Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

spartan wanderer

Minimalism in the Digital Age

There was a time when computers that were only designed to complete one or two tasks filled entire rooms. Now, almost everyone in the developed world has a device millions of times more powerful than NASA's Apollo-era computers resting comfortably in their pockets. What's more minimalist than that? But I don't think it's really fair to compare the latest smartphone to a glorified calculator from the 60s. However, it is truly amazing just how much that tiny chunk of metal in your pocket has replaced. It is the calculator. And the watch, and the phone, and well, a computer. I think you can see where I'm going with this. 

As we become more digitized, there is less of a need for certain physical objects that a computer can do just as well, and in most cases, better. This is good for minimalists. After all, we are known for photos of solitary MacBooks sitting on barren desks. If it wasn't for that MacBook, there would be crates full of stuff to accomplish all of the jobs it can accomplish and hold all of the data it can store in a physical form, whether it be papers, photos, CDs and the like. It's all digital now, and it's happening so fast that sometimes it's easy to forget about what was before. Let's take a closer look at how the digital revolution has made it easier than ever to reduce some of our clutter. 

1) E-readers instead of books

By now, Kindles, Nooks, and other e-readers (are there others?) have become completely normalized. When I was in Vegas for my wedding, old-fashioned paper books were in the minority poolside. I used to have a massive bookshelf in my room. Now, most of my books are in the cloud. Don't get me wrong; I like a paperback on the beach as much as anyone, but for books I'm intending to keep for life while living a mobile lifestyle, it's just practical to go digital. I'm also a fan of Amazon and the Kindle for making it easier than ever to download thousands of classics for free. From Twain to Tolstoy, the freebies you get in quality classical literature practically pay for the Kindle on their own. What seals it for me is the e-ink that most e-readers use to simulate reading on paper. It's so close to the real thing that there really is no reason to continue buying paper books unless you're in love with the feeling of the paper texture. 

2) Streaming services instead of DVDs or Blu-ray

Thanks to the power of the Internet, DVDs, Blu-rays, and even cable or satellite TV are now obsolete. If you want to watch a movie today, you don't have to go through the experience of searching your DVD shelf to find that the last disc in the Return of the King extended edition is missing. Just fire up Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, or HBO Go and you're good to go. Although these streaming services are great for reducing your mammoth film collection, minimalism isn't only about getting rid of material things. It's about simplifying life in general. Cable companies are mostly despicable and charge way more than they should be with these streaming services as competition. Even if you subscribed to three of these services, it would still be significantly cheaper than a cable package. So there you go. Get rid of cable and get a Roku box or similar device instead. No more clutter in your entertainment area and no more giving money to robber-barons. 

3) Music streaming services instead of CDs

From high school to college I compiled quite an impressive collection of CDs in one of those massive binders. I kept that binder in my car, which had a 6-CD changer - fairly impressive for the early 2000s. It was one of the first things that were purged during my transition into minimalism. It's very likely that my future child goes a long while without seeing an actual CD in the flesh...er, silicon. Music streaming services are so convenient that there's no need. I used Spotify before it was cool while studying in Sweden (where it was invented) and it has done nothing but improve over the years. If you have a premium account, which is not too unreasonable at $9.99/month, you can actually download songs onto your phone or laptop and listen offline. Compared to the price of a single CD, I know value when I see it. Even better, all of this music syncs between your devices automatically. I think I burned my last CD eight years ago without realizing I would never need to do it again. 

4) Steam instead of consoles and other gaming hardware

With streaming services available for music, movies, and TV shows, it's no surprise that the gaming industry decided to follow suit. You can't fight the tide of market forces and be successful at the same time, and streaming is the new model. Steam is technically a digital distribution platform rather than a streaming service, but the principle is still the same. You use their app, search through their massive library of games, pay for the one you want online, then download it to your PC. As long as you have Steam and a PC, you have everything you need to keep up with the latest titles. I don't think console gaming will ever really become obsolete due to strong loyalty from their customers, but since the advent of Steam, there is really no reason to own multiple consoles and all of their peripherals. Steam changed the market, and the majority of big titles must have a PC version or risk missing out on a big chunk of sales. 

5) Online media instead of magazines and newspapers

I remember when tablets and e-readers first came out, there was a lot of panic amongst newspapers on both the local and national levels. They had a good reason to. Since 2001, papers across the country have shed nearly a fifth of their journalists and many have shuttered permanently. The ones that have survived and even thrived are the publications that jumped into the digital market head first, which is usually the case when industry-changing technology comes out. Papers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and my personal favorite, The Economist, have adopted subscription models that give you all of their content online for a fraction of the cost of their print editions. You can now read most of your favorite papers in the same place as your favorite novels. For reasons I get into below, I don't think print news will die out completely anytime soon, but it is great that you can cut out all that paper clutter today while still being informed. 

Yeah, but it's not the same as a paper book...

Trust me, I agree. Nothing beats curling up on a Saturday morning with coffee and a freshly printed issue of The Economist. Sure, I can access all of its content online with my subscription, but...paper is just a better experience. Some people feel the same way about vinyl records compared to music streaming services, or console gaming compared to PC gaming. I find that this is one of those minimalist moments where you have to find your own balance. Not everyone wants to get rid of something just because they can live without it. Nor should they. One goal in minimalism is to increase your enjoyment in life, and if getting rid of something just because there's a digital substitute affects that, then it's counterproductive to that goal. But if you are thinking of simplifying your life, it's a good idea to look to the computer for inspiration and convert some of your stuff into 1s and 0s.