One of the most counter-intuitive points that Cal Newport makes in Digital Minimalism is that multi-use tools are actually a BAD thing. Yes, your phone can give a weather forecast, play a song, buy a plane ticket, show a friend’s baby photos, AND make calls, but the cost is constant distraction.
Instead Newport advocates for what he calls, “slow media” by way of single-use devices. It’s a physical newspaper instead of a screen. It’s reading a physical book or an ebook reader rather than reading on your phone. Some tech minimalists go so far as to exchange their smart phones for “dumb” ones.
A month ago, I found this whole notion to be idiotic. I could read books and get the news just fine on my phone. Plus, I wasn’t limited to The Seattle Times, but could access any number of news sites! Going to single-use devices felt pointlessly luddite.
But I tried it. I got a new Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas and I loaded it up with library books. I then disconnected the wi-fi to avoid having to “return” the books until I was finished. I deleted my social media apps, and seriously cut back on the time I spent listening to podcasts. And a funny thing happened: the less “fast” information I consumed, the less I missed it.
Without Facebook, I wasn’t looking at click-baity articles that promised something “hilarious” and never quite delivered. Without Instagram, I wasn’t wasting time on celebrities and influencers. And without Twitter, I was exposed to SO MUCH LESS DONALD TRUMP.
Instead I read books: FIVE (5!) in a single month! I can’t remember if I’ve EVER read that much in a month! These books offered a much higher return for time invested than my normal media diet. I whittled down my podcast listening to a few for work and a few for pleasure. The major political and cultural events are covered in my weekly Slate podcasts. When an interesting article did roll across on my phone screen, I saved it to Pocket for later retrieval. Many of these articles never got read, which was an effective winnowing technique.
As I consumed less news, I found myself craving it less. A former NPR junkie, I got into the car and changed the channel when talk turned to Trump, the elections that are STILL a year and a half away, or Brexit. Even when the Mueller report came out, I waited a few days to see if anything happened. When nothing did, my inattention felt justified.
Consuming slow media has definitely improved my mental space. I have disconnected myself from the outrage cycle that seems to permeate the online sphere. The beauty of single-use devices is intentionality about what I consume. The beauty of slow media is that it is better-sourced and reported than slapdash hot takes.
If your blood pressure is constantly raised by our current political situation, I can heartily recommend disconnecting. If anything big happens, you will still hear about it, and in the meantime, go read a good book.