Digital Decluttering — Get Out of the Rabbit Hole

Thirty days without social media apps on my smartphone. Thirty days of not enjoying likes on the side and quickly answering a comment. Why should I do something like that? To rediscover the important moments of idling, for example. And generally for a more mindful use of my attention. A report about the escape from the rabbit hole of the attention industry.

Thir­ty days ago I delet­ed Twit­ter, LinkedIn and Insta­gram from my iPhone. This was the begin­ning of the process of dig­i­tal declut­ter­ing, which Cal New­port sug­gests to start with in his high­ly rec­om­mend­able book “Dig­i­tal Min­i­mal­ism” (Ama­zon Affil­i­ate-Link). For a peri­od of 30 days, one dis­pens­es with option­al tech­nolo­gies and uses this time to devote one­self to oth­er activ­i­ties and behav­iors. With the clar­i­ty of this 30-day absti­nence, you then deter­mine for each tech­nol­o­gy how it enrich­es your life, whether it is the best tech­nol­o­gy to do so, and if so, how it can be used optimally.

Dig­i­tal min­i­mal­ism defin­i­tive­ly does not reject inno­va­tions of the inter­net age, but instead rejects the way so many peo­ple cur­rent­ly engage in those tools.

Cal New­port (2019). Dig­i­tal Minimalism.

I did­n’t com­plete­ly do with­out Twit­ter and LinkedIn dur­ing this time, because they are impor­tant chan­nels and plat­forms for me as an author and net­work­er. But with­out the cor­re­spond­ing apps and their mes­sages on the iPhone, the use via lap­top was most­ly lim­it­ed to the evening hours. In the mean­time, I even delet­ed Insta­gram com­plete­ly, because I was tired of the des­per­ate attempts to lure me by e‑mail and I had hard­ly any use for it anyway.

Since 2010 I have been using an iPhone and social media. I can’t remem­ber ever leav­ing my iPhone some­where unno­ticed for a longer peri­od of time. It was always an impor­tant tool for me. In any case, I ratio­nal­ized my use of it in this way. Accord­ing­ly, the aver­age screen time before dig­i­tal declut­ter­ing was between two and three hours per day.

Dur­ing the last few weeks, my iPhone spent most of the time out of sight at my desk, which I rarely had to vis­it thanks to my parental leave. Since then, my screen time has been well under an hour — includ­ing Head­space, which I use for med­i­ta­tion, and Down­dog, which helps me with my yoga practice.

Typical screentime during digital decluttering.
Typ­i­cal screen­time dur­ing dig­i­tal decluttering.

Less, but Better

Dieter Rams cre­at­ed count­less design clas­sics as chief design­er of Braun, which Steve Jobs also appre­ci­at­ed very much. As ear­ly as 1970, he sum­ma­rized his min­i­mal­ist under­stand­ing of design in his ten prin­ci­ples for good design, which are more rel­e­vant today than ever before. “Less, but bet­ter” is one of his suc­cinct max­ims, which has been guid­ing me not only in terms of design, but also in oth­er areas of life for quite some time now.

Nev­er­the­less, for a long time I was insa­tiable about new tech­nolo­gies, all of which have their jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and unde­ni­able ben­e­fits. I glad­ly let myself be tempt­ed by them and then let myself be drawn fur­ther and fur­ther under their spell. Like Alice in Won­der­land, I fell deep­er and deep­er into the rab­bit hole of unin­ten­tion­al use and aim­less brows­ing through end­less streams of more or less triv­ial updates. And then there was no time left to just sit there and look at your­self as Astrid Lind­gren apt­ly describes these moments that are so impor­tant for the human brain.

Dig­i­tal declut­ter­ing has made me aware again of the val­ue of these moments of idle­ness as well as the val­ue of undi­vid­ed atten­tion in gen­er­al. It was no loss to no longer be able to fol­low the lat­est reac­tions to posts on Twit­ter or LinkedIn. On the con­trary, I found it very lib­er­at­ing, because I knew that I would take care of it in the evening, just like I did with my e‑mails.

That is absolute­ly suf­fi­cient and stays that way now.

Good tech­nol­o­gy is as lit­tle tech­nol­o­gy as pos­si­ble. Less, but bet­ter – because it con­cen­trates on the essen­tial aspects, and life is not bur­dened with non-essen­tials. Back to puri­ty, back to simplicity.

Freely adapt­ed from Dieter Rams ten prin­ci­ples for good design.

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