Sunday, January 02, 2011

What is Minimalism

There seems to be some debate about minimalism going on around the blogosphere. The first is a post berating minimalism as useless intellectual strategy. The second is a passionate counter-argument to the same. The third is a post covering these two posts.

Being an enthusiast minimalist, let me add my own two cents to this discussion. I think the problem with all these posts is that they are trying to identify a singular definition for a term that is being used to encompass a whole lot of unrelated concepts. For example, single-tasking, distraction elimination, un-consumption and minimalism as a design philosophy are all being clubbed together. They are disparate things are require disparate treatment.

Single Tasking
While the modern corporate worker is encouraged to multi-task and be good at it, juggling many things together comes at the cost of efficiency. Best work is done when you have long chunks of uninterrupted time. This is especially true of creative work where the most productive strategy is to stare at the wall. In order to get these long chunks of uninterrupted time, minimalists profess disconnecting, clubbing together communication and defragmenting talk time.

I don't think there's anything wrong with this strategy. Shutting yourself up in a room / outhouse is an accepted strategy to get a book written. Creative spaces are full of junk but they often have a "keep out" notice on the door. The minimalists are trying to achieve the same effect in a digital work space.

Un-Consumption
While some minimalists have elevated this to the level of extreme sports where they try to live of 33 things or 55 things. I'm not sure about such athletics but I do think there's some virtue to consuming less. It is often healthier for your body and your environment, leads to less worry and stress and keeps you emotionally happier and financially secure. Minimalism takes the form of minimizing here. If you can live without something, you probably should.

Minimalist Design Philosophy
Minimalism is a good design philosophy for particular use cases. Specifically, it's a good design when you're a "consumer" and not a producer. I love when a media player is really simple and gets out of my way and lets me watch my movie. I hate it when a programming IDE is minimalist. It's a matter of having the right tool for the right job.

Minimalism as a Way of Living
This I think is hokum. Leo Babauta is a minimalist. He advocates reducing work hours. He works something like four hours a day or something. But what does he do with this saved hours - he spends time with family, runs and thinks. Is he doing less than a corporate minion working 12 hours days? There's no way to measure that. They both live 24 hours every day, just like the rest of us.

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