are many tricks for email streamlining and simplification. But the primary reason your inbox gets out of hand is because you are spending all of your time on social media.

6. Turn off and eliminate those browser notifications and chat applications.

If someone sends me an email, I don't know unless I actually go to my email account. I do not use notifications for my email account or anything else. This means that I can work online without distractions. There are all of these various products and software and whatnot that purport to create a distraction free environment for writing, but these are all stupid. Just turn off your notifications and don't turn them on again. You can work without distraction, but you can still google information when you need it.

A cottage industry of distraction free products and software has popped up to help people tame their social media addictions or find a way to free themselves from distractions. One of these products is the Light Phone which is a dumb phone that is really dumb. Another is some sort of typewriter with an e-ink display instead of paper. What do I think of these products? They are stupid. It's like buying duct tape and cigarettes, and you put the duct tape over your mouth to keep you from smoking the cigarettes that you bought. This is ridiculous.

7. Use Google News and Feedly.

People are always amazed that a guy like me who does not use social media actually knows what is going on in the world usually better than the ones with social media accounts. The reason I am able to do this is because of two main tools. The first is Google News which gives me the overview of the day's news and headlines. It takes me about five minutes to scroll through the page. I do this once or twice per day.

When I want to dig deeper, I use Feedly which collects virtually all of the posts and information from all of my favorite blogs and websites. I don't have FOMO or Fear of Missing Out because I miss nothing at all except Aunt Betty's selfie pics from the Dollar General or some stupid meme about cats and diarrhea. Every so often, there will be a source that does not support RSS. But they will have an email newsletter. Smart websites know that the email newsletter is the best way to keep in touch with their readers.

As for FOMO, know that because of censorship and algorithm changes from Facebook and Twitter, you are missing out on many things. This is another reason why I will know about things that other people are clueless about. My feeds are not censored.

8. Listen to terrestrial radio.

For some reason, people think they need a smartphone to listen to music. They even pay for these music streaming services. When I am on the road, I listen to the radio. When I am at my desk, I stream WETA. I also own an old school Sony Walkman I keep in my backpack. I also have a C.Crane radio. The rest of the time I listen to my old CDs or music I find on YouTube. A smartphone forces you to pay rent for your music. This is stupid.

9. Get a blog or website.

Social media allows you to put information out there. A website or blog achieves the same end. The difference is that updating a blog or website is not easy. You have to put some thought and labor into the project. It takes no thought or labor to post on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram which is why so many celebrities and politicians have gotten into big time PR trouble. It's hard to write a blog post when you're inebriated, but we all know it is easy to tweet while drunk. Alcohol and social media are a bad combo sort of like that heroin/cocaine cocktail that killed John Belushi. So many people have sobered up the next day to find their entire lives ruined because of last night's tweet.

A Typical Day in the Digital Life of the C-Man

When I am away from my desk, I carry only one device. This would be my flip phone. Sometimes, I get a phone call. This happens once or twice a week. The rest of the time people send me text messages. This happens a couple of times per day. I also get text messages from the local TV station that tells me the day's weather, the current traffic jam, and the daily bank robbery or crystal meth lab bust. My entire time with that phone is less than ten minutes per day including telephone calls. The rest of the time it just rides in my shirt pocket creating breast cancer in my pectoral muscle.

When I sit down at my desk, I put on my headphones and tune in to WETA. I check my email and empty the inbox. I check Google News for headlines. Then, I spend the rest of my time on Feedly reading articles, listening to podcasts, or watching videos from my sources. If I take a break from Feedly, I don't have to worry. That information is still there waiting for my return.

When I write, I close my Feedly and fire up Google Drive or Blogger depending upon the project. As I write this, the only other window open is the one playing WETA. If I open a third window, it will probably be Google to research a fact for whatever I am writing.

When I leave my desk, my digital life practically ends. I become present in my real life with virtually no distractions. I am able to talk to someone without checking my phone or itching to check my phone. I can sit and do nothing but think deep thoughts.

When I go places, I research and write down the information I need before I leave. When I am in the moment, I don't feel the urge to whip out my selfie stick to try and capture it for my Instagram account. Sometimes, I will take a single picture of something with my flip phone. The picture is not so great, but I don't care. I find imperfect pictures to be more interesting.

And that is how I live my life. I am a more engaged human being. I am smarter and better informed. I am able to write very long blog posts that no one can read because it exceeds their short attention spans made shorter by social media.

Additional Tips

Here are a few extra tips I recommend for the digital minimalist.

1. Write short emails.

I noticed a long time ago that I would spend way too much time crafting emails to people. I would be writing Moby Dick to people as if they had the time or the attention span to actually read those emails. So I went in the opposite direction and write little or nothing in my emails. Sometimes, I send just a link or a picture. I am an email minimalist in this regard. It also lets the recipient off the hook in replying. They will reply with a similar minimalism or not at all.

2. Write short texts.

People will send me entire paragraphs in a text message. I send two sentences at most with full punctuation. Having a flip phone that uses T9 forces you to be brief. The result is that my texts have an aphoristic quality to them. Anything longer requires a phone call.

3. Let the voicemail screen your calls.

Every so often, people will call to try and chat. I don't have time for this. I'm also not fond of talking on the phone. I am deficient in my social skills because of my tendency to introversion. I prefer writing to talking. But extroverts love to talk, and I let them talk to my voicemail. But when I do talk to people, they always get my undivided attention.

4. Get over FOBI.

FOBI is the Fear of Being Ignored. I think this drives a lot of the social media excess. I am the type of person who can sit in a room full of people and say nothing. I don't need to be noticed. This carries over into my digital life. When I send someone a text or email, they learn quickly that they don't have to reply to it. Because I'm not a social media guy, I don't need likes or retweets. Similarly, people don't have to send back replies to my emails or texts. I usually forget that I sent them about five seconds after I send them.

5. Learn to embrace boredom.

Thanks to the overstimulation produced by our electronic devices, the thought of sitting in a dark room with no distractions fills people with absolute dread. They can't do anything for more than a few minutes unless they have some kind of distraction. They can't workout without headphones on. They can't work their jobs without headphones on. And they can't sit at a table with other people without rudely checking their phones for updates. They can't even drive a car without checking their social media accounts.  I recommend that people do activities with undivided attention until they can handle the "boredom." When you do this, you will find yourself becoming calmer and more patient.


That's it for my quick and dirty guide to digital minimalism. Of course, this was longer than a tweet, so I probably lost you back at the second sentence. In that regard, this guide was not so quick or dirty. But it is severe. I find my life much better without smartphones or social media. I would not trade these benefits for some pseudoexistence online. I live in reality. I invite you to try it.