Sunél’s Blog | A chat with a friend, a stolen cell phone, financial independence and a pandemic

Sunél Veldtman, | 18 September 2020

Three stories were woven into one experience for me during the past week.

A friend shared his dreams with me, daring dreams that may cost him a big chunk of his capital, perhaps most of it. He ended by saying that he’ll be happy to live a simple life if it all fails. He will be left with little, but will have lived, will have dared and won’t regret it.

Perhaps you know that I have loved Cal Newport’s book Deep Work, which had a meaningful impact on how I work and live, how I think of creativity and the necessity of protecting my ability to focus in a distracted world. His new book, Digital Minimalism, Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, expands on these concepts with more practical advice on selective digital use. I’ve been (mostly) sticking to his suggestion of a thirty-day digital detox while I finish reading his book. His basic premise is that, unless you curate your own digital experience, it will be done for you.  By design, digital devices and social media will overtake your life with unhealthy, unintended consequences – it is likely to rob you of deep connections and eventually mental wellbeing and happiness.

At first, I still reached for my phone as the addiction played out but then after a while, I realised that there was nothing there. One cannot really get addicted to the weather app and I’ve never been one for games. I now find myself with more time for reading and knitting and generally being more present in my daily life.

It’s exactly what Newport speaks about – a return to time spent in meaningful conversations and analogue hobbies. He delves into the financial independence movement, which aims at achieving early financial independence through extremely frugal living. The idea is that if you need little to live on, you can then save enough capital to sustain that lifestyle early on in life. After achieving early financial independence many people in the movement opt for simpler lives, involving a more sustainable and hands-on lifestyle. It clearly does not involve much internet surfing other than using YouTube to learn a skill like welding.

It is so contrary to how we set out. It was understood that as your job expanded, you would expand your expenses with everything that goes with the picket fence suburban lifestyle. It meant that you needed an ever-increasing pool of capital to reach financial independence. It also meant that many never reached that goal, not even at the normal retirement age. It brings me to my third story.

Over the past weekend, I was somewhat violently relieved of my iphone11 in a busy shop. Thankfully, there were no guns involved and I have good insurance. Given my digital detox experiment, it is somewhat ironic. I was immediately challenged by my automatic assumption that I’d replace my stolen phone. Given that I hope to develop a different relationship with my digital devices, that I am pursuing a more curated experience, I wonder if I will need the latest version?

The pandemic has opened countless windows of possibilities. It has shown us that we don’t need to spend so much money. It has invited many to question their lifestyles, their assumed goals or career paths.  It highlighted that the ways and means already exist to carve out a life which can entail living in one place but working for people or employers on the other side of the world.  Replacing my fancy phone is just one example of an automated response, which I am now questioning, in the light of my friend’s story, Cal Newport’s book and the pandemic.

These stories are all small invitations to the possibility of a new story for us, our money and our world.

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