Category Archives: Technology

Spontaneous Disconnection

I’m back! You can follow my shenanigans on Twitter.

Since I started Minimal Student, my once a week posting schedule has forced me to reach for my laptop at least once every few days to write posts, answer email and reply to comments. Not to mention all of the other habits I’ve developed whilst being connected, like constant checking and refreshing like a crazy person.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely cherish all of you guys, and I’m not against technology or the internet in general, but as the last few months of my year abroad approaches, I decided to spend some time travelling.

And so I did. In three weeks I visited ancient temples, rock gardens, a castle, I photographed cherry blossoms, attended festivals, had a mud, herbal and oxygen bath (all separately), did karaoke all night and went to the biggest aquarium in the world, amongst other things. Sometimes I travelled alone, sometimes with companions, but never with my laptop. No facebook, no twitter, no blogging.

I spontaneously disconnected.

At first it was hard. Bad things have happened to my blog when I had left it before, not to mention dozens of other worries I had: What if someone tweets a really inspiring quote? What if I don’t untag an unflattering picture of me on facebook? What if all my readers leave me?

I know that to some people, not having the internet is almost horrifying. I have to admit that I had a few worries too, but I soon forgot about them as I got lost in my travelling. After a few days, my online presence (or lack of it) didn’t even come to mind at all.

What I learned is that we worry way too much about staying connected. We crave updates and notifications and we think we need all information at our fingertips all the time. It feels nice to know that people want to contact you or they need you in some way. But we only crave it to inflate our egos.

When I finally got back and found the time to log on, I realized that I hadn’t lost all of my readers (in fact, I had even gained some) and although I had a lot of various notifications, none of them were very important at all.

I went against my fears, they never came true, and I was rewarded with the time of my life.

how to disconnect and disappear (even for just a little while)

1. Disconnect your real self from your online self. Despite what people think, you are not who you are online. You exist as a genuinely amazing person without all of the extra fluff and anonymity of the internet to big you up. You don’t have to tell everyone what you’re up to all the time, neither do you have to know what everyone else was up to. Be strong and realize that people won’t miss you as terribly as you thought, but that’s okay. At least now you can…

2. Go somewhere, and just do something. There’s no point disconnecting if you’re not going to do something better to replace it. Pick a place, a person or a goal. Admit that the internet was distracting you and but now you can do whatever you put your mind to. Work on your life goal, or else do something worthwhile.

3. Cut the chains. When you come back (if you decide to!), you’ll see just how many things used up you time and attention online, although you didn’t need it. If you survived the disconnection, perhaps all of those things weren’t so important after all. Cut off all of the relationships that don’t give back as much as you give in, unsubscribe to all of the blogs that are wasting your time, the newsletters that clutter your inbox and any services and sites that you don’t use.

If you’re brave enough to take up the challenge, disappear from the interwebs for a few days, a week or even two. (You’re permitted to tell a few people in case they think you’ve leapt off a high place).

Go do something amazing … then, don’t update your status.

Back from another trip

Hello everyone, I’ve been on a trip to Hiroshima for a few days and have come back to find another spam post. I’ve learned my lessons from last time that because of google caching, I cannot delete the post, so I’ve replaced it with a request for help instead.

If anybody knows how to repair this (I do not think it is not a password problem, I have changed it) please contact me. Again, I am very sorry for this post, I hope you forgive me.

Thank you.

Much love, Jessica.

the border of a new generation

In my last post, I talked about what it means to be part of the digital generation.

When I was growing up, I never had much technology, until at least my late teen years. I did all of the ‘childhood things’ – played outside, went to the park, learned to ride a bike. My toy box contained things like dolls, cards, marbles and lego bricks.

My little brother, over a decade younger than me, is growing up with handheld consoles, computer games and internet TV.

the digital revolution

In my opinion, one of the most exciting times to live is on the edge of a revolution – whether it be religious, scientific or any new and radical way of living or thinking. Right now, we’re on the border of the digital generation. I grew up without knowing the what the word ‘gadget’ even meant, and yet today I’m blogging on my laptop connected wirelessly anywhere I go, with my iPhone in my pocket and my Kindle in my bag.

We are the transitioning generation. We are the ones that are on the border, the frontier.

We lived behind the border, and now we’re living after it. We have a bit of both worlds – when I was little, I handwrote my journals, now I type them into the cloud. When I was a teen, I used to listen to CD’s on a stereo player, now I stream music wherever I go. When I was younger, I read paper novels, now I read digital ones.

My little brother never knew the days when handheld consoles only had two colors, or when cell phones were bigger than his head. And I’ll soon forget about those days too.

the minimalist revolution

Now, again, I’ve realized we are in the midst of another revolution – the one of minimalism. Our parents worked long hard hours at the office to get the nice houses we grew up in, or to fund those piano lessons or those expensive clothes we thought we needed to be popular when we were teenagers.

And now, things are changing with us. As much as we are grateful for everything our parents have given us, we realize that that’s exactly all that they have been doing – giving. My parents gave me so so much that I wonder, when did they have time for their own lives?

We are the generation that is changing. We’re not becoming selfish or self-centered, we just don’t want to see the good things that were done for us go to waste in creating another ‘just-ordinary’ life. I honestly don’t want to see my parents set up such a great life for me, so that I could get a good education and so on just for me to become another working zombie.

We’re taking life by the horns and living a life worth living. We’re taking it upon ourselves to help others, not waiting for somebody else to do it.

And soon there will be the next generation. Just like what happened with technology, perhaps in a few decades they won’t know any different. They won’t know that there were so many people that slaved away at jobs they hated, put ‘work’ before others, or that people gave up on their dreams so easily.

The internet and everything it can do seemed impossible just two decades ago. Let’s see what ‘impossible’ things minimalism can bring to the world two decades from now.

Minimalism is building momentum. This isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning.

PS. This is Minimal Student’s 100th post! I’m updating the ‘most popular posts’ section, tell me your favorite posts from the past! You can comment here or find me @minimalstudent .

PPS. Sharing is caring!

the digital generation

This is a continuation of a previous blog post: Minimalist Meditations – Technology.

I’m often asked how technology helps minimalists.

My answer is that without technology, there would be very very few minimalists.

My thoughts are stored as words on 750. My most radical ideas are stored as post on this blog. My music and films are stored as files on my hard drive. My memories are stored as photos in the cloud.

All of this information amounts to gigabytes of data that can be stored on something about the size of my hand. Without technology, we would have to sacrifice all of that stuff just so that we’re not weighed down by junky folders, albums, diaries, books and CD/DVD’s.

Does this mean that minimalists are technology?

I know that there are people that are scared of technology. They’re scared that if they convert their lives into digital format, then none of it would be tangible and all would be lost.

But my question is, what is it exactly you are afraid of?

Admittedly, there’s a minuscule chance that you’ll lose some things in the cloud. But which is more likely, every single computer, server, storage unit and hard disk gets destroyed and/or wiped out… or you have a house fire? Or you are robbed? Or you simply lose or forget where you’ve put something? I hope it never happens, but nobody in their right mind would think “Oh my god my diaries are gone, now I have no thoughts or feelings!” or “Oh no, my photo albums are gone, now I have no memories!”

People who are scared are getting mixed up with putting their information online, and putting themselves online. They’re two different things.

I’m not made from the photos I took or things I wrote down, I’m made from what I learned from doing that stuff. My memories aren’t the things that I upload onto the net, they’re stored in my head, those things are just prompts or pieces that we took to remind us of them.

As a traveller, technology is invaluable to me. I need search engines, maps, tips, reviews, recommendations and all of the advantages of digital storage to lighten the load.

We are the digital generation. Never before has so much been available to us. Even just a few decades or even 5000 days ago what we have now would be a dream come true, let’s take advantage of it shall we?

Editor’s note: I found this video by Amber Case circling around after writing this post, it’s a great follow-up to this discussion, check it out!

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Related Posts

Minimalist Meditations – technology

Technology is two-sided. On the one hand, technology has connected us – our ideas, messages and our personalities can all communicated from anywhere in the world to anyone we want. On the other hand, it has provided us with so much information to process – status updates, tweets, news, email, blogs, podcasts, phone calls and text messages that we’ve become overloaded and our attention divided into a million pieces.

technology vs minimalism?

Is technology non-minimalistic? It depends on what you think minimalism means. If, to you, it means forgoing technology altogether, then I guess it’s non-minimalist. But for me, minimalism is about making my life easier – whatever gives me more time to focus and to accomplish the things I want to do.

Minimalism doesn’t mean you should live like a hermit, you don’t have to ban technology from your life. In fact, technology can actually help you, and it’s part of the reason why minimalists exist today. Here are just a few of the minimalist things technology can help you with:

1. Carry less. A few weeks ago, I received a comment about the fact that I own an iPhone. It’s an old 3G model. Is it minimalist? Well, here are a few things I don’t have to carry around with me because I have it:

  • Dictionary – because a book of 159,000 words would be very heavy indeed.
  • Grammar reference book and Kanji  reference book – searching is also much easier than the index of a printed book.
  • Novel – I love to read, especially on the bus/train, but I hate carrying and ruining books in my bag.
  • Scrap notepad – I would lose all those pieces of paper if I had to physically look after the amount of notes I take.
  • Flashcards – because learning a language is a pain without them
  • Gaming device – I used to carry my DS with me, but now I don’t have to.
  • Calculator/currency converter – of you’ve ever spent time in a foreign country, you’ll know how invaluable it is to be able to see how much something costs in your home currency.
  • Clock/Alarm clock – this one is for my bedroom. I can’t sleep when I can hear ticking and I like to wake up to nice music rather than a ringing sound when I wake up.

2. Learn. I use my laptop almost everyday to learn something new – don’t underestimate what you can achieve. In fact, I learned how to play the guitar via the internet. On top of that, I use it to do research for class, learn languages, listen to podcasts, watch TED and other great videos,  among many other useful things.

3. Less clutter. On my external hard drive so I can store all my photos of my family, friends and times in Japan. During the summer, I went through a complete purge of all of the paper that I owned. I scanned what I needed and recycled the rest. So one little box replaces my photo albums, DVD and CD stacks and piles and piles of paper.

4. The environment. The Amazon Kindle and other ebook readers greatly reduce the need for paperback books. It’s up to your personal opinion which is more ‘comfortable’ to read, but anyone must admit that ebook readers are better for the environment and save a ton of space. Also, I buy a lot of my music digitally now, so I’m not adding to CD production and waste. On that note though, I recommend you read The Story of Stuff’s newest video – designed for the dump.

5. Connect. Thanks to technology, I can talk to my family (almost) face to face on the other side of the world – that’s something I definitely don’t take for granted. I can also write this blog and readers can write to me. My early days of minimalism were fuelled by reading the words of my minimalist heroes – something I would never have found without technology.


Minimalism isn’t a complete rejection of consumerism. We are all consumers in some way, even if it’s just only groceries and clothes we need to cover our backs. Owning a few gadgets doesn’t make you a greedy consumer.

As long as you don’t get caught up with desiring the latest gadgets as soon as they come out, even when the current generation works perfectly fine, and you don’t rely on your gadgets to boost your ego because you can afford it and others can’t, then you’re not being that kind of consumer.

Just like the washing machine did for women in the 50’s and 60’s, you’re simply using it to your advantage to improve your own quality of life.


So, owning gadgets doesn’t necessarily mean you are not a minimalist –  in fact, it helps you be more minimalist, in terms of the amount of physical things you own. But the word ‘technology’ can also mean being connected to the internet.

I used to think I needed internet with me everywhere I walked. That’s why I got an iPhone in the first place. But in Japan, my iPhone cannot make calls and it doesn’t have internet everywhere. I realize now that I never really needed the constant connection, I just thought I did.

Facebook messages, emails and tweets seem like they need your immediate attention, but how many times have you been actually required to reply immediately? Sometimes, you’ve just got to take a break from the internet. A few months ago, Gwen Bell took what she called a ‘digital sabbatical‘. I’ve become a massive fan of the idea, so here are some of my favourite posts on the topic:

I highly recommend trying it, it works.

Minimalist Mediations is a on-going series giving you the 101 on different aspects of minimalism. If you have any topic suggestions, let me know in the comments below or find me on Twitter!

Minimalist surfing with chrome

A few months ago, I did a post about minimalist web surfing. Back then, my primary browser was Firefox, although I was using Chrome intermittently.

Since Chrome released extension support, I’ve fully switched over and have been happy with Chrome for a few months now. Here are the extensions I use to keep surfing minimal.

1. AdThwart. A very intuitive ad blocker. With this extension you can also block particular elements of a page, even if they’re not ads. For example, I like to block chat/twitter boxes from sites, as well as wordy sidebars and footers. I’ve even managed to block the Facebook ‘Like’ button from websites by adding my own filter in the options menu.

2. StayFocusd. This extension does a pretty good job at keeping surfing time to a minimum by making it hard to change the amount of time you’ve allowed yourself to diverge for a day. During my exams, I let myself have 8 minutes maximum per day on sites such as facebook. If I wanted to increase it or went over it would kindly remind me that I have better things to do!

3. Simplified Gmail. Behold the minimalist glory:

Unlike HelvetiMail for Firefox (below), Minimalist Gmail actually get’s rid of even more buttons as well as the header at the top of the page. The search bar appears only when you hover over it. You can also use your own custom theme (I chose white and blue).

^ Not-as-minimalist gmail in Firefox

4. For Google Reader users you have the choice of Google Reader Compact which gets rid of all the extra text, Lucidica which changes the (ugly) default blue theme for a minimalistic white or Helvetireader 2 which goes bare minimal with a silver theme. Personally, I recommend Lucida, not because I need the buttons that Helvetireader gets rid of, but because it’s better looking. Shallow, I know :)

^ Original Google Reader

^ Google Reader Compact extension

^ Lucidica extension

^ HelvetiReader 2 extension

Just a quick note about going minimal with browsing, you’ll probably have to learn a few keyboard shortcuts to do the kind of things that the buttons were there for, but in my experience just learning one or two is enough, I haven’t run into problems at all because of this.

Have you got any more ideas? I would love to hear your tips to make surfing more minimal!

Update: For gmail and Google calendar I now use Minimalist for Everything (Chrome) and for Google Reader I use Reeder for Chrome. Beautiful!

5 inspiring ways to feed your soul

After working on the same boring thing all day, no one can blame you for taking a well deserved break. Distractions can be valuable because they give your brain a chance to recharge and concentrate even better when you continue.

With the amount of content and information now accessible to the average person, choosing what to have has become like trying to have a snack at a buffet table. There’s so much out there that, unless you’re very picky, you’ll be missing out on some great stuff.

When you consume content, you are feeding you soul. And feeding your soul good and wholesome food is as important as doing so for your body. So what’s good and what’s not so good for you?

Junk food for the soul

1. TV dramas/sitcoms. Think back to the shows you were watching last year. Has it contributed to you as a person today? Did you learn anything valuable? TV shows are entertaining whilst we’re watching them but it’s not until it finishes or gets cancelled that we realise what kind of things we could have accomplished if we spent all those hours differently.

Studies have shown that filling your life with trashy TV about people arguing, cheating and lying, can lessen your sensitivity to the consequences of doing so. Watching shows about crime, murders and blackmailing can make you more paranoid and afraid than the reality.

I’m not saying all TV is bad, or that we should cut it out altogether. I am a big fan of a few series (ahem, Grey’s Anatomy), and of course a lot of documentaries are very informative, but TV is supposed to be ‘entertainment’ – meaning something to occupy you for a few hours a week. It’s not supposed to be a part time occupation or a way to numb your brain.

2. Evening News. The news obviously cannot report everything that happens in the world, so it has to be selective. Unfortunately, more people are interested about robberies and murders than charity runs. The news has become a medium that dramatises negative events to increase audience ratings. Just check out the front page of any news site and count how many times the word ‘death’, ‘dies’, ‘killed’, ‘stabbed’ and so on appear.

Again, of course we should be aware of what’s happening in the world around us, but in my opinion there’s no need to know about every single thing. Sometimes, it feels beautiful to be disconnected. If another Michael Jackson dies, you’ll hear about it, don’t worry, you don’t need to keep looking out for it.

3. Facebook. It’s a great way to keep in touch with friends, but how much do you need to know about them on a daily basis? Most people have hundreds of friends on facebook, so it’s simply not possible to keep track of what they do anyway. A lot of the time, people live in fear of missing out, so they think their lives would be better if they know what’s going on all the time, but deep down they know that this is simply not true. Letting go of the need to always know what’s going on at this very minute is the key to freedom. Ignorance is bliss.

4. Repeats. This year, I’ve made a quiet promise to myself that I will try not to watch any repeats – especially films. One of my friends is a media student and they’ve opened my eyes to just how much there is out there that it seems silly to watch another rerun. There are literally thousands of fantastic independent films, classic films, controversial films, historical films and breakthrough films that I’ve yet to see, why should I ever re-watch something I’ve seen before?

5. Other internet black holes. Mindless surfing on fail blogs, lolcats sites, youtube and so on is just another way to take our minds off things that really do matter. Life is short, and there are better ways places we can go to take a break…

5 Ways to feed your soul the right stuff:

So what should you do when you want to sit back and relax? Prepare for the link fest.

1. Read brilliant blogs. When I first accidentally stumbled on personal development blogs, I didn’t know that they would change my life. They opened up a whole new (better) world for me that connected with my real world over time. Since then, I’ve become a greener, healthier, more productive and happier minimalist. Over time I’ve read dozens and dozens of different blogs, but I there are a few I always go back to:

Balance in Me – well written tips about how to find balance in a busy world.

Change your Thoughts – redesign how you think about life.

Daily Mind – Eastern wisdom brought to the west.

Marc and Angel Hack Life – how to be more productive and happy, one of the best blogs I’ve ever found.

Stepcase Lifehack – a collaborative blog full of great tips from successful bloggers.

Zen Habits – who has never included Leo’s blog in a ‘best of blogs’ list?

For the minimalist in me:

Becoming Minimalist – contains some pure gems.

miss minimalist – We would definitely be best friends if we ever met.

mnmlist – another great creation of Leo Babatua’s.

stonesoup – combining my two loves: minimalism and food.

Other great blogs:

Lifehacker – …needs no explanation.

The Peak Condition Project – my favourite fitness blog in the world. Patrick knows what he’s talking about.

Zen to Fitness – simple and quick health tips.

Scott H Young – hundreds of articles on life and productivity  for students.

2. Follow daily reminders. These get a category of their own because they are so inspiring.

The Mindfulist and The Mindfulist’s twitter – reminding you to be aware of the little things that matter.

Makes Me Think –  thought provoking life stories in one sentence.

Thought Questions – asking the right kind of questions.

3. …and so does TED. Talks that simply blow your mind. Just some of my favourites:

Adora Svitak: What adults can learn from kids

Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight

Graham Hill: Why I’m a weekday vegetarian

4. Listen to Podcasts. I’ve mentioned podcasts before because I can’t recommend them enough. (iTunes links)

Buzz Out Loud –  a technology podcast I’ve been following for years.

Nutrition Diva – dispelling common myths about what is good for you and what isn’t.

YOGAmazing – Great yoga instruction videos

Yoga Today – more yoga videos

Zencast – A comprehensive collection of Buddhist talks.

Zen is Stupid – Gwen Bell and Patrick Reynolds (also creators of the Mindfulist) are my heroes

5. Read great books.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens – the book that started it all.

Young Guns – by Robert Tuchman, a guide for fearless young entrepreneurs.

The Art of Happiness – one of HH Dalai Lama’s most widely read books.

The Power of Now – by Eckhart Tolle, changed the way I thought about thinking forever.

The Way of Zen – by Alan Watts, who was one of the first people to demystify Zen and bring it to the west.

The Definitive Book of Body Language – by Allan and Barbara Pease, a down to earth and humorous guide.

What Every BODY is Saying – by John Navarro, an ex FBI’s tips on reading body language and detecting deception.

How To Win Friends and Influence People – by Dale Carnegie, simply classic, which is why it has stood the test of time.

Despite what a lot of people are saying these days, consumption of media and information isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What really matters is doing it right and mindfully choosing the best kind of things to feed our soul with can make all the difference.

5 Ways to Cut Down on Social Networking

This is a subject that particularly relevant to students. How much time does social networking suck out of your life? An hour a day? A week? You already know you should cut down, here’s how.

1. Turn off notifications.
One of the biggest disturbances to work is getting notifications via email or instant messenger. Most of these things don’t have to be dealt with straight away, so turn off instant notifications if these make you click through and waste another half hour replying and checking around.

2. Refuse invites.
If you receive an invitation for a new social network, consider refusing the invite, at least until you know how many of your friends will join it. But then again, even if a lot of them are on it, will they use it in the long term? Because if not, then what is the point of joining another site and making a new profile when the one you have now will do just fine? Pause for a moment before blindly clicking yes to invites and signing up. Also think twice about sending invites out to friends on your email contact list when you join a new social networking site. You could be roping them in into the same dilemma that you are in right now.

3. Block out time.
This can work both ways, either block out time for work, or block out time to deal with social networks if you really have to. Choose a time when your brain is least productive, such as in the late evening if you are a morning person or vice versa. Leave all of the maintaining until this time of the day. Knowing that you will have time to deal with everything later should free up your mind to do what is really important right now.

4. Delete old accounts. I wasn’t of the Friendster generation, but I know that there are still old accounts floating about on it that people haven’t checked in years. Kind of like boxes in the loft – they don’t get in the way, but they’re still there, and totally useless, so why not get rid of them? The same goes for social networks you haven’t used in a year or more. If you haven’t even checked it in that long, then maybe you won’t for another year or two, so delete it now before you get roped back into it, or someone finds something embarrassing on it from a while back.

5. Connect in the real world.
Get out of your room and hang around with your room-mates. Cook up a dinner, or call up a fellow classmate and have a chat. Do something that involves real life interaction. One of the reasons why people interact so much on social networks is because they don’t in real life. So the best cure is to, well, go out and do it in real life. Use social networking to keep in touch with old friends/family or connect with new people but not as a substitute for a real life relationship.

Do you have any handy tips to keep social networking at bay?