There was a time when the only way to enjoy certain activities in life was to own certain things.
For reading, you needed to get your hands on a printed book, newspaper or magazine. For music, you needed CDs (or vinyls if you remember before the late 80s). And for films, you needed DVDs (or videocassettes if you remember before the year 2000).
Enjoying something new often meant acquiring more things which doesn’t always improve your life as it can also mean more stress, more distractions and more responsibility.
But thanks to a mixture of technologies, things are different now and you can enjoy such activities without having to own anything physical other than a laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Besides entertainment, you can also enjoy the benefits of certain tools as well.
For instance, there’s often very little need to possess a calculator, calendar, address book, flashlight or road maps when they can all fit on a device you carry in your pocket.
While digital may not be the most popular way to consume products at the time of writing this, it does have certain advantages over consuming physical products.
A different medium
I’ve consumed digitally for many years.
I have less than ten printed books on my shelf, yet I read a new book every month. I have zero CDs, yet I enjoy new music everyday. I have a few DVDs (some rare) but prefer to experience films at the cinema instead.
While I’ve had the chance to enjoy the benefits of living this way, I also understand that you might feel a certain degree of discomfort towards consuming digitally especially if you’re used to having something physical to touch and hold.
Not too long ago, I was talking to a stranger who was expressing his resentment for the amount of time people in this day and age spend on their phones.
“Yeah, I understand what you’re saying.” I replied. “Then again, I’m not too different. I spend quite a lot of time using my phone, mostly reading books.”
“You know what I prefer?” He said.
“A real book.”
The strong emphasis on the word real fascinated me.
It’s not like the books I read were fake.
I paid the price for them and to my knowledge they matched the printed version word-for-word.
So then replied;
“What if you and I were to both read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. But while you read the printed version, I read a digital version on my phone. Did we not just read the same story? Wouldn’t we be able to talk about what we’ve just read and share our favourite moments and quotes just the same?”
Since the fundament of a book is words and not paper (or screens), the story that you immerse in or the knowledge that you learn is no different when you read digitally.
The same translates other content too.
Does this mean that printed books (and other physical mediums) are somehow bad?
Of course not! In fact, if printed books truly make you happy then great! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
But if there’s some part of you that feels that your life is weighed down or burdened by having so many physical possessions (even if you get enjoyment out of them from time to time), then maybe it’s worth considering digital options as well.
Let’s talk about the benefits digitisation and how it can help you live a simpler life.
Unlike physical things, digital alternatives take up zero space in your home.
Your computer may require disk space to store new purchases, but it’s near enough guaranteed that you’ll never find yourself running out of shelf space.
One thing I’ve always been thankful for is that services like iTunes usually allow you to download your purchases as many times as you like meaning that you don’t necessarily have to store your entire collections on your computer or smartphone (which in my experience can create digital clutter.)
Regularly, I like to go through my laptop and smartphone and remove any content that I’ve already had the chance to enjoy so that I can make room for something new. While doing this, I have the peace of mind knowing that at anytime, I can download my purchases again later at any time.
Digitisation can greatly simplify your needs in terms of space.
By choosing digital alternatives to physical products, you can quickly free up space in your home making it much easier to clean, maintain and manage.
Having simpler needs in terms of physical space can potentially save you money too since smaller homes tend to be cheaper than larger ones and it can make the process of moving home much quicker and easier.
There are few things in this world that last forever.
Some things may be very high quality and do a great job at standing the test of time. But eventually, situations change and so do a persons needs and interests.
Your tastes in music will evolve as you spend time with different people who introduce new artists to you. Films and books likely won’t be as enjoyable as they were the first time you experienced them as it’s difficult to feel the same suspense and tension when you already know what happens.
When these shifts happen, holding onto the physical things that aren’t adding value to your life can be burdening.
If you’re the kind of person who dreads going through the process of selling things (like I do) but feel guilt and pain when throwing them in the trash knowing that they’ll contribute to landfill, then you might just appreciate how digital products avoid this.
When your interests change, a simple delete is all that’s needed.
In a battle of portability, digital beats physical almost every time.
Compare for example; the paper notebook vs the digital notebook.
Depending on its size, the paper notebook will more than likely need to be carried around in a bag and might even contribute to the overall weight of everything else that you carry.
If you use a digital notebook on the other hand such as Apple Notes or Evernote, it can easily be accessed from your smartphone (which you likely carry around with anyway) and the notebook itself doesn’t add a fraction of weight to your travels.
Again, there is nothing wrong with paper notebooks if they make you happy.
But at the same time, it’s hard to deny the how beneficial the digital option is for portability.
Being able to carry around content digitally can be liberating as it grants you a certain degree of location independence.
No longer is it required that you be at the office to be productive, or in your living room to entertain yourself. This can be relieving in such a day and age where people work long hours and spend a lot of time away from their homes.
You can use the small windows of time that you get while on your lunch break or on the train to read and grow your mind, or listen to every detail of your favourite song, or be creative and express yourself in ways you might not get the chance to do in your day job.
Try to always have access to the things you enjoy no matter where you happen to be. Even just a few minutes spent on something meaningful can make a hard day just a little bit easier.
Acquiring and owning physical products requires more time and energy than is generally talked about.
Besides the few hours spent researching and contemplating which product to buy, there’s also time spent traveling to a store to buy the product. Even after the product is acquired, there’s time needed for cleaning and maintenance so that the product can still function properly.
When you consume digitally, there’s less need to spend your free time traveling to a store or waiting around in your home for an order to be delivered when you’d rather be doing other things.
There’s also less time needed for cleaning and maintenance (since digital products generally don’t require any) making it easier to simply enjoy what you’ve purchased.
With digital, you get near enough instant access to what you’ve paid for.
If there’s a song that you’re suddenly in the mood to listen to, or a film you suddenly feel like watching, you have the opportunity to enjoy it while the vibe is still fresh through services like Spotify or Netflix.
Of course, as beneficial as instant access and on demand media can be, it’s important to keep the amount you consume under control.
For example, unlike the days of broadcast TV when your only option was to enjoy shows at the time they were aired, on demand TV provides a much greater risk of addiction, binge watching and excessive amounts of screen time.
As long as you keep consumption in moderation, there’s definitely value in the spontaneity and time saved from having instant access to what you enjoy.
Probably one of the biggest reasons people feel resistant to consuming digitally is the fact that they don’t receive anything physical and tangible in return for their hard earned cash.
When I first began purchasing all of my music through iTunes instead of buying CDs, those closest to me felt that I was somehow being cheated or scammed especially in the few cases where it would’ve been cheaper to buy a CD. Some of my friends who were also resistant to the idea would often say that they preferred to own their music.
But ownership is not always as glorious as society might make it out to be.
Among children and teenagers, ownership of toys and high-end smartphones creates envy.
Adults are encouraged by mass media, advertisements and celebculture to treat the things they own such as a large house, fancy car or expensive clothes as extensions of themselves and as a way to measure themselves within society.
More ownership usually means more responsibility and often less freedom.
From a minimalists point of view however, the lack of ownership is one of the greatest advantages of consuming digitally.
You can read peoples words without owning lots of printed books. You can listen to music without acquiring a single CDs or vinyl and still enjoy the experience of listening. And you can immerse in the story of good films without having to look after a bunch of DVDs the rest of the time.
As long as you have at least one electronic device, you can enjoy these things while keeping ownership (and responsibility) to a minimum.
The rest, is just access.
Is this for you?
There’s nothing wrong with choosing to buy physical products over digital products if that’s your preference.
If you like the feel of printed books rather than using an e-reader then by all means buy printed books.
If on the other hand you enjoy the experience of reading books but have trouble dealing with the space they take up in your home or the weight they can add to your travels, then perhaps digital alternatives would better suit your lifestyle.
The same thing goes for other things that you enjoy too.
Is there anything in your life that you think can be digitised for the sake of simplicity?
Craig Link is a minimalist and technology enthusiast with a passion for finding and sharing practical ways to live a simpler life with more time, money and energy for what’s most important to you.