Thoughts On Digital Minimalism

Two months ago to the day, I posted thoughts on social media. It was a general look at my social media use at the time and a point of scaling back from Facebook in particular. My conclusion was apt:

“Minimalism is a good final point on my current thoughts on Social Media. I don’t want to delete altogether but minimize use or exposure, and thereby mitigate any negative effects. I hope the net results will be positive!”

I also shared that I had pre-ordered Cal Newport’s new book Digital Minimalism. It finally came out a few days ago and appeared on my kindle immediately!

So far, Cal’s new book is great! I’m about half-way through reading it; here are some of my thoughts.


This is the first book I’ve read by Mr. Newport. I’m kinda jealous because, man, he can write well! His ability to clearly present arguments and definitions of concepts with real-world examples is noteworthy. The writing is concise, and the logical flow from one thought to the next is silky smooth. Regardless of the content, the reading is a pleasure.

But of course, I love the content! My expectation leading up to the book’s release was that Cal’s Digital Declutter (not so much detox) was going to be too challenging for me personally, like when I was young and had to eat my broccoli. Good, but hard, to do.

Does decluttering mean I will have to give up my smartphone? No, not necessarily. In fact, Cal presents surprising findings from a close look at the Amish and Mennonite cultures known, inaccurately, for eschewing technology altogether.

Yet I’m finding, through Cal’s simple and compelling reasoning, backed by much research, studies, life-examples, and works by others, that the Digital Declutter is so necessary and valuable that I’d be somewhat of a fool to not jump in headlong with conviction of a good outcome. Like I can’t wait to benefit from it! It’s better than broccoli smothered in cheddar cheese!

I’m carefully considering the weight of Cal’s words and his own life as a testimony to living a better life more in control of technology than being controlled by tech.

Our smartphones, for example, promised to give us new capabilities, to enable us. Instead, they enslave us, exploiting our vulnerabilities.

Digital Minimalism begins by defining what it is and why it’s important. I was generally convinced of this matter beforehand, but after reading Cal’s first few chapters, my understanding is better and, if locked-in before, the key has now been tossed into the abyss.

The book’s outset also explains the value and method of the Digital Declutter. While I’ve not yet embarked on this 30-day task, I have already begun to pare down my phone’s apps plus online services I use.

Some of the most valuable stuff I’ve gained so far is the in-depth promotion of solitude, walking, and other practical ways to declutter from device domination.

I also appreciated that Cal expounded on a distinction between connection and conversation and applied it to what he terms conversation-centric communication. Basically, the argument is well made that real-life face-to-face socializing can never be replaced by social media and digital “likes.”

The reason this is worth reading is because, even though many people would agree that the argument’s conclusion is common sense, Cal reasons how and why and shows that our common sense can be undermined by the technology and our own psychological weaknesses.

For now, I’ll end with a quote that I loved enough to, ironically, share on Twitter (needing to turn on my kindle’s wi-fi to do so):


“…humans are not wired to be constantly wired.”

Cal Newport – Digital Minimalism

I’m still soaking up this good read, but I’ll go ahead and highly recommend you buy it and consume it for yourself!

The Grip Of The Smartphone

A thought-provoking idea was posted recently on Cal Newport’s Study Hacks blog. It asked, “Are smartphones necessary anymore?” That notion was based on the premise that a smartphone is nothing more than a connected mobile device. But many of the responses in the comments showed that the smartphone is much more than that.

When Steve Jobs introduced the quintessential smartphone (iPhone), he said it was three things: a phone, a widescreen iPod, and an internet communicator. 3 in 1.

But in time, the smartphone became several other things: a GPS, a camera, a handheld game console, an ebook reader, and more!

So, the smartphone seems indispensable; it’s replaced so many other single-use devices!

I do think there’s a lot of good to be said about sticking with single-purpose devices (I still cling to my kindle paperwhite). They tend to be simpler and better at their dedicated function. But of course, then you must carry around a bunch of different gadgets.


I’d say that smartphones are like cars. Our society now kind of just assumes you have one. You could trade your smartphone in for a dumb flip phone. But that would be like trading your car in for a bicycle. Sure, you can do those things and survive. But our culture works around the fact that the smartphone is here to stay.

woman girl writing technology
Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

Granted, technology gives, yet it also takes away. It’s apparent that smartphones are not perfect. They take away our attention from ‘real life’ in the moment, distracting our focus. Their apps can cause addiction. And many people have started to notice the downsides of upgrading to a smartphone.

There are articles and books that address these issues. A Wired story spurred the question of the necessity of smartphones:

It’s Time To Bring Back The Dumb Phone

There’s also:

Going Dumb: My Year With A Flip Phone

‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia


Like all technology, I think smartphones have pros and cons. And you must decide for yourself which outweighs the other. I’d caution to not throw the baby out with the bathwater though.

Certainly I relate to smartphone addiction. I’m a tech geek anyways. Before iPhones, there were PDA’s. I had a Pocket PC (Dell Axim X3), like a Palm Pilot. Before that: the Casio B.O.S.S. These things were cool gadgets. So of course I want to keep my smartphone. I just need to be careful and use it in moderation I guess.

antique broken cell phone communication
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But if I really had to, I think it’d be possible to rely on an LTE enabled iPad or laptop computer instead of a smartphone for staying connected and productive. Then again, a tablet is too big to be a pocket point-n-shoot camera.

Is the smartphone in our grip, or are we in the grip of the smartphone?

Do you think smartphones are necessary? Could you go back to a flip-phone or a feature-phone like the Blackberries of yore? Would you? Should you?

The Longevity Of Apple Tech

Thanks to Apple’s recent news about slowing iPhone sales, it’s apparent that people don’t upgrade their phones as often as they used to. Until last week, the device I used was over four years old. I upgraded from an iPhone 6 to a brand new…iPhone 7! Wait, but that phone is like two years old.

That’s right. And it’s a great upgrade! I would say that Apple’s phones are so good and bleeding edge that a 2-year old iPhone is still a fantastic device. And that’s why it seems so many people are keeping them instead of breaking the bank to buy a fancy new iPhone XS or XR. They’re just too expensive.

I like to buy used Apple stuff. You get great value and save a lot of cash. Last year, I bought a used iPad Air 2, a three-year old tablet at the time. And I’m still enjoying it today; I typed this blog post on it. It still works great! And I look at the shiny new iPad Pros and think they’re way too costly and they don’t really do anything that my iPad Air 2 doesn’t do. So why bother to upgrade?

As for my iPhone 6, I had planned to use it for one more year before upgrading, which would have made it five years old! But it recently began performing much slower than usual. I tried deleting apps, but that didn’t help.

While visiting friends over the Christmas holiday, it turned out that they had an “old” iPhone 7 not being used anymore, and they simply said they would let me have it! Wow! I gladly accepted the unplanned upgrade from a 6 to a “new” 7. And as a thank you, I gladly gave them a chunk of money for it.

Here’s something to note: I plan to use this iPhone 7 for at least two more years, which would make it four years old before I once again upgrade. Maybe by then the iPhone XR will sell at a low used price of around $250!

You can have great tech gadgets and not have to spend a fortune! iPhones and iPads, at least in the US where I live, are ubiquitous. There’s always someone somewhere upgrading and selling their current device.

If you stay 2 years behind the bleeding edge of Apple tech, I’d say you’re not really “behind.” You are just not “ahead” of the rest. You’re pretty much right in line with mainstream tech. It’s a very good and reasonably affordable place to be.

How old is your current smartphone? Let me know!

Thanks for reading,

-Jason

Is Flickr Still A Thing?

Recently I was bit by the shutterbug again! Being outside and collecting pecans, the vivid fall colors of the leaves caught my eyes. So I tried taking some photos to capture their beauty. I’m not saying I succeeded, but I enjoyed it none the less.

When I thought about sharing my pictures of late, I wondered if Flickr was still a good site to use. Short answer: I think it is!

I downloaded the Flickr app to my iPhone and iPad and visited the website, started a new account, and uploaded a sunset I happened to catch on my way home from work the other day.

img_2559

After all these years and changes, Flickr is still a great place to enjoy photography with others. There’s still no other site quite like it. And I hope it stays that way.

One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Flickr is using its camera finder to see which cameras are the most popular. And a big trend was just re-confirmed. Flickr announced their 2017 year in review, and smartphones (shouldn’t we just call them smartcams now?) are the dominant camera type used by millions to capture and share their pictures online.

As much as I like the picture quality you get from DSLR cameras, the good-enough quality combined with the always-with-you convenience of a smartcam works best for me.

My iPhone 6 is my trusty camera with a built-in phone for calling a friend. Try holding up a Canon 5D Mark III to your ear and phoning someone. OK never-mind! Kidding.

If you enjoy photography but haven’t tried Flickr, give it a shot (pun not intended)! And maybe connect with me there too.

Why I Like Republic Wireless

Liking Freedom

After years of buying into 2-year contracts with cell phone carriers, I finally broke free! I must give credit to Republic Wireless for that, and also to Walt Mossberg; his latest review of RW’s new technology gave me the push to give it a go! OK, also, Amazon’s Prime deal on a couple of phones helped too. So if, like me, you try to be frugal and minimal, or you like affordable and simple, read on.

I’ve had the candy bar phone. The flip phone. The iPhone. The Android smartphone. All on 2-year contracts. Every time. And that despite always wishing for a cheaper alternative that didn’t lock me into a service agreement. And until recently, the few options that fit the bill had too many caveats, required me to give up too much, or in some way had deal-breakers.

Affordable

The deal I ended up going with is on Republic Wireless 3.0 plans. A modern smartphone with plenty of data and unlimited calls and texts: $20 per month.

$20!

It may seem too good to be true, but it’s totally true. I don’t think there’s a better deal out there. So RW is affordable, which may be it’s best feature. The benefit: I save a lot of money for other things.

Simple

RW is also simple. I was able to buy an unlocked phone from Amazon, pop in an RW SIM card, download the RW app, and got signed up and running right away, even porting my number from my locked Verizon phone (contract fulfilled). The website, the app, and the way RW service works…it’s all very straightforward.

How can this all be true? Republic Wireless works differently than the big 4 carriers. They rely mostly on Wi-Fi for phone service instead of using cell towers so much. Also, I think they’re what’s called an MVNO. Basically that means when they do use cell towers, the piggy-back on towers maintained by the big 4 carriers.

Reliable

However it all works, I have found RW reliable. Most of the time, I get LTE data and cell coverage. Even in the rural area I live north of Abilene, TX (piggy-backing on T-Mobile), I get coverage (albeit spotty sometimes).

If you’re thinking about trying Republic Wireless, the thing that helps is the fact that you can buy a really good phone for cheap, one that is unlocked. That means it works on any cell carrier instead of only one. So you can buy a phone you like and try it on RW, and if it doesn’t work out, you’re free to try your phone on any other carrier!

This is what helped me try RW for myself. No lock-in. No contract. No exorbitant fees. No high prices. No strings attached. No non-sense. No gimmicks. And by the way, their community support forums are helpful. RW has a grass-roots, friendly vibe to it. I think the word for it would be authentic.

And that’s why I am sharing this info with you. This is not a sponsored post. I was not contacted by anyone to do this. I just really like Republic Wireless and want to tell you about them; there are really great options besides the big 4 carriers!

If you want to break free from expensive cell phone plans, give Republic Wireless a call!