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Minimalism in Digital Life.

Rebecca Sommer | Cyber Security Writer


Fresh Start in 2018: Minimalism in Your Digital Life

In the last years there has been a noticeable trend towards minimalism and sustainability. Many people have the feeling that they need an alternative to the current lifestyle that is becoming more and more fast-paced and consume-orientated. People buy food from the region, thrift shops are booming and some people rather clean out their closet instead of buying something new at H&M every week.

What benefits come from scaling down consumption a bit?

Buying stuff makes us happy. When having a bad day, some go shopping for clothes or shoes in the city, others get the newest tech-gadgets online. However this feeling of happiness often does not last very long and very soon the new tech-toy lies around unused and the new shoes have never been worn anyways. That behavior is not very sustainable and it can also be a challenge for your finances.

A way to get out of this spiral of consumption is offered by the trend of minimalism. People who swear by it only surround themselves only with things they really need and use. Instead of cramming their apartments full with stuff, they think about what else they can live without. It is safe to say that if you follow this example, you will not miss most of the stuff you throw out.

The opposite is the case, it feels liberating. Apparently there is some truth to the saying “Less is more”.

To break out of the circle of consumption and accumulation of stuff it helps to just stand back sometimes and think about why we surround ourselves with more and more gadgets and things. Another interesting thought is that surrounding yourself with less could also turn into a “more”: less distraction turns into more focus and productivity in life and work.

Same goes for our cyber life, since many of us spend a lot of time on our computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone, be it work-related or in private life. A desktop without even an inch of free space makes it harder to find what you are looking for and can be a distraction. In the following I will discuss four areas in which digital minimalism will help you to be more productive, more sustainable and responsible in the year 2018.

Less is More: Your Desktop Order

Are you one of those people who love chaos, who have their entire desktop completely filled with symbols and documents? Hats off! I would not find anything and waste a lot of time trying to find orientation in such a virtual mess.

If you are more like me and you can work best when everything is clean and neat than you should tidy out your desktop and folder structure every now and then. Find the places where you can optimize your system, delete what you do not need anymore and try to bring more logic into your system. On the question whether you can work better on an uncluttered computer, opinions differ strongly. Many claim that chaos makes people creative. Scientists at Princeton University, however, claim that clear structures and minimalistic designs facilitate concentration.

When your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information. Clutter makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered, organized, and serene environment.

This is how Erin Doland summarizes the findings of the Princeton University neuroscientists on her Unclutterer-Blog.
Therefore, maintaining a straightforward, minimalistic desktop is even more important than cleaning out your basement or closet. A good data structure and order on your work machine could help increase your productivity and help you concentrate.

Joshua Fields Millburn, one of the best known minimalists shows on his blog what his desktop looks like. Spoiler: it is very empty.

Minimalism on Your Smartphone

Same goes for your smartphone. Most of us do not only use it for entertainment, for messaging or to call people, but also for education, information and to organize their everyday life, their tasks and appointments.

I, for example, used my free time around Christmas to reorganize my smartphone. Now, I find everything I need on one page on my home screen, instead of on the four pages I used up before. I created folders with previews that allow me to find every app at one glance without using up my entire screen.

Smartphone Screenshot-horz

Hardcore minimalist would probably still not like it and reduce it to even less. However, it suits me perfectly and I think everybody needs to find their perfect system. After cleaning out my smartphone and getting rid of stuff I do not need, it almost felt as if I had a brand new phone.

I actually do have a second screen, but its only purpose is to hide the system apps I cannot uninstall and that I never use. Out of sight, out of my mind. How do you organize your smartphone? I would be happy to hear more tips and how you prefer your home screens, on Facebook or Twitter.

A Minimalist Approach to Security and Data Organization

In terms of security, of course, less is more does not have unconditional validity. However, it is good to have a minimalist approach to security and data management, to make one’s life easier and make space for productivity and creativity.

Security should not be sacrificed for convenience. However, and this is the minimalist part: It is important to protect your important and sensitive information. But some people overdo it on security, become paranoid and are no longer able to enjoy what great stuff the internet has to offer. If I lock myself into my house with 10 padlocks, I will think twice about leaving the house, because it is such a hassle. As a consequence I will not take part in much that life has to offer. Same goes with cyber security – it is all about finding the right balance and about protecting what is essential.

There are some things that you can do to make your life easier and stay secure:

  • Backup your data in the cloud (Dropbox, Google Drive, or others) instead of on an external hard drive: You do not need to buy and find space for additional devices and wires. Encrypt the cloud with Boxcryptor so that no one can access your data. That way, you are a minimalist with the data you make available about yourself as well.
  • Wunderlist instead of pen and paper: The app Wunderlist helps you be organized in your everyday life and it is especially helpful when you have many appointments and to do’s to keep in mind. Create to do lists, shopping lists, travelling plans, or maybe also a list with resolutions. You can have Wunderlist remind you of your resolutions every now and then, maybe it helps with realizing one or two this year? In terms of security, one has to be aware of the fact that the Berlin based app has been acquired by Microsoft last year. Therefore, I would not put sensitive data there. Sensitive data belongs into your end-to-end-encrypted Boxcryptor drive.
  • Use a password manager instead of insecure passwords and bits of papers with your password collection. LastPass, for example, creates strong passwords for you so that you only have to remember one password from now on. They encrypt your passwords and therefore cater for your security. Before November 2016 I would have suggested to you to invest the $1 per month for the premium version, to get LastPass on all your devices. However, since November, using LastPass on several devices is part of the free plan. That’s good news, right?

Minimalist and Sustainable Consumerism of Tech Gadgets and Smartphones

Some things we just want to possess. We see them in commercials or read about it online and all of a sudden we cannot imagine living without them. Well, this is the result of good marketing. But as mentioned above, having more and buying more does not really make us happier in the long run. Responsible consumerism is not just crucial for our environment, but also for your finances. You probably remember what you spent on your smartphone. But do you know how much your smartphone cost the environment in terms of resources?

The ecological footprint of your smartphone is difficult to calculate. But it is estimated that producing, using and maintaining a smartphone creates a carbon footprint of 60-70kg. But this is not the only problem. Mining for rare earths that are used in smartphone production, has horrible effects on the environment. Additionally, you can never be a 100% sure whether you are not supporting child labor and civil wars with your smartphone purchase, since many rare earths are mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo,

where the various parties in the longstanding civil war have commandeered resources to fund their violent activities.

As kids we learn to turn off the water while brushing our teeth and to turn off the light when we leave a room. As adults, we should know that buying a new smartphone every year and letting the old ones rot away in our drawers is much worse for our environment. And the ecological backpack and carbon footprint of gadgets, such as the Apple Watch, probably is not much smaller.

I was stunned when I first heard how many valuable resources just lie around in our drawers unused.

According to a 2013 study by SellCell.com, American “consumers have an average of 1.88 old or unused cell phones in their household”, which is a lot. In Germany, the numbers are about the same. An agency calculated that in 2014 about 85 million unused phones were lying around in German households, which matches the stunning number of 21 tons of silver, 2 tons of gold and 765 tons of copper. These are valuable resources that could be recycled and used for new smartphones. Instead, we have to mine for new resources, which strains our environment.

Minimalism in your tech-consumerism therefore is not only good for your wallet, but also for our planet’s resources. Reduce your gadgets, think twice when you have the urge to buy new ones and sell or recycle the ones you do not need anymore. Especially buying a new smartphone every year, even though the old one is still working fine, is not very sustainable behavior.

If you do not treat yourself to every new tech-gadget, you will maybe be happier about the ones you do get. A positive side effect of this gadget minimalism is the sustainability of your behavior that respects the limited resources we have available.

Minimalism can have a positive impact on every area in your life. Reducing distractions in the workplace will enhance your ability to concentrate and cleaned up smartphone home screens will save valuable time. Practical apps and tools reduce the amount of devices and notes you have flying around and minimalism in your consumerism saves money and helps the environment.

Make your year 2018 more minimalistic, to easily be more responsible and productive and to make a difference in your life and our society.

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