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.

consumerism

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.

disconnection

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!

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  • http://www.ScottKostolni.com Scott Kostolni

    As I got into minimalism I thought about getting rid of my iPhone. I thought minimalists would be better served by simple phones with calling and texting. Some minimalists might be, but not me. My iPhone replaces tons of stuff that I don’t have to lug around anymore. It helps me enjoy being in new places by providing me with maps and offering some suggestions on what I might want to do. This is something I found extremely pleasant during a recent cross country trip.

    I did, however, find a few ways to minimalize my iPhone usage which helped me greatly in putting it away and actually spending time in the world. I turned off all push notifications and set it to only check to e-mail once an hour. (This also did wonders for the battery life.) I enjoy receiving my twitter through text but I have severely cut that down to only following around 60 people and having even fewer sent to my phone. I use Google Voice to screen my calls and instead of listening to voice mails it get them e-mailed to me.

    Now I am able to use my phone as a tool and not let it take away from actually experiencing life. Great post, thank you for sharing this!

    ~Scott

  • http://www.everydayminimalist.com The Everyday Minimalist

    I so agree with this.

    I had a Palm PDA before, but I’ve switched it for an Apple iPod Touch which has made life a lot easier. I can have different apps, and it has enriched what I had in a PDA before to something a lot better.

    Still have a ton of laptops though :) and hard drives, but I don’t have any more books and it all packs neatly away

    • Jessica

      Hello The Everyday Minimalist! Yes, actually I remember reading your post about this. I should have commented to say that I agreed with everything you said too, as much as I hate to be an Apple worshipper, I have to admit their stuff is pretty useful. Also, about your laptops, I used to have a the same problem. They either didn’t work or were too slow and useless but I couldn’t get rid of them because they’re too valuable to just chuck in the trash, plus it would be really un-green. I’m still debating what to do with them but I have found that I could save some of them with Linux, and I’m thinking of giving them away to people in need. Thanks for commenting!

  • http://www.bemorewithless.com/ Courtney Carver

    Great post. Thanks for mentioning a couple of my disconnecting posts. Did you really learn how to play guitar online? I am seriously considering it. Can you recommend resources?

    • Jessica

      Hi Courtney, you’re very welcome! Yes, I really did! I used several sources, however I really recommend youtube for video and tutorials, especially for particular songs. I learned a lot of the theory and basics but other things like speed come from pure practice and writing your own songs comes from your own creativity. Good luck!

  • http://www.chasenight.net Chase Night

    My motto is that “minimalism is not monasticism.” We aren’t taking a vow of abject poverty or becoming Amish folk. We are cutting out the useless things that clutter our lives.

    I think this is an excellent site. Glad to see the movement is catching on amongst college kids. I’m working on an e-book about this as we speak to encourage more kids to leave home with less baggage.

  • http://stevenkgriffin.com Steve Griffin

    Good insights.

    Your suggestion for taking regular digital sabbaticals is an important one. It wasn’t until I started unplugging once a week that I realized how much of my time was spent hooked to the net. Unplugging gives you perspective and the chance to consciously evaluate your online habits. I’m now of the opinion that digital sabbaticals help us remember how to be human again.

    Great post.

  • http://www.creativeguidetolife.com Susan

    This has been on my mind quite a bit lately. Is it enough to just minimize our ‘stuff’, or also our media consumption and even the frenetic pace of our thoughts?

    I live in NYC, where it can be difficult to really slow down, and technology and ‘plugging in’ can be as relaxing as a beer. Both of which are just band-aids for a bigger issue. I try to stop and look at the leaves falling or the birds, to remind myself where I really am.