FIRE is a minimalist movement.
It’s about identifying what’s important and ignoring the rest.
You spend money on things that bring outsize joy into your life. You ignore the rest. You don’t worry about the fact that you’re missing out on other expenditures, like a newer car or frequent restaurant meals, that society considers “normal.”
The benefit of FIRE is that the more you cut the fluff, the more ability you have to continue cutting fluff. It’s self-perpetuating.
When you cut the fluff from your expenses, then you develop more flexibility to cut the fluff from your work-related projects (because you don’t need the income). You can say “no” to annoying overtime requests. You can turn down projects. And eventually, if you choose to, you can quit your 9-to-5 job.
Minimalism, at its core, is the philosophy of focusing on what matters and ignoring what doesn’t.
FIRE applies the minimalist philosophy to both expenses and income/work. And today’s podcast guest, Dr. Cal Newport, applies this philosophy to your digital life.
Cal Newport created a philosophy called digital minimalism, which is the idea of reducing your digital life down to only the most important core essentials. Remove the apps from your phone, then slowly re-introduce only the ones that are the most useful and beneficial. Take control of your smartphone, rather than letting it control you.
Digital minimalism is a philosophy of technology use. This philosophy pulls from the concepts of minimalism, essentialism, the slow movement, and the 80/20 principle, applying these ideas towards your digital life.
Cal discusses the digital minimalist philosophy on today’s episode.
Here are six key takeaways:
#1: Plan your ‘how’ and ‘when’ of social media use.
Let’s assume that Facebook is a useful tool in your life. It allows you to keep in touch with distant friends and family, gather recommendations and referrals, and participate in educational forums, groups and networking opportunities.
But you don’t want to get distracted by the clickbait headlines splashed across Facebook that scream, “The wildest video of Miley Cyrus ever!” or “You’ll never guess what this adorable puppy ate for lunch.”
You don’t want to cut Facebook from your life. But you don’t want it to overtake your life. So you carefully plan its use.
- How you’ll use Facebook. Are you using it to check for local event invitations? Are you using it to participate in educational group discussions?
- When you’ll use Facebook. For example, you decide to log on every weekday from 7:00 pm to 7:15 pm, after you return home from the gym but before you make dinner.
You also plan how to avoid the platform’s most distracting features.
- How NOT to use Facebook. You might decide to avoid political debates, and not to use it as an uncurated and impromptu news feed.
- When NOT to use Facebook. You decide to remove the app from your phone, so that you can only engage with it on your laptop. This reduces the time you spend absentmindedly scrolling out of boredom.
#2: Intentionality trumps inconvenience.
If you use social media platforms with intention, as described above, then you will miss out on some experiences.
Someone might ping you on Facebook messenger to say: “Hey, we’re getting dinner in an hour! Join us!,” and you won’t see that message until a week later.
That’s okay. Accept that these minor inconveniences will appear in your life, and that’s the trade-off for the time, energy and attention that you reclaim when you use social media with more intention.
#3: Digital minimalism is the art of attention management.
Social media companies are part of the “attention economy.” Their greatest asset is the attention of their users. They sell access to that attention to the companies who run ads on their platforms.
It’s okay — in fact, it’s helpful — to pay attention to a curated, cultivated selection of feeds that are educational and motivating.
But if social media usage is interfering with your life, distracting you from being present in the moment, it’s a problem.
Social media, in that regard, is different than cigarettes. Cigarettes offer no health benefits. They’re 100 percent negative. Social media, by contrast, holds many benefits if used in a deliberate, conscious, cultivated manner. But if used excessively or haphazardly, it creates a net negative effect in your life.
Applying a minimalist philosophy to your social media use, therefore, is the art of managing your attention.
#4: Take it slow.
The slow movement is a philosophy that prizes fewer but better experiences. For example:
The Slow Travel movement values visiting fewer countries, but lingering for a longer time in each nation. Rather than visit the tourist sites in six European countries over the span a month, a slow traveler would spend that entire month in one country, absorbing the subtle nuances of the local culture.
The Slow Food movement values eating a handcrafted, carefully selected array of choice foods, rather than stuffing your face with convenience foods.
The Slow Media movement values carefully choosing which media you’ll consume, and then appointing a particular time — like in the morning over a cup of coffee, or in the evenings while walking your dog — when you read or listen to that specific media.
The philosophy of digital minimalism is closely tied to the slow media movement. It advocates indulging in a high-quality selection of social media feeds, and ignoring everything else.
#5: Smartphones killed solitude.
Solitude is the time in which you have no other input. It’s a time for reflection, when you process the inputs that you’ve taken in throughout the day.
If you’re hiking alone, but listening to a podcast, you’re not in solitude. You’re taking in new information.
If you’re home alone, but reading Twitter, you’re not in solitude. You’re reading other people’s thoughts.
Due to smartphones, we can now spend our lives without any solitude, even if we’re alone. We can spend a weekend camping by ourselves, but if we’re listening to audiobooks and reading Instagram throughout the trip, we’re not in solitude.
To bring solitude back into your life, engage in at least one activity per day without your phone. For example, don’t check your phone when you’re sitting at the gate at the airport. Try people-watching instead.
#6: FIRE is a minimalist movement.
If you save an aggressive percentage of your income, you’ll encounter some minor inconveniences. You’ll cook at home more often, rather than order take-out. You’ll vacation through camping, rather than staying at 5-star luxury hotels.
But those minor inconveniences pale in comparison to the advantages that come from enjoying a high savings rate.
The concept of digital minimalism states that you should focus on the things that matter most, and be okay with missing out on the rest.
It’s the same core principle as the FIRE philosophy.
Cal Newport and I discuss these ideas, and many more, in this episode. Enjoy!
- Cal Newport’s book, Digital Minimalism
- Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work
- Facebook News Feed Eradicator Plugin: Chrome | Firefox | Safari
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