Leon hasn’t used a smartphone in more than a year.
Starting in March last year, this post-90s generation living in Shanghai replaced his smartphone with an “old mobile phone” that could only make calls and send text messages, thus starting a modern life of “do not disturb”.
The mobile phone is finally no longer a part of the body, and the eyes and hands are freed. When waiting for the bus or taking the subway, he no longer has to lower his head to deal with those unread little red dots. Instead, he raises his head to observe the expressions and demeanor of the people around him, and even the advertisements on the subway. “It turns out that the advertising style of each city is different. no the same”.
There are no more videos of food being served while eating, but strangely, his senses seem to be opened, and he has more attention to pay attention to whether the food is delicious and how the food tastes.
Leon isn’t the only one choosing to do this. A group of young people who advocate “digital minimalism” are reflecting on their relationship with digital technology by “throwing away their mobile phones.”
On Douban, more than 30,000 people have joined the “Anti-Technology Dependence Group” and more than 20,000 people have joined the “Digital Minimalist Group.” They isolated electronic devices, reduced screen time, deleted social software, and began a series of various digital minimalist attempts.
The concept of “digital minimalism” first appeared in 2019. Cal Newport, a PhD in computer science at MIT, proposed in his book “Digital Minimalism” that “digital minimalism” is a A technology usage philosophy that focuses online time on a few carefully selected and optimal digital activities, and then enjoys missing out on the rest of the unimportant activities.
He suggested taking 30 days to pause non-essential technologies, reflect on their meaning to life, and rediscover and rediscover those things that are precious to people.
So digital minimalism means not using mobile phones? As a native of the Internet, how can you join digital minimalism? What changes will becoming a digital minimalist bring to ordinary people?
Houlang Research Institute chatted with three young people in different fields. Their digital minimalist practices are different. Some people have stopped using their smartphones for more than a year, some have deleted all social software, and some have developed anti-algorithm apps in order to escape the algorithm. I wonder if you, who are reading this article on your smartphone right now, want to throw away your phone after reading it?
1. After stopping using my smartphone for a year, my various senses came to life.
Male, born in 1990s, Shanghai
I have a box of smartphones, including many classic models, such as Pixel, and I have almost every generation of iPhone, but now I no longer use them and only occasionally take them out to play with.
The purchase of these mobile phones was based on personal interest and professional experience as a technology reporter.
I don’t see much of a difference between those smartphones and feature phones, which kept me from feeling much pain during the year I stopped using them.
In the past, I actually used my smartphone for about 4 hours a day, and “addiction” was not a problem for me. But the purpose of using smart devices and the actual experience are completely opposite.
I originally wanted to play games, listen to music, and relax between interviews, but I became more tired unknowingly. I originally wanted to find some creative inspiration, but I was always involved in various emotional fragments. I originally wanted to simply order a takeaway. , various monthly cards, red envelopes, and points are so complicated, making me anxious and irritable…
It can be said that the relationship between man and technology perfectly interprets the Internet joke “You run, I chase, but you can’t fly”.
So I think some changes should be made. To a certain extent, it is professional, but on a deeper level, it is because my relationship with these sciences and technologies is somewhat pathological.
I stopped using my smartphone in March last year with the goal of taking back the autonomy of my digital health. The entire “digital separation” plan can be described as “overcorrecting”, that is, subtracting first, doing it thoroughly, and only the things that are truly missing and indispensable need to be added back later.
Before the plan was launched, I communicated with my relatives and friends about using text messages and phone calls to keep in touch, using computer clients instead of smartphones to complete necessary work operations, and began to explore the services provided by the smart government system. For everything in life that requires the use of a smartphone, you can find alternatives.
For example, if I want to go to Shanghai for an interview, how should I take a ride-hailing service? In fact, many subway entrances and old community entrances in Shanghai have an e-ink screen, which is a taxi calling platform, and you can call a taxi with one click. But it’s so obscure that many people don’t even know about it.
If I don’t have a mobile phone memo, I will carry a pocket notebook with my daily schedule in it. The tool bag outside can hold ID cards, bus passes, keys and other personal belongings. But don’t worry even if you encounter special circumstances, I still have a spare iPod touch.
Of course there will be some minor embarrassments. Some individual merchants do not have POS machines to swipe bank cards and credit cards, and they do not reserve enough change, so they encounter difficulties in making change. This problem is encountered quite a lot. But under normal circumstances, if you communicate with others nicely, these can be solved.
However, in my opinion, it is still much more difficult to implement digital minimalism in China than abroad. I once did a month-long media fasting experiment in Denmark, and the experience was very different from my experience back home.
As an EU country with a high degree of digitalization, Denmark allows mobile payments, ticket purchases, living expenses, and some public affairs to be completed on mobile phones. Everyone will have an electronic ID and national email address when they are born, come to study abroad, or live in China, so that they can participate in all affairs.
The difference is that its digital technology and offline tools coexist. This gives many people who cannot or refuse access to smart devices more options.
A friend of mine subscribed to the Ingeniören newspaper, which was a product of the Industrial Revolution and is still published today. This kind of century-old newspaper is not uncommon in Denmark, and can even be delivered directly to your door. But in China, the number of newsstands in most cities is being reduced, a large number of newspapers have been axed, and the pages of many traditional newspapers have been reduced from dozens to dozens.
In the book “Super-sticky Wechat and Chinese Society” (Super-sticky Wechat and Chinese Society), WeChat is regarded as a super-aggregated platform, but it is unknown that such applications have been increasing in China. Although overseas applications also want to be highly integrated, their functions are still relatively simple.
In addition, many cities in Denmark are not big. If I want to find friends, I can just walk or ride a bicycle.
In China, ordinary smartphones have become a relatively normal way of life. You will feel strong discomfort in the first two weeks after you stop using them. Without a smartphone to kill time, you suddenly don’t know what to do.
But in the transition between “forced boredom” and “enjoyed boredom”, I discovered that actually doing nothing itself can make people calm. If you don’t want to read or exercise, then just be in a daze. It’s fine to lie down, lean, sit, stand, or even think about nothing. You don’t have to do anything, just enjoy being bored.
Sometimes, I do weird things to interact with my “boredom”. For example, repairing the typewriter I bought at a second-hand market for 20 yuan, and repairing my old film camera. On weekends, I often go out on the streets with my camera to take pictures, not for beauty, just for enjoyment.
I am quite a workaholic and often forget to eat, especially dinner. So I developed a habit of scattering some grains for birds in front of the window during dinner time, and those sparrows would come and wait for me to feed them every day. There are many people coming every day, twenty or thirty people gathered around. These are just some of the seemingly meaningless things in life.
A year later, those little birds even built a nest in front of my window and gave birth to super cute “little sparrows” who would wake me up at around five o’clock every morning.
Putting down my smartphone, my shielded senses gradually returned to sharpness, and I felt that I was getting closer to the real world. A lot of forced, face-to-face communication allowed me to regain the feeling of being a real human being.
My residence is surrounded by old communities, and the surrounding businesses and neighbors are relatively stable. One day I was standing on the street, and suddenly I discovered that the people walking, biking, and running around were no longer strangers, but specific people I could name. This was a very special kind of thing. Strange feeling.
On the subway, I pay attention to the advertisements around me, as well as people’s expressions and feelings. Advertisements on the subway are very different in different cities, and people’s states are also different.
Without my smartphone, would I worry about missing important news? Do you have nothing in common with your peers?
First of all, as long as you have a certain connection with the physical world around you, you will definitely not miss the really important news.
Secondly, I will change the mentality of worrying about missing out into enjoying missing out.
Now I still use my iPod touch, which is not a very good device and even causes a lot of annoyance. But one of the main reasons why I don’t go back to a smartphone now is that I haven’t found a smartphone that I particularly want to use, and that’s it.
2. I quit social media more than 20 times and finally succeeded.
Female, born after 1995, Beijing
The first time I heard about the concept of “digital minimalism” was when I was studying philosophy at UCL in the UK during my freshman year. The process was very interesting.
We were having a group discussion in the teaching building and proposed adding everyone to a Facebook group. One classmate said, “I don’t have Facebook.” I asked him “Do you have anything else? WhatsApp or something like that”, but he didn’t have any social media, he just said he could give me his phone number. That was the first time I met people my age who didn’t use social media.
I really started to become familiar with this concept when I went to Brussels, Belgium for Christmas in 2018. On the train back to the UK, there was a blond-haired British boy sitting next to me. He wore thin-rimmed glasses and looked very “British”. He was reading quietly there. He studied philosophy at Cambridge University.
Later, the two of us started chatting about what books we had read recently and how our lives had changed. He said that he had “thrown away” his smartphone recently, and he was still holding a flip phone in his hand, a particularly old one.
When the train arrived at the station, we made an appointment to have dinner and attend a seminar together in Cambridge next time. He took out a pencil and a stack of notes from his suit jacket pocket, asked me to write my email, and said he would contact me later. Later, he actually sent me an email! I was invited to attend a seminar in Cambridge.
I thought he was so cool at the time. It turned out that he still had this kind of lifestyle.
In the blink of an eye, senior year is here, and the pressure of graduation season is swarming. At that time, the greater the pressure, the more I wanted to check social media. Sometimes when I sit in the classroom, my hands suddenly feel itchy and I want to pick it up and read it. I put it down after five minutes, and then pick it up again every ten minutes. The time is very chopped up and there is no pattern.
At the same time, the shadow of the COVID-19 epidemic has shrouded the world, and Internet platforms in various countries are like balloons inflated by hostility. I used Weibo to understand what was happening in China, and what I saw was radical discourse and mutual accusations.
This kind of text that obviously arouses people’s emotions made me very uncomfortable, and I suddenly realized that I couldn’t stand seeing this kind of text anymore.
In July 2021, I deleted all social software accounts, leaving only the video upload functions of Bilibili and YouTube, and the communication function of WeChat.
My abstinence plan can be described in four words: “get rid of the bad and keep the good.” Since I started using social media as a teenager, I have tried to quit social media at least twenty times, but failed.
All failures taught me that this is not a black and white thing. I had to figure out what it was that really bothered me, and my goal was to fix the “big bad” it was causing me.
For one, social media has exacerbated my need to compare. I tried to fill the emptiness inside by posting about my life and beautiful photos, but it had the opposite effect and made me more anxious. Secondly, it wastes my time, distracts me, reduces the quality of my sleep, and frequently wakes me up at night to pick up my mobile phone, which is very time-consuming and energy-consuming.
Based on this, I turned off the function of “browsing other people’s WeChat Moments” and uninstalled YouTube, Weibo, Facebook, WhatsApp, QQ, and Instagram. Instagram is the hardest app for me to let go of. I spend three to five hours on it every day.
Everything is difficult at the beginning, and the most grueling part of the entire withdrawal process is making a plan and sticking to the bottom line.
When the addiction to social media hits you in the first three months, it’s like a swarm of fire ants gnawing at your brain. Not having social software on your phone can put you in a very helpless situation, but as long as you fight this tough battle, you’ll be fine.
A few of my close friends, three months into my withdrawal, haven’t noticed this yet. During the dinner, I brought it up myself, and they asked in surprise: “Ah, have you quit Instagram? I didn’t notice it at all.” Important friends in life will not leave you just because you don’t use social media. go.
Everyone’s attitude also proves from the side that digital minimalism is what many people need. I don’t even have to explain it, most people know why I quit social media. They won’t think it’s too extreme, but rather agree and respect this choice.
During the withdrawal period, I became no longer obsessed with obtaining sources of inspiration and value recognition from social media, and I no longer expected other people’s likes and praises. But this year, I gained more.
After the withdrawal program was completed, everyone I knew told me that I was visibly happier.
I can sleep at least seven or eight hours a day, my sleep quality has improved significantly, and my appearance anxiety has reduced a lot.
I put the French class I had planned for a long time on my schedule, had more time to talk to friends on the phone, and filled the gaps in time with new hobbies, such as writing, journaling, and playing with film cameras. Books, music, and movies have become my new sources of inspiration. They have more texture and depth than social media.
There are gains and losses. If I use social media, maybe I will have more fans at Station B and even be able to monetize it. Although it’s a pity, when I think about the sacrifice of my sleep and mental health to achieve them, it suddenly doesn’t feel so worth it.
As a self-media person, I think I have a moral responsibility to admit that posting videos while withdrawing from social media is contradictory. But what I can do is break the fourth wall, remind everyone “Don’t watch my videos immersed”, and let the audience think for themselves.
After a year of sobriety, I reintroduced social media into my life for my career. I download them all to my iPad when I have to use them. As a mobile phone, I don’t allow these apps to exist. Additionally, I set a set time for use and one day a week that I don’t use at all.
After watching the documentary Surveillance Capitalism: The Social Dilemma, I rethought the nature of social media. Those Internet companies hired the smartest people in the world with high salaries to create a system just to get you to watch more. No matter how much self-control a person has, it is unlikely that he can resist on his own.
But I think the meaning of quitting is not to stay away from social media forever, but to know what is necessary and where the boundaries of your life are after experiencing it yourself.
3. How can technical people resist the control of algorithms? “Fight and run” or develop a “white horse rider”
east of ice
Male, born after 1995, Guangzhou
When I was scrolling through Douyin, I unknowingly realized that it was gone for half an hour. This time-consuming process makes me feel very meaningless, and with it comes a strong sense of emptiness.
Sometimes I open Station B to see if my favorite UP owner has updated, but the algorithm recommends content based on today’s situation. The content was so compelling that I quickly became distracted. Time flew by and I gained nothing.
There is also QQ, which often recommends people you know for you to add as friends. I just don’t want to add it, and everyone knows this reason.
I think human beings are logical processors. Whatever you input will be output. When I realize this problem, I will control my input. The first thing is to reduce the input as much as possible, and then find some credible sources of information.
I used to follow a lot of interesting bloggers, but as I grow older, I gradually feel that being interesting is not a very important thing. I pay more attention to topics that are a bit in-depth. The most important thing is that I want to control my own initiative on the Internet and don’t want to be led by the algorithm.
So I plan to develop an “anti-algorithm” app that will help me save time and follow my values. It was on May Day this year that we really started to do it.
A friend of mine developed an app to help people stay focused after work. It is inspired by the “hourglass”. Turning the phone upside down will start timing, and turning the phone back up will end the task. Inspired by him, I decided to implement the plan in my head.
It took me three days to make it and named it “Meow Jiang Love Subscription”. I chose this name because I have two cats, and more importantly, the core function of the product is “subscription”.
What can it do for me? In fact, it’s very simple. Manually subscribe to the person you want to see, then click on the list, and you will jump to his latest news page with one click, that’s it. It can subscribe to content from both Bilibili and YouTube platforms, so users at home and abroad can use it.
The function is so simple, because I hope that I can see the content I want to see with the highest efficiency and fastest speed, without being interfered by algorithm recommendations. I also intentionally set up “manually add subscriptions” in order to raise the threshold and allow users to quit when they want to follow a large number of accounts, leaving only those who really can’t give up.
After the app was completed, I shared it with the technical community. In almost half a day, there were more than 5,000 views and hundreds of comments, which shocked me.
Some people said that they really needed this thing and praised me for having great ideas. Some people said that they also wanted to do it but didn’t take action. The negative comments mainly said that I did not do any research, and station B has a function to turn off algorithm recommendations. But even if the algorithm recommendation of station B is turned off, the platform will still recommend a full screen of content to you. I will watch more content out of curiosity, which will not save time at all.
After the App was launched, I used it continuously for more than a month, and then rarely used it. The reason is that in the first month I was deliberately controlling myself, hoping that this App could help me save time. The reason why I didn’t use it later was not because “I want to embrace the algorithm”, but precisely because I felt that “the algorithm and the people I subscribed to” were no longer interesting.
It really helped me take back some agency. During that time, my mind was very confused and I would think of many things when making decisions. Not only do these things fail to give me a satisfactory answer, they also slow down my decision-making process. When I try to control the sources of input, I feel my energy return.
The app has been online for more than two months and now has more than 100 daily users. The original intention of developing it destined it to be unable to be commercialized, and the number of users would not be too many. Some users suggested adding push and one-click import functions. I have considered all of the above during the product design stage.
First of all, even if the push function is added, you may not be able to watch it immediately. This is a disguised form of handing over your attention. Secondly, one-click import deviates from the original intention of “only viewing the people you want to follow most”, making iSubscription no different from Station B.
I often think about how technical people can resist the constraints of technology?
The first way is to “run if you can’t fight”. I developed “Meow Jiang Love Subscription” just to escape from the control circle of the algorithm.
The second way is to create a “white horse knight” and let it compete with the “algorithmic devil”.
For example, there is a huge amount of information on the Internet, good and bad, and the variety of recommendations is dazzling. So, my friend developed an AI that functions as a recommendation algorithm and information filtering. He uses his own preferences and values to train the AI, and lets the AI re-filter based on the results recommended by the platform, and then recommend them to himself. This is also the technical resistance of technical people.
In fact, we have already moved from looking at the world in Web1 to seeking efficiency in Web2, and are gradually moving towards the Web3 era that can overcome the shortcomings of Web2. When Web3 comes, maybe we can take more initiative.
Web3 breaks through the centralized search model of Web2, and massive information is no longer controlled by only a few search engines. Under the new distributed information retrieval model, users can select high-quality content based on their own values and judgments. The ranking of these contents is not given by algorithmic recommendations, but by users’ own votes. At that time, we have the right to actively choose, and we don’t have to follow the trend of the content recommended by the algorithm.
Although Web3 is still in the bubble period, I think the bubble also has a certain driving effect. The foam on the sea surface is pushed forward by the tide. When the tide recedes and the foam disappears, traces of foam will still be left on the beach. It at least brings a kind of alert to people, and it turns out that I can take the initiative.