Digital Minimalism: An Easy Hack

There are a lot of tricks to getting off the phone and into the world. Turn the screen grey, set timers for app use, shut off the data and only use the thing on wifi, leave it in airplane mode most of the day, turn off notifications, and more. I have a three-step tip that may be even more powerful.

  1. For one day leave your phone behind, powered off, or on do-not-disturb. Whatever you can manage is fine but those three options are in the order of their power.

  2. Watch people use their phones. Hear them blast music through headphones. Watch them text while their child goes ignored. See them read texts and email during intermission at the theater. Try to ignore them recording the concert you're attending.

  3. Realize that we have met the enemy and he is us.

My phone is in my pocket. Notifications are off. I've been reading a book. My students are supposed to be reading as well. One next to me has his headphones blaring and hasn't turned a page in six minutes. He looks at the page then shifts to the phone. He's not just listening to music. He's got a video playing and can't look away for long. He has also, in six minutes, received 37 notifications. I've listened to the phone buzz.

How sad this makes me. He is a high school senior who cannot set his phone aside, cannot let it go. The phone often leads him into terrible, angry fits. I've watched him laugh at something on it, then look around as if to share before realizing no one else has seen it. He often asks, what? but is rebuffed because no one wants to bring him up to speed on the real world he chooses to miss.

Watching him I see me. God knows how much I missed when I was on Facebook. Has there ever been a tweet worth remembering a year later? I should never waste time learning what the big orange maggot has done today, who he has fired, for what he is being indicted. That way leads to regret.

The quickest way to get me off my phone is seeing others lost to theirs. Maybe I want to be better than them. I certainly want to be better than I am when I'm acting like that.

Take a phone holiday and observe all those staring into their screens as if that was the only world. As if that was a world worth living in.

Facebook People

You know the Facebook people. They post perfect pictures of perfect family outings. Their curated lives look too good to be true and surely are, but still I feel envious and worried that I'm doing it all wrong. I had a Facebook friend whose posts were all hikes in the woods, picnics by waterfalls, and perfectly white smiles. Too perfect to believe, but I believed enough to feel anxious about my family life.

I've dropped Facebook. I can't say I'm enlightened nor will I advise you to delete your account. Instead, like a drunk, I count days off Facebook (and Twitter) and try to see myself in the world. My days have few hikes, waterfalls, or polished smiles, but I'm not shooting for all that. One benefit of my sobriety is that the Facebook life seems less worth living now.

That said, I'm posting on this blog, wondering if that's any different from Facebook. The best things I read online show writers wandering and wondering, trying to figure things out. They post in the way I wanted to create a Facebook feed showing my wife folding laundry, my daughter scooping cat litter while listening to headphones, my other daughter still eating dinner half an hour after we've all finished, and the four of us staring at Grand Designs on television. I figured that there would be a shot of someone taking a crap on the toilet. The real Facebook of Central New York.

I've been sworn to never ever post a toilet picture.

Instead, there's this post: me thinking about the Facebook people, the angry mob on Twitter, and the ways we manufacture lives that don't exist. I may be doing there here or I might be trying to make sense of life and live better. The jury is still out.

Instead of hiking and waterfalls, our summer consisted mostly of:

  • Cooking food and eating together with family and friends
  • Washing dishes, doing laundry, and cleaning up as we went
  • Reading books outside in the shade
  • Writing things down and taking lots of pictures
  • Savoring marriage, parenthood, and friendships
  • Traveling together
  • Quitting social media

This about all I know of how to live well. Maybe the Facebook people are posting their own lists and it's just that they're ways to contentment and happiness are different from mine.

As this wondrous summer ends and I go back to a job I don't love, I wonder what my feed will look like. I want to believe I'll stick with the list I've created this summer and live a life almost equal that of those imagined by the Facebook people. Hell, I might even come across a waterfall on some hike and feel my face break into a wide and picture perfect smile.