/ digital minimalism

Digital minimalism ― being deliberate about digital identity

Minimalist lifestyle seems to be the latest craze. Minimalism is not just a genre of music or a visual aesthetic, or even an interior design scheme anymore. People are finding ways to cut back on the unnecessary aspects of their lives to focus more of their time, energy, and money on a short list of things that really matter.

While much of the minimalist movement is focused on organization, decluttering, purging material possessions, and downsizing homes, the most thoughtful minimalists I’ve come across are not just focused on having less. They’re instead being deliberate about life decisions, orienting their possessions, homes, and habits around core needs and passions.
So minimalism isn’t just about having less stuff to worry about cleaning. It’s about being less dependent on those things, and spending less time and money on those things, so that you have more time and money to devote to the things you really care about ― family, faith, travel, writing, … or simply paying down debts and saving for a rainy day.

I recently came across the term digital minimalism on Cal Newport’s blog, Study Hacks. He defines it as follows:

Digital minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools (and behaviors surrounding these tools) add the most value to your life. It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life.

Cal follows with a combination of tips for being a digital minimalist and reasons for embracing digital minimalism. Likewise, the No Sidebar blog contains a number of articles on digital minimalism. But as someone who spends a lot of time creating content for the web, and helping students and faculty to do the same, there’s something I find glaringly missing from discussions of digital minimalism: public digital identity.

If you search “digital minimalism”, you’ll find many tips for decluttering your desktop and hard drive, reasons to quit social media (posted ironically on blogs with copious share this options), and tips to get to Inbox Zero. But there is precious little about carefully and deliberately curating the content that forms your digital identity ― the content that people find when they search for you on Google, Facebook, Twitter, or stumble across your professional (or not so professional) website.

In the age of online harassment, fake news, propaganda, and mass digital deception, it is more important than ever to be deliberate about our public digital identity. As my friend Chris Long writes,

It is going to happen. Maybe not today or this week, but eventually, you will be Googled. … When it happens, you will want content you created to appear early and often in the search results.

And I’d add to this (as Chris likely would, as well) that it’s also important that our best content appears in those search results. The things we want people to find when they look us up.

How do we do that? How do we exercise deliberateness (and restraint) in our public digital work? How do we decide what to post, what to keep, what to delete? And if we do decide that social media isn’t for us, is it possible to create meaningful content that people will engage if we aren’t on Twitter or Facebook to get it in front of them?

I’ve already started this process myself. I’ve deleted a few old websites and started being more deliberate about what I post. I’m also taking a break from Twitter, and looking to purge content from my remaining websites. I want to make sure that my best work, work I still agree with, work I’m proud of are what people find when they look me up. I also want to have less websites to keep up to date, less social networks competing for my attention, so that I can focus my time and energy on the work I care about most. I also want to be more deliberate about my consumption activity online, bringing the internet to me on my own terms.

I invite you to follow along with my digital minimalism experiment, maybe even try one of your own. Over the next few months, I’ll post some tips about digital minimalism ― or, really, deliberate digital identity ― from my work on Domain of One’s Own and teaching Digital Studies at UMW. I’ll also reflect on my process of minimizing ― or, really, focusing ― my creative and consumptive activity online.

Hopefully my experiences will help others think deliberately about digital identity, how we present our public selves online, and how we spend our time and energy on “social” media. I look forward to sharing this journey with you all!

Header image by Pixabay.