What We Can Learn from Digital Minimalism

What is Digital Minimalism? 

We are all familiar with the minimalist trend, popularized by bloggers Josh Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Here’s a refresher on how they define the movement: 

Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution. 

In other words, minimalism is about simplifying our lives to make room for what’s meaningful. But Cal Newportcomputer science professor at Georgetown University, identifies a subsection of minimalism that is even more relevant for today’s world: digital minimalism. Newport’s definition is as follows: 

Digital minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools (and behaviors surrounding these tools) add the most value to your life. It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life. 

Simply put, digital minimalism is the application of minimalism to personal technology use. It is learning to think critically about our relationships with our devices and the digital space. Like the minimalism movement at large, this is all about simplification and reducing distractions to improve our quality of life and free up our mental space. 

On his blog and in his book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, Newport warns of being caught in the trap of a “dreary slog of apps and clicks,” arguing that despite the abundant digital spaces fighting for our attention, we should not waste time on low-value online activities and technologies. A mobile phone is useful for a plethora of things, but do we really need seven different social media apps to check each day?  

Notably, Newport reminds us that his philosophy is “not a rejection of technology or a reactionary act of skepticism; it is, by contrast, an embrace of the immense value these new tools can offer…if we’re willing to do the hard work of figuring out how to best leverage them on behalf of the things we truly care about.” He encourages people to see the potential in using technology intentionally and to reduce the stress of digital clutter. He advises to make use of tools that solve a problem, not ones that create addictive behaviors.  

How Can Businesses Take This Into Account? 

Newport also emphasizes that his philosophy is intended for application in one’s personal life, not necessarily for integrating technologies in the professional sphere. However, aspects of digital minimalism can still help us understand which modern technologies in business are taking off. The popularity of digital minimalism shows us that people seek streamlined, time-saving experiences when using technology to interact with a business or conduct a transaction. 

Many of the best uses of the online world support better living offline, says Newport. This line of thinking can help us prioritize which businesses we actually want to interact with. Many stores aim to improve the customer experience with cutting-edge technology but can drive us away when confusing websites and unintuitive services end up more frustrating than helpful.  

While it seems evident, actively taking digital minimalism into account can help us understand why the most appealing technologies in business are the simplest ones, the ones that actually save us time (think: online ordering and other streamlined software) and leave us room for what’s important.