I’ve always had a fascination with minimalism. As a practicing minimalist for a few years, and budding re-practicer, I’ve always tried to be very conscious of why something is useful and worthwhile. Yet in recent times, I’ve let my scarf collecting cloud my judgement and found myself faced with a dilemma- having three devices that essentially do the same things. Most talk of modern minimalism discusses whether minimalists should or should not use technology, or how to use technology to achieve minimalism. Yet I think there is a greater issue at hand. Why keep a laptop, tablet, and smartphone? And is it okay to do with less? The answers that I’ve come down to are boiled down to two main issues: redundancy and needing space.
When I first got an iPad, I couldn’t figure out what to do with it. I received it as a very generous graduation present, so sentimentality (and curiosity) urged me to keep it. After a few weeks of “This is seriously just my MacBook but smaller, and with a better screen”, I started to find value in using it. I mostly use it as an e-reader and sketchbook (who could blame me when the Pocket and Paper experiences are so lovely?), and started using it more for things that were mediocre experiences on my desktop, but quickly found it nudging out my cell phone.
Increasingly, it doesn’t make sense for me to carry around a cell phone, except to call someone (which I do sparingly). I live in an area where WiFi is almost ubiquitous and it doesn’t make sense for me to drain my battery or my wallet by using my precious (and sporadic) 4G. If I didn’t have WiFi, I wouldn’t miss very much by having a dumb phone. I made a list of the things that I would miss, and it came down to a whopping three items. I quickly decided that these were nice to haves, but not needs: navigation, foursquare, and Instagram.
Photo courtesy of New York Times
So it begs the question: Should devices have specific purposes?
This is certainly a question that I don’t have an answer to. I can see the pros and cons of both sides. There’s been a war raging in the user experience and web design fields about whether websites should have a separate mobile site or just be responsively designed, and just how to think about content on mobile. There are definitely certain experiences which make me prefer to only use them on one device, but in some ways I think that would underutilize the power of systems that are cross-platform compatible.
More and more, I find that in using all of these devices in similar ways, it would just be easier for things to be entirely cloud based. I’m actually falling in love with the idea of having hardware as blank slates that can quickly be used interchangeably. The secret to making that dream a reality is in designing interfaces that really capitalize on what each devices’ strengths and weaknesses are. However, it seems that the focus for the time being is on accessibility across all devices and not necessarily the best utility.
I need my space
I started thinking about ditching at least my cell phone all together after a recent trip to Iceland. I survived on occasional WiFi for quick translations, restaurant recommendations on foursquare, letting friends know I wasn’t dead or kidnapped, and uploading pictures to Instagram after my adventures in the wilderness. Compared to my normal digital intake, I was at my bare minimum. I enjoyed the relative digital peace and quiet, it made the experience about me and not about other people or excess information. After returning, I’ve found that I’ve gone out of my way to keep this digital peace and quiet because I’ve realized something really important: instant gratification isn’t really gratifying.
There are really few things that require my immediate attention. Oftentimes, I find that having notifications end up working against me instead of for me. I often end up reading my emails on my phone or tablet just to get rid of the notification, and then fail to act on them later when I don’t see any notifications pop up on my laptop (since I find phone and tablet interfaces to be rather unfavorable for replying). The real-time updates have mostly left me feeling like I’m reading through the same notifications multiple times for things that don’t actually require my attention, and which subsequently create enough noise to drown out the things that do.
Out with the old?
Fortunately/unfortunately, I’m not ditching any of my devices. For starters, my carrier doesn’t even carry phones that aren’t web-enabled. In fact, if you want to get a relatively dumb phone, you’re forced to get a trac phone, which just adds unnecessary complication for me. Instead, I’m working on figuring out where my stumbling blocks are for each device and eliminating them, and taking what makes each device particularly useful and amplifying that. Ditching at least one device would certainly help to distinguish uses and keep my distance. Yet, I think that space is better determined through moderation of information consumption, changing our online behavior, and creating beautiful, useful experiences rather than just ditching devices entirely. It might seem odd for a minimalist to encourage keeping multiple, similar devices. Yet, in the coming years and even months, I think we’re going to start seeing cross-platform experiences and smarter consumption enough to note the utility and benefit of each device, which is ultimately the cornerstone of minimalism.
Are minimalism and technology compatible? Would you ditch one of your devices in the pursuit of minimalism? Sound off in the comments.