A 30-Day Experiment in Digital Minimalism

Image by Thomas Ulrich from Pixabay

The other day while working in the barn, I listened to a podcast interview with Cal Newport.  For those of you who don’t know of Cal Newport, he is a professor of computer science at Georgetown University and the author of self-help six books which focus in part on being more productive by eliminating distractions so that we can focus on what is really important.  The crux of the interview was that the non-productivity apps on our phone are a distraction that can take up literally hours a day, pulling our attention away from the things that are truly important.

Cal Newport (from: https://www.calnewport.com/)

Cal reported that he’s spoken with members of the original iPhone design team and social media apps were not really a consideration in the design of the iPhone.  They wanted to enhance productivity and avoid people needing a separate mobile phone and iPod for music.  (By then phones already had cameras but they were nowhere near as nice as they are now.)  When asked how he would really help someone struggling to eliminate distractions and do more with his or her life, he said he would have them delete all of their apps and add them in one by one as needed.

I’m not ready to go that far, but I see my hours per day of screen time each week and it could be better.  I average about 3.5 hours per day.  Some of that is navigating to photoshoots using Google Maps and some is talking with friends overseas on Whatsapp.  But a lot of it is Facebook and WordPress.  It’s just so easy as I check something else to see if I have likes or comments.  Suddenly, I am seated on the couch and half an hour has gone by.  I’ve “tried to do better” and ultimately do no better.

From Google Images

The experiment:  Starting yesterday at 5:30, I deleted FB and WordPress from my mobile phone.  My accounts are still active and can be accessed via my computer so I can post and follow all of my friends here from my computer. I also deleted the one game I had on the phone and a couple of other apps that were not productive.  I never had Twitter. I kept my news apps, book reading apps, podcasts, and merchants/services (though I question this last choice).  I kept FB messenger because my wife uses it to get in touch with me and it otherwise takes none of my time.  I also kept Instagram.  Why, you ask.  I installed this to share photos with my niece,   it does not take up much of my time, and  I have not found a way for me to post photos there from a desktop computer.  I did unfollow all of the Instagram groups I was subscribed to. They tend to take up most of the little time I spend here.

I will try this for 30 days, until 5:00 PM on September 18.  Will it make a difference?  Will I spend all my time at my desktop or laptop computer?  Or will I actually try new things that I’ve not done before?  Stay tuned.  

56 thoughts on “A 30-Day Experiment in Digital Minimalism

  1. Lookoom

    Interesting experiment. The downside of laptops and desktops is that they encourage more sedentary lifestyles, whereas smartphones accompany people on the move.

  2. Su Leslie

    Interesting experiment! Until recently, I used an old iPhone 4 that worked perfectly well for the basics, but wouldn’t run WP, FB etc. At the end of last year I finally had to upgrade, and slowly the time-eating apps have reappeared. I’m thinking I should follow your lead and delete them off the phone — just to see!

  3. suzannesmom

    Distractions. I’m convinced that the day is coming when CEOs of co.s like Facebook will stand in front of Congress and admit to secret memos (like the tobacco co.s and oil co.s did) showing that they always knew that *notifications* were damaging people’s brains by preventing brains from doing what they need to do to stay healthy: namely, finish a thought. And still the co.s kept adding more ways to receive notifications.

    1. Liz Gauffreau

      I’ve read articles that social media companies set up their platforms based on research into the brain science of addictive behavior and Pavlovian conditioned responses.

  4. bearmar

    Can’t wait to hear the results of your experiment! Although I do not spend much time on apps or social media, I am on my computer 8-12 hours a day for my day job and then blog. I do see the benefits of reducing unnecessary app distraction. Good luck!

    1. milfordstreet Post author

      Thank you so much. When I’m in teaching online, I can liekewaise spend 8 hours a day in front of a computer screen to prepare and teach lessons. It can be tiring.

  5. China Dream

    I can see the temptations. I have options of course, but I tend to prefer my desktop for “work” or creative endeavors. The phone is a must, but I have been known to forget it.. I notice when I don’t get calls (which now I can answer from my car dash IF the cell is with me) AND of course, my phone is what I use for my “snaps” Where do you see how much time you spend on or using the cell?

    1. milfordstreet Post author

      Under Settings on the iPhone, there is a Screentime selection. There you can see statistics on your screentime but I don’t think it breaks it down by app. I agree the phone is important but am I using it in a way that improves my life and could I do better.

  6. Footprints

    I did something similar last year for 30 days. I loved the experience and it really helped me step back and recognize some behaviors and habits that were really impacting me. I even stopped watching the news. It was a profound experience for me. Looking forward to hearing about your experience with it.

      1. Footprints

        I have added back WordPress and work related apps. I still use the others, but it takes an additional step and allows me to be a little more intentional with my time. Initially, I thought the apps would help keep me from working all the time, but it actually just added time to my day and made me work even longer. I still need to work less, but tackling one problem at a time🤣

  7. Michael Lovette

    This is a topic I have thought about as well. I have (mostly) been able to maintain a decent level of self-control. It’s not only the time spent consuming social media its also the pressure that it can cause. Once you are hooked, you feel an obligation to stay in the loop. I wish you the best in your experiment. I hope it proves to be fruitful for you. Please share your results.

    1. milfordstreet Post author

      Thank you, Michael. I think the pressure you mention is the reason that I spend so much time on social media and am always checking. Because I know things are piling up in my inbox. I’m hoping setting aside time to deal with my inbox will result in something better than always being online.

  8. Nancy

    Well good luck… I am sure you will find it quite interesting. I tried this …kind of sort of… and well I was at my computer sitting far too much. So… let’s se how it goes for you.

    I do make it a rule that my phone or iPad is not out in the evening, or while I’m on a car adventure, or at night time. It works for me. I think… lol!

  9. Sandra

    This is definitely something I struggle with too! I’m curious to hear more about how this goes for you. Maybe you can give me some pointers at the end of your trial run. Sorry I have been away for awhile. Work has been cutting into my preferred activity time. I hope you’re doing well!

  10. unblogvanille

    That is actually a good way of starting out. I tried this as well, but not purposefully. My phone was stolen and had to get a new one, so the phone in the interim period was an old used phone which hardly had any memory. I had to keep deleting stuff to make it work smoothly and so I decided to do away with my apps. I had only an IM app, a payments app a metro schedule app and I think Facebook (which I never use). Not surprisingly, once I bought a new phone I didnt feel the need for any apps for the longest time. However with time (over 1 year) I have ended up downloading a lot I wont lie. Maybe I will try it again, (not the losing my phone part) 🙂 Also,, nice read! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Sarah

    That’s an interesting experiment, Chris! I used to blog only at the computer when I started oh so many years ago, and it definitely made for more productive time for me. Having said that I enjoy having much faster contact with all my blog buddies using my phone. 😉 Looking forward to your test results! 😄

  12. essamerchant

    This was one of the great and informative articles I have read after a long time. Thank you for sharing 🙂


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