A phenomenon I noticed when researching Digital Minimalism is that many people are confused by the creeping unease they feel about their digital lives. This confusion is caused in part by problems of scope.
When you take an activity like social media, for example, and zoom in close, you isolate behaviors like commenting on a friend’s picture, or encountering an interesting link, that seem mildly positive. What harm could there possibly be in clicking a heart icon?
When you zoom out, however, the cumulative effect of all this swiping and tapping seems to add up to something distinctly negative. Few are happy, for example, after allowing yet another movie night to devolve into side-by-side iPad idling.
The dynamic at play here is that digital activities that are mildly positive in isolation, combine to crowd out other real world activities that are potentially much more satisfying. This is what allows you to love Twitter in the moment when you discover a hilarious tweet, but at the end of the day fear that the app is degrading your soul.
Understanding this dynamic is critical because it tells you that you cannot improve your life by focusing exclusively on digital tools. Triaging your apps, or cutting back phone time, will not by itself make you happier. You must also aggressively fill in the space this pruning creates with the type of massively satisfying, real world activities that these tools have been increasingly pushing out of your life.
It is with this in mind, and in the spirit of the New Year, that I suggest you make a simple resolution: join analog social media.
As I’ve discussed before, analog social media describes organizations, activities and traditions that require you to interact with interesting people and encounter interesting things in the real world.
Here are some examples:
Join a local political group that meets regularly to organize on issues relevant to your local community, or serve as a volunteer on the election campaign of a local politician you know and like.
Join a social fitness group, like a running club, or local CrossFit box.
Become a museum or theater member and attend openings.
Go to at least one author talk per month at a local bookstore.
Create a book club, or poker group, or gaming club.
Join a committee at your church/temple/mosque.
Establish a weekly brunch or happy hour with your close friends.
These types of activities tend to provide significantly more value in your life than their digital counterparts. Indeed, tools like online social media are probably best understood as weak online simulacrums of the analog encounters that we know deep down we need to thrive as humans.
Equally important, as I learned during last year’s big digital declutter experiment (summarized here; detailed here), the more analog social media you introduce into your life, the more bulwarks you establish against the creeping demands of the digital.
With nothing else in place to fill your time, your phone will become increasingly irresistible, regardless of your intentions to spend more time disconnected. When you instead introduce meaningful analog activity into your regular routine, the appeal of the screen suddenly diminishes.
To summarize: if you’re vaguely unhappy with your digital life, respond by introducing much more positive real world activity. If you embrace analog social media, you’ll soon be wondering how you ever dedicated so much time to its inferior digital equivalent.