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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  • Nice post!

    You could, however, turn this around and ask: Are the minimalists of today still ‘minimalist’?

    What I mean is.. we call ourselves minimalists, because we don’t let these things take up space in our houses (let’s say, music or movies.) Yet we still own them. (Come to think of it.. I haven’t seen anyone list their movie-collection, albeit digital, on their ‘100 things I own’ lists) 😉

    Greetings from the Netherlands!

    • Hey Jurino, as always, thank you for your comment! Actually, you are totally right, what an insightful observation! I have thought about this before, and in fact I have a draft post written about this subject, you’ve definitely prompted me to think more carefully about this, and maybe after I’ve put my thoughts together I’ll write a post about it!

    • Buteo

      Exactly! I think there are a lot of ‘minimalist’ who didn’t quite get the true concept of minimalism. It’s not about having empty shelves… What’s the point of getting rid of books and photos and DVDs when you end up with much more of them in digital formats? Minimalism isn’t about having less physical possessions. It’s about getting rid of everything that’s not essential to our lives. Making empty (literally and metaphorically) space that provokes us to fill it with only most importat, meaningful things…

      Any – as this is my first post – thank you, Jessica, for your great posts. They’re always big source of information/inspiration/thinking material. Greetings from Prague.

  • Rex

    Jurino, I have seen that, just as MS states, that I do not include digital media into my possessions; perhaps it is in hindsight, but I also realize that I have been making a concerted effort to pair down my digital footprint in most areas – do you know how time consuming it is to scour through just 70 GB of data to weed out the one or two things you actually need? That’s part of the task in which I’m currently involved; pair down what information I have so that I may make a truly useful backup; not simply keep all the random minutia I’ve run across in my 1.5 decades of being online.

    MS: While reading your post, I was reminded of countless interviews on the various news networks; after some devastating event, whether fire, flood, et al., many survivors/victims made the statement that “All of their possessions, all of their memories… are gone.” While I do concede the point that a particular object may serve as a buoy for a particular memory or well of memories, the memories still exist within the aether of a person’s mind. Others, however, and I do believe I fall into this category, do not have deep memories; they do require some item, setting, or other reminder to serve as a “thoughtmark” to return to certain memories. While I do not keep any great number of items for random, perhaps trivial memories, I do have a small “collection” of items, all of which could easily fit within a coin pocket on a pair of jeans or a random small ring box container.

    Nevertheless, I do understand that memories and minds are interesting “things,” for lack of a better word, and some people would be – and are – crushed when their tangible links to times past are lost; I would simply hypothesize that such acts are due to a desire to help keep the past “real,” and that things – whether pictures, diaries, or heirlooms – are simply another means to the end. While they may not necessarily be every person’s style, for some people, it’s a real need.

    If I may crosslink to another blog, I believe your post works well in conjunction with Miss Minimalist’s post on “The Top Ten Ways to Declutter Heirlooms,” since they often fall into this same realm of being collected en masse.

    Furthermore, I simply wish to state that I greatly enjoy reading your blog, MS, and to continue with the good work.

    • Dear Rex, thank you so much for your comment.

      Yes I agree, I’ve always thought that minimalism is not about throwing away things that are dear to you, because even though they are ‘clutter’, we are still people after all and obviously we deserve to keep the things that are truly dear to us. Also, a big difference is that as minimalists, we have the choice to let go of our things when we’re ready, but unfortunately when people are victims of disasters they’re often taken by surprise and so feel at a loss for not being able to have said ‘goodbye’. In any case, there’s so much to consider and think about, which is why I’m never quick to judge.

      Thanks again for your encouragement!

  • Man, this is a great piece. I love the way that you contextualise the idea of putting things virtually online as being part of a ‘second self’.

    Seems like a lot of people are talking about that at the moment, but yours is one of the best descriptions of it.

    Thanks for helping me understand why I want to do this! 🙂

    • Hey Joe, thanks for your encouragement, with so many minimalists blogs floating around these days, your comment means so much to me.

  • I’m just now opening up to put more of my thoughts, and true and honest opinions online. It’s a double edged sword. Where is goes from here is uncertain. 🙂

    • Welcome! Yes, I’m not sure what the future holds either with all of us pouring our hearts out online, but hopefully it’ll end up doing more good than bad 🙂

  • I really enjoyed this post. As a student, I find it especially nice to be able to carry my laptop around, instead of separate notebooks, folders, and in some cases, textbooks. It’s also nice that I can look up random facts that people want to know, in class.

    • Dear B, yes I’ve been working on digitising everything I have to carry around from notebooks and note-taking to textbooks too. It’s definitely been worth it for my back 🙂

  • tordis

    i think the thing that scares people is that they can’t touch the internet. it’s something abstract, invisible, maybe even transcendent for most people.
    of course, there are servers and computers and hard disks.
    but the concept of data being digitally stored isn’t something that is easily understood.

    look at small children: to comprehend they have to touch things. look at them. feel them. take them into the mouth and taste them.
    a german word for comprehend is “begreifen”. it consists of the prefix”be” and “greifen” (“grab”, “touch”) – i think it’s the same thing with “to grasp sth”

    i think it’s especially easy for us young people (i expect there are mostly student readers of this blog), who are grown up with all these abstract concepts about computers and gadgets.
    let’s not be ignorant to all the other people who find it hard to grasp the digital age.

    • Dear tordis, thanks for your comment! I agree, we shouldn’t be so quick to judge when people are unable to accept technology. It’s like if somebody suddenly asked us to believe something completely different to what we’ve always ‘known’, then asked us to use it everyday and be happy about it, I know it can be difficult! But you are right, at the moment technology is being made in such a way to appeal to everyone, but perhaps in the future, gadgets and so on will be more complex and have so much more functionality but everyone will be able to use them, having grown up with them all their lives 🙂

  • Dzessz

    Hi there,

    I’m 20. I’m a student. I grew up using the internet, coding, hacking, touch typing; I can do things on the internet quicker than my peers, let alone my mum and family. But I hate it.

    I know there is a lot of irony in that I’m commenting on your blog online now – but I’ll try to explain why I hate being part of this generation.

    Learning is great – but I learn so much more when I turn off my computer and go to a foreign dictionary, or a fat calculus textbook, then I do Googling mindlessly. The internet doesn’t make me happy. I think I’ve just outgrown it. And it’s difficult to outgrow something you’ve spent your whole life used to.

    I miss a radio in the corner and a book. I miss making arrangements that can’t be broken as easily as by a text or Facebook message, they have more meaning that way. I miss not knowing all the news. I miss not feeling compelled to check X amount of sites a day. I miss life, basically.

    I know technology is great, but it has some bad sides too. I hate integration, I miss separation. I hate a computer ‘personalising’ things for you, from advertising to search results. I hate ‘ease of use’.

    I sound like a grumpy old woman. I know Ev Bogue is going the way that he wants his entire life online. Personally, I can’t think of anything more hellish than earning money online and not by interacting face to face, with people. I can’t think of anything worse than being so tied to my Twitter account, or actively wanting to put your heart and soul into the internet.

    I think digitising makes us lazy – I like carrying my notes in my bag, it reminds me I’m alive, and nothing makes me happier than my handwritten notes I write in class. I stare at screens enough in my spare time.

    A final word – I’m afraid of nothing with respect to technology. I happily delete my hard drive periodically to remind myself I don’t need anything stored to make me who I am. I am happy to embrace new technologies, I just have realised, that for me, I’m bored of them, I want a quiet life now.

    Just my two cents, and two cents that I’d be shocked if even one other person agreed with!

    • Hi Dzessz, thank you for your comment.

      I understand your concerns, and don’t worry, it’s not my place, or anybody else’s really, to tell you whether your feelings about all of this are right or wrong! I’m not going to try and convince you or anything, just offer my own opinion on the subject.

      For me, the internet and most of technology, has all of those bad things about it. I like how you said you miss ‘not knowing the news’ and ‘not feeling compelled to check x amount of sites a day’, I feel the same. But to me, yes technology offers all of those bad things, but we don’t have to take it. It takes a little willpower, but it is possible to break away from sites like facebook and so on. But then again, technology isn’t always about ‘separation’. If we use it the right way, it actually helps more to connect than to separate. I don’t think I’ve ever used it instead of interacting with a real person when I could, but I use Skype and email to contact my family on the other side of the world because I physically can’t otherwise.

      As for learning, I’m studying a foreign language and I would be lost without it. Of course, it is possible to learn a language without audio, podcasts, apps and the internet (I’m aware that many millions managed fine before) but it’s not until you do it that you realize that it just makes everything easier. You can stick to the old methods and make it hard, but my aim isn’t to do everything arduously, it’s to learn the language, so I’ll take any way I can! 🙂

      I’m not saying I’m a hard-core technology fan. I write about it a lot because it’s relevant and useful to me, not because it’s essential for my human being. So don’t worry about telling me your opinion about it 🙂 I just think that if we learn to strike the right kind of balance and manage to extract most of the good bits without taking the bad (which I really believe is possible) then maybe we can learn to live with technology peacefully and still get that ‘quiet’ life.

      I don’t usually write such long replies, but I thought your comment was interesting. I hope you don’t feel like I’m attacking you or anything, I really don’t mean to.
      Thanks again for your comment!

      • tordis

        i must say, i indeed feel some discomfort when thinking about being so dependent on technology – and having to be!
        reading dzessz’ comment i must strongly agree with it – to some extent.

        there is a social pressure on people to be online constantly and to network everywhere, and to have stored everything on their hard drives.
        and what if … it crashes?
        and when you close your eyes and think about it: does anyone know exactly what’s stored on your hard disk? (clutter clutter clutter… especially there where we can’t see it, because it’s out of vision, out of mind!)

        i think that storing everything to the cloud and to our hard disks bears the risk of clutter and storing too much. storing uninteresting stuff.
        maybe it helps to think “would i print this out?” “would i buy the cd?”

        “material life” is so much more limited, which i think is good. it’s owerwhelming to have to choose between 10 identical pictures of the eiffel tower (because of your digital cam you made that many to choose the best one later) – most people store every single picture then…

        i’d love to read something about dependency on technical stuff and digital sabbaticals soon on your blog! 🙂

        i’m going to unclutter my digital life this weekend. this is going to be fun!!!
        i quit facebook 18 months ago (and before every other social network) – that was one of the best decisions i ever made!

        • tordis

          i thought about it yesterday. i think, technology helps a lot with being a minimalist, but there are also negative aspects like losing your focus on the real things, cluttering/storing too much, being pressed to be online and network constantly, being pressed to network all the time, getting bad eyesight and a bad back… and of course being dependent on all that stuff.

          but there has to be a minimalistic way to deal with it. like minimalising the time spent online, the stuff stored, or something like that.
          but i don’t know how to deal with the dependence on technology, how to be not dependent but use it wisely and enjoy what one is using.

          as for dzessz, who really is tired of all the networking, of all the being online: why don’t you just quit? quit facebook – all the people who care about you will contact you otherwise and anyway. twitter is a waste of time? quit it.
          if you are really good at cutting back the internet you maybe even can save money by taking a cheaper (and much more slower) internet connection – because that is all you need by that point.

  • “Does this mean that minimalists are technology?”

    This is such a superb question. I never really stopped to think how my minimalist tendencies and my natural inclination toward technology over pen-and-paper storage. But it’s true: we tend to scan all our documents, store our media in the cloud or on a hard drive, keep our thoughts on blogs and social media…the list goes on.

    But are we technology? Could we function without it? Could someone in 1880 be a successful minimalist?

    I’m sure it could be possible: once upon a time, no one needed to keep in touch with anyone beyond the people situated directly around them. At most, they would send letters, then telegrams. Now it’s emails and tweets. Perhaps our technology now is little more than a natural replacement for past forms of communication.

    As for storage, that’s another story. That would be much more difficult to purge without digital counterparts. Those memories can be much trickier to hold onto, though not impossible. Were my external hard drive to corrupt and all my photos and videos to disappear, I would still have those memories in my mind to cling to.

    But of course, the same thing could happen to another minimalist and it would spell tragedy. So are minimalists technology? I think that depends on the minimalist.

    Documents are a different story for me. I scan everything, and file only what is absolutely necessary for me to have a hard copy of. I store every thought, every manuscript, every poem in my cloud storage. I store ebooks on my Kindle instead of collecting physical books. I rely on technology to simplify and declutter my life, things that I can’t recall in solid detail the way I can memories. In this sense, I am technology.

    “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.”

    Agreed. Perhaps technology is like Evernote’s elephant, the second brain that never forgets. Perhaps it has become an extension of our human minds. It’s not absolutely crucial, but it certainly helps.

    • Very interesting comment Maria, thank you. Good question, I wonder if someone from 1880 could be a successful minimalist? Probably. I can imagine that as people’s attitudes change and technology advances, the definition of minimalist also changes over time.