A 100-Day Digital Minimalism experiment to re-define my relationship with tech.


My tech and I have a boundaries problem

Like a lot of people, I struggle to maintain good boundaries with the personal technology in my life:

I think most of us can relate to this ‘technology creep.’ Powerful and ubiquitous pieces of personal technology like smartphones and social media have a way of burrowing into our lives and staking out surprisingly large claims to our time and attention.

All this clever technology convinces us to open up our lives to it, and in return claims to make our lives simpler, nicer, and more productive.

But is it true? Is that really how this story plays out?

Despite our best intentions to use our technology to better achieve our goals, we end up getting used by our technology to better achieve someone else’s goals.

We tell ourselves that checking Instagram is harmless and helps us connect with the people we love. And yet…

We find ourselves in a constant game of social comparison, feeling badly every couple hours about how lame and disappointing our lives look compared to everyone else’s perpetually happy families and epic summer vacations.

Meanwhile, a handful of Silicon Valley companies rack up the big bucks at the expense of our time, attention, and ultimately I think, our lives.

Tech is good but it needs boundaries. Each one of us individually needs to take up the responsibility of setting and maintaining those boundaries ourselves. We can’t wait for Google and Facebook to do it for us.

I believe adopting a philosophy of Digital Minimalism is the best way to do this.

We need to fight back and consciously decide how tech should (and should not) be a part of our lives.

Summer of Digital Minimalism Nick Wignall

In January 2018, I participated in Cal Newport’s 30-Day Digital Declutter Experiment.

For 30 days I severely limited my personal technology use:

It was transformative:

In short, my life felt better with better boundaries on my tech.

But slowly those good boundaries eroded and tech crept back in. I started becoming more lax with my email checking and online browsing, and as a result, found it harder to ‘just get to work’ when I needed to and maintain focus when I did.

I started checking my phone at home, being ever so slightly less present and engaged. I noticed that all that quiet whitespace which was so conducive to creative and insightful thinking was getting back filled with digital noise. And now, four months later, I can feel myself backsliding and want to stop it.

We need to do more than ‘declutter’ our digital lives. We need to re-define them.

My 30-day digital declutter was a successful experiment. It gave me some data and showed in a concrete way how much better life can be with more intentional boundaries around my tech use. But I want to take it step further now and really commit to changing my life based on the evidence I gathered. I want to double down on a more minimalist approach to technology, one that takes seriously this question:

In what ways does personal technology genuinely add value to my life?

I have some good initial answers to that question, but now I want to fully make them a part of my life. Instead of a month-long ‘experiment,’ I want to live an extended digitally minimal life.

If, like me, you’ve tried some kind of digital sabbatical or purge haven’t been as successful as you’d like in making it stick, I invite you to participate along with me in something a little more… rigorous.

100 Days of Digital Minimalism

From May 24th to August 31st, I’m going all in on digital minimalism. Starting next week, I plan to spend 100 days without any optional personal technology use whatsoever.

Summer of Digital Minimalism Nick Wignall

How it works

Here are the guidelines I’m setting for myself for the challenge. They’re largely based on the recommendations from Cal’s original 30-Day Digital Declutter plus a few of my own modifications based on what worked well for me.

They’re based on 3 core principles:

  1. Tech use shouldn’t be habitual. In order to be intentional about our use of technology and have it serve our values, we must be free from the compulsive and addictive tendency to check our tech.
  2. Tech is for making stuff, not feeling better. I want to use technology as a tool to accomplish my goals and aspirations. I don’t want to lean on it as a crutch for cheap emotional satisfaction or distraction.
  3. People matter most. Despite the perpetual promise of the internet and social media to make us more connected, technology is too often a source of subtle isolation and disconnect from other people in our lives.

Please Note: All of the guidelines that follow are based on one or more of these principles. Of course everyone’s situation and values differ, so feel free to modify as fits your needs. Also, this challenge is about optional personal tech use; it doesn’t apply to necessary personal or work-related tech use.

PART 1: Eliminate all optional personal technology use.

Summer of Digital Minimalism Nick Wignall

All of the areas of personal tech use broken down by category with suggestions for eliminating or severely limiting them.

PART 2: Rediscover the joys of analog

Summer of Digital Minimalism Nick Wignall

Minimalism, including digital minimalism, isn’t just about getting rid of things from our lives. In fact, minimalism is much more about adding things to our lives. Specifically, things that align with instead of detracting from our values.

If we’re not careful, personal technology can start to get in the way of what we value most. Consequently, it needs to be tended to much more carefully.

Digital Minimalism is about making space for what we value most.

Here are a few of the things I hope to add to my life as a result of subtracting much of my personal technology use:

PART 3: Relax

Summer of Digital Minimalism Nick Wignall

There are a couple areas where I plan to bend the rules ever so slightly.

Of course, there will probably be other areas where there are bits of rule-breaking here and there. If we’re at friend’s place and they suggest watching a movie, I’m not going to recuse myself on the grounds of my very important Summer of Digital Minimalism Challenge ????.

At the end of the day, this whole project is about committing to being more intentional with my personal technology use. If I do bend the rules, it will be because I’ve thought about it carefully and decided it lines up with what I really want.

Are you ready?

Summer of Digital Minimalism Nick Wignall

If you’ve been seriously thinking about making a change in the way you use personal technology, this challenge is for you. Going 100 days with minimal technology use is no joke. It’s going to be intense. But I think the benefits will be remarkable.

If you think you’d like to participate in The Summer of Digital Minimalism Challenge, shoot me an email with the term Digital Minimalism in the subject and I’ll be in touch shortly with more information and details:

hello@nickwignall.com

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