As a Gen Xer on the cusp of 4x, I know all too well the struggle to make sense of my relationship with technology. For many freelancers and small business owners, especially those who are just starting out, it can feel like there is an unspoken demand to be everywhere online. We're expected to constantly post content, respond to messages, and stay engaged with our audience. This can quickly become overwhelming, leading to a feeling of burnout and imbalance.
So how can we fight digital overload without sacrificing the benefits that technology brings? The answer lies in the concept of digital minimalism.
Digital minimalism is a philosophy that encourages us to be mindful about which technologies we use and why. It also encourages us to use technology intentionally and consciously, without getting carried away with the latest trends.
This doesn't mean we have to abandon technology entirely; it means that we need to take a step back and evaluate our relationship with digital tools. We need to be honest about what is beneficial for us and what is not. From there, we can make practical changes.
Embarking on the Digital Journey: A Nostalgic Stroll Down Memory Lane
My journey with computers began with Oregon Trail on an Apple IIe in Ms. Sasaki's Computer Lab on Edendale Elementary School in San Lorenzo, California. I was there once a week on Fridays. I begged my dad for a computer and what I got was not what I expected: a Tandy computer from Radio Shack that had to be connected to the TV and the Commodore 64 where I would play Spy vs. Spy before it completely ran out of juice and became a massive paperweight on my roll-top desk. It would be another 2-3 years before I'd touch another computer.
When I was 15, my boyfriend at the time sat me down in front of a computer and introduced me to the MS-DOS prompt. From there it was creating my own .bat files and learning how to install software. Learning how to install hardware came much later.
We moved to Las Vegas where we ran a bulletin board system (BBS, that's vintage Reddit y'all!) and being so proud of myself for being able to offer TelNet. TelNet essentially allowed users to connect to the Internet. I won't go into all of the details which you can look up yourself on how this actually worked, but if you had TelNet and more than two nodes (lines) on your BBS you were it.
Back then I remember using the net for only a few things: email, IM/AIM, doing research, and uploading photos to my GeoCities page with a ridiculously long URL. In its infancy we were enamored with the shiny new object. I could see where this was going and I thought to myself this is probably how the Gold Rush felt.
The Evolution of Computer Usage: From World Book Encyclopedia to Instant Communication
As time went on, I found that many of my friends wanted to communicate with me more via IM. We were making plans to go out to eat, go to the movies and IM started to slowly replace the phone. The phone did ring less, but we used this piece of new technology to find ways to communicate faster with each other, but never in lieu of the actual face-to-face conversations.
As computers and the Internet became more commonplace, I found myself using it for more than just communication – I was consuming content from various sources including news sites, blogs, and forums. With this new access to information came a world of possibilities and an addiction to staying connected. I now wanted to create websites and got myself a copy of CoffeeCup software where I learned HTML.
I no longer needed my 26 volumes of World Book or Encyclopedia Brittanica or wait for a letter via snail mail when email did the job. I could offer desktop publishing and voicemail box services straight out of my bedroom. The pager/beeper provided a convenient way to contact me, eliminating the need to return home just to check my voicemail. With a mere quarter in my possession, I could relish the feeling of being Superman in a phone booth.
And what about those Starcraft LAN parties?
The Arrival of Smartphones: A Quantum Leap in Digital Connectivity
Smartbeep was a cheap beeper/pager service that allowed me to have the coolest and latest type of beeper: the alphanumeric beeper. Leave me a voicemail and the words would appear on my screen, which saved me time and money. But once I got a cell phone, a new door unlocked.
I had my first cell phone at about 18. Back then you could text, play a game of snake, and choose from a cacophony of chiptune MIDIs for your ringtone. Mine was Funkytown. It was still new and if you had a cell phone again, you were the coolest kid on the block. Plans weren't cheap. So I had no intentions of wasting money just to look cool outside of a Starbucks while drinking a Mocha Frappuccino typing away on my laptop.
“Call me after 9pm when my minutes are free.”
It was the beginning of what I like to call the convenience economy. I guess we call it the gig economy now, but you get the picture. People were leaving "normal" jobs and going for the next big thing in tech. A coworker of mine left his job at Starbucks to go work at Webvan (vintage Instacart) only to comeback a few years later after Webvan had filed for bankruptcy.
New opportunities came along as technology became more entrenched in our lives. I had a PocketPC by Dell with me at all times by the time I made it to the corporate world and I felt empowered. I could look at my spreadsheets from this device on my way to work. It soon became like a digital planner and had everything in there. Anything my phone couldn't do, the PocketPC could.
I remember looking at my phone wishing it could go on the internet. Maybe Steve Jobs heard my cries and answered my prayers. Everything seemed to go into ludicrous speed after that.
I was late to the party this time. My iPhone 3GS replaced my hard disk mp3 player, Palm Pilot, and Motorola Razr V3. Yes, that pretty silver one.
The Dawn of Social Media: The Catalyst for Digital Overload
As we moved into the era of smartphones, another phenomenon was taking shape – the rise of social media. Not only could we reach out to our friends and family at any time, but we also had access to a global platform where we could share every aspect of our lives, from the mundane to the extraordinary.
This revolution added a new layer of digital interaction that profoundly changed our world, positively and negatively. We could connect with anyone, anytime, but this accessibility came with a price. The pressure to be ‘online' and ‘engaged' all the time started to peak, leading to a state of constant digital overload. My personal experience with this new facet of technology, with our ‘always on' culture, was never for me.
Dragged Onto Social Media Kicking and Screaming
It was my sister who convinced me to get a Classmates.com account, where I'd later find my future husband. Other than that, I had no intentions of reconnecting with anyone from high school. I thought that was it and I could continue on with my life. Instead, it opened up a can of FOMO I didn't know I had. I never had a Friendster account and only found out about it a few years ago. I had enrolled at the community college, worked full time and was also in the middle of a music career that demanded my attention.
MySpace was recommended to me by my classmates in the Music department. It was a way to connect with other artists, promote your music and shows. I reluctantly created an account. It was fun for a while. I made friends, created some great music with those friends, but it also became a distraction that filled me up with anxiety. It's one thing to feel the need to upload photos or video to a platform like Instagram or TikTok, but quite another to have the same expectation with music.
I struggled with feeling the need to keep up with everyone. I felt like I had to do something musical every day or risk being irrelevant. As a GrammyU campus ambassador, I needed to strike a balance between leveraging the power of social media and maintaining control over my own life. Given the widespread presence of everyone in that space, it was crucial for me to have a presence as well.
While I was happy to see people finding me and my music online, I also started to feel disconnected from the art of making music. This was unsustainable. Business relationships seemed informal and untrustworthy. I felt guilty for not contributing to the conversation and, at times, even my own music, but I knew that I was fighting against my own instincts. That is for someone who offline is relatively private.
A Social Media Timeline
My husband invited me to this one. I have one main account for the Business Suite and three business pages. I do not have the app on my devices.
“Oh it's like Facebook, but just pictures.” I created this account because I wanted to showcase my photography. Deleted one account and have locked down the remaining accounts. The app isn't installed on any of my devices.
“Whatever comes to your mind, just put it out there.” Overposting on Facebook, you look crazy. Overposting on Twitter, you fit right in. Deleted all of my accounts in 2022.
“It's like MySpace and your own website.” Don't have your own website, but need to promote your music? Here you go. Once I stopped my music project, the account went with it.
“THE FILTERS!” I was late to this and didn't care for the filters. Accounts are dormant. App not installed on devices.
“Get off of that evil Facebook! It's for us artists and creators!” Created an account for my music and another for my travel blog. Hardly used them and then deleted both accounts.
“We're not doing ReverbNation anymore. You gotta get on SoundCloud.” Another way to become part of another content marketplace.
“If you have a business, you need to be on Clubhouse. You can have your own channel.” I received an invitation, signed up, and then never used it. Deleted app from devices.
“Totally better than Clubhouse and you don't need another account.” Only participated in some Spaces. Stopped using it altogether when I deleted my Twitter accounts.
“It's so fun!” I created accounts for my businesses, and never used them. The accounts exist, but no content was ever created for them. App deleted from devices.
“Twitter is dying and Elon is a poophead. It's like Twitter, but better.” I created the account and it's been dormant since February 2023. App deleted from devices.
“It's like early Twitter. SOOOOOO much better. So what if it deletes your Instagram account if you try to delete your Threads account. Everyone is on there now. You have to get on there.” Downloaded the app, linked the accounts, posted once to tell people I wasn't going to use it, and then deleted the apps off of my phone again. I don't want more Meta products.
Note: I intentionally exclude online services like Amazon and Netflix, as well as the technological advancements that have revolutionized the way we work from this blog post. Exploring these topics would require additional lengthy essays, which I currently lack the energy for. Sincerely, Management 😊
Embarking on the Path of Digital Minimalism
During the quarantine and lockdown, I realized that many things held little significance for me. The thought of deleting my entire Facebook friends' list and Twitter accounts crossed my mind. As I had stopped traveling, my presence on my travel blog's Instagram account dwindled. I wanted to reclaim my time and energy. But in order to prioritize the things that truly mattered, sacrifices had to be made.
In March 2020, I began experiencing a decline in my health. After years of neglecting my well-being, I was finally confronted with the need to address these issues head-on. Consequently, I made significant changes in order to prioritize my overall wellness and concentrate on my journey to recovery.
I decided that the best way forward was to cut down on anything that no longer served me. Food is often seen as the sole source of fuel, yet we must not overlook the importance of emotional and spiritual sustenance in our lives. Anything we consume has the potential to either nourish us or deplete us.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
As I started to reassess my relationship with technology, I asked myself: “What impact do these platforms have on my life?”. This question pushed me to take a step back and truly evaluate the impact of platforms like social media in comparison to other activities that bring joy into my life.
With this new perspective, I was able to identify which platforms I still wanted and needed to be a part of, as well as areas where I felt overwhelmed or uninspired.
While some accounts provided me with a sense of community and connection, others no longer served a purpose in my life and only served as distractions from what truly mattered. On one hand, I cherished the connections and community I found. On the other hand, I recognized the need to let go of profiles that no longer added value to my life.
After months of contemplation, I realized that it was time for me to make a change. By understanding the pros and cons of each platform, I was able to decide which ones were worth keeping and which ones needed to be deleted or deactivated.
Addressing Digital Overload in the Business Realm: Strategies for Effective Management
The Meta platforms were the easiest. Since the rise of Reels, my feed has been flooded with accounts I should engage with rather than the ones I actually follow. The TikTok clone greatly annoyed me, because I felt if I wanted to be on TikTok, I'd be on TikTok. This prompted me to disengage from the platform and allow it to gradually fade away from device real estate.
Around that time I made the decision to clear my Facebook friends' list. I had been pruning for years, but this time I wanted it completely gone. Ok, well not completely. There's one person on my list, my husband who surprisingly doesn't use Facebook at all and has contemplated deleting his account altogether. My last post on my personal account made public simply read:
“Hola, quick heads up. I'm going to clear the friends list completely. I just want to use FB for the biz pages. If you don't have my contact info, now is a good time to grab it. Otherwise, you can find me on the biz pages:
Elizabeth Alarcón – B2B consulting – courses – workshops
Allez Elizabeth – travel + language
Carry On Only – travel apparel + accessories
Last time I attempted to remove people from my friends' list, I was bombarded with texts and Facebook Messenger messages asking me if something was wrong. I wanted to avoid that drama this time around and it worked! As of today, the list is almost empty and the peace of mind that comes with it is priceless.
I began curating my feed by unfollowing brands and only focusing on engaging with groups that were more aligned with my values. This gave me the opportunity to build a different, and more meaningful relationship with social media by focusing on quality over quantity. This strategic approach not only streamlines my online experience but also allows for more meaningful interactions within my existing communities. I am ruthless when it comes to deleting and blocking. If a Facebook group starts to lose its appeal, it's out. From now on, I've made the decision to refrain from joining any new groups. This also reminded me of why I never wanted to build a community there.
Deleting Twitter was the hardest one. I had been using it for years to connect with people. Out of all the social media platforms, I spent the most time there. But after a while, I had grown tired of posting just for the sake of posting, and engaging in conversations that drained me instead of energizing me. It didn't feel worth it anymore.
So after much contemplation, I finally deleted the accounts.
What I'm left with are the accounts that suit me and my businesses. I've also made the decision not to add more platforms. At some point, you and I have to stop chasing the next big thing.
Using Third Party Apps to Avoid Digital Overload
I wanted to be on social media, without being immersed in it. I knew I needed to have a presence there, but it didn't need to be an all consuming activity. Third-party apps are a great way to manage digital overload in the business world.
I decided to use apps like Blog2Social (WP plugin), IFTTT, RSS.app, and Repurpose.io to schedule posts instead of manually posting each one. This allowed me to focus my energy on quality content rather than constantly trying to stay up-to-date with the latest trends.
Trending audio? Don't know her.
These apps also allowed me to reach more people by enabling cross-posting across different platforms. I could easily connect my accounts, schedule posts in advance, and have access to a variety of analytics tools that help me better understand how my content is doing on each platform.
More importantly, it meant I didn't need to have the apps on any of my devices. I could still be connected without needing to constantly check my phone. I can now respond to comments and messages on a designated schedule via desktop, and I'm no longer glued to my phone waiting for the next dopamine hit.
Leveraging the Privacy Settings on Each Platform
One thing I cannot forget to mention is how using the privacy settings on each platform has helped me avoid digital overload. That is using the privacy settings on each account to block, mute, or restrict comments and messages.
Blocked words helps with trolls, and help filter out conversations about topics that don’t interest me. There are hurdles for them to jump over if they want to get my attention. Additionally, it helps keep out spammy messages from automated accounts that have nothing to do with my business or interests.
Muting allows me to temporarily hide certain conversations without having to delete them completely. This is also useful when dealing with conversations that don’t need a response but you still want to stay updated.
Restricting comments helps me moderate the conversations on my accounts. By restricting certain words, phrases, people, or groups I can make sure that no one is engaging in offensive behavior and no one is trying to push any political agendas on my page. Keep it cute, or keep it on mute, I say.
I've also taken advantage of YouTube's comment moderation feature which sends every comment to my email before it goes live on the platform. This allows me to review all the comments and decide if they are appropriate for my channel or not.
This site has a similar feature that allows me to manually approve comments before they go live on my blog. This helps keep spam away and also helps me curate the conversations in each post. Comments are also disabled after a period of time after the blog post goes live.
My channels and platforms exist to inform, engage, and inspire. I want to keep it that way and the privacy settings help me achieve that. I don't want to be part of that digital noise and I don't want to inadvertently contribute to it either.
Conclusion: Taking a Digital Minimalism Approach
The digital world can quickly become overwhelming and even draining, however it doesn't have to be. By taking a digital minimalism approach, we can create an online experience that is more meaningful and rewarding.
By curating our feeds, leveraging privacy settings, using third-party apps to schedule posts in advance, and removing ourselves from conversations that don't add value to our lives, we can create a digital experience that not only helps us avoid digital burnout and overwhelm but also helps us focus on the things that matter most.
It's important to remember what our online presence is ultimately for – to reach more people, build meaningful relationships, and make an impact in the world. That should be the focus of all our digital activities.
I'm excited to see how digital minimalism will help each of us take control of our online presence, so that we can continue to leverage the power of technology in order to create a life and business that's meaningful and rewarding for years to come.
It doesn't have to be all or nothing. There's a lot of power in taking it slow and learning as you go. Start small and work your way up. I'm sure you'll find something that works best for you. You'll be amazed at how much better you feel. Good luck on the journey and happy decluttering! 😊
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