Minimal Technology

My recent dive into the analytics of my website had the unexpected side effect of making me think about minimalism in technology. As I said many times already to some of my friends, I'm not interested in writing more about minimalist setups. I already wrote about my iPhone, iPad, Mac, Browser and Email setups and I think that's all I have to say on the subject. I can give you a complete rundown of all the apps I have installed on my mac if you like but I personally don't think that's very useful.

What's interesting though, is the fact that so many of you are intrigued by the concept of minimal technology. Why is that? Why aren't we happy with the currently available tools?

From mail to email

Let's look at emails for a second. As the word suggests, emails are nothing more (or at least should be) than digital versions of the traditional mail. But that's not really the case. They are similar in spirit but are very different tools in practice. They have a different pace, a different way of being consumed, a different way of being delivered. The only thing left in common is the text they contain.

There was a time when sending a message via mail was a deliberate act. The infrastructure was simple: all you needed was an envelope, a sheet of paper, a pen and a stamp. It was a slow process that involved physical movement (going to the post office or to a mailbox) and also involved time because delivery wasn't instantaneous. It was "minimal", but I don't think it was a deliberate design choice. Sometimes minimalism is just the byproduct of efficient design.

The email infrastructure borrowed most of the concept of traditional mail and added a layer of convenience on top. Which was great... at first. Because at the beginning there was no spam, no mobile phones, no newsletters, no unsolicited emails. Your digital mail still had a physical location (your bulky personal computer either at home or at work) and even though the delivery was now instantaneous we were still living in a world of very slow connections.

The world we live in right now is a different one. Your email is with you all the time. Can you imagine living in a world where no matter where you are, a mailman can always show up out of nowhere and deliver you something? it would be a nightmare.

To get around this issue, email clients are trying to get smarter. They automatically sort your emails, they try to teach you a particular workflow, they try to remove unwanted messages. All that is great, except for the fact that it doesn't really solve the real issue: some people, like me for example, just want a simple tool. I don't want a workflow that's optimized. I just want a dumb letterbox. I want a message to be delivered, I want to be able to see it and I want to be able to act on it. That's it. I don't need anything more than that. Which is why I still love my Apple Mail setup.

And that's of most technology. We reached the point where we probably want our technology to do less, instead of more. @internetofshit is a hilariously good example of what we don't want our technology to be.

Minimalist technology is often a synonym of single-purpose technology. I love my tv because it's nothing more than a screen that lights up when asked to do so. It doesn't have a camera, or a microphone, or an internet connection. If I didn't have a PS4 or a Blu-ray player it would be absolutely useless since it's not even connected to an antenna or a cable. I have a tv that doesn't function as a tv. And I love it.

Minimal technology is a deliberate choice

I think every piece of technology can be "minimized" if you really put your mind into it. It's a matter of will. It's also a matter of tradeoffs and priorities. You need to decide what you want that specific piece of tech to be in your life. And that means there's no right answer or correct path to follow. I can't write a guide on "how to minimize your tech" because that guide would probably only work for me. You need to experiment, see what works and what doesn't. And keep in mind that this will probably be a never-ending exploration. You need to embrace it and enjoy it.