Interview: The Rise of the Digital Minimalists

Ivan Cash is an award-winning interactive artist, film director, speaker, and founder of Cash Studios. Ivan explores the intersection of art, design, film, and technology. His work sparks cultural conversations, celebrates human connection, and inspires strangers to interact.

Through this approach, he’s connected thousands of strangers to draw each other, transformed thousands of emails into handwritten letters (published into a book), turned paper currency into protest, convinced complete strangers to share the last photo on their phones, raised awareness about data privacy, redefined the meaning of marriage, and made an 86-year old farmer famous. Ivan’s work has been exhibited internationally, is in the permanent collection of the V&A Museum in London, has been featured in TIME, CNN, The New York Times, MSNBC, Fast Company, Wired, and received multiple Vimeo Staff Picks and Webby Honorees.

He has been recognized as a 2016 Forbes 30 Under 30 artist, an Art Directors Club Young Gun, a Print New Visual Artist, and was named one of Fast Company’s ‘Most Innovative Companies’. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, he balances his time between running Cash Studios, making independent projects, and giving talks and workshops. Ask him sometime about how getting arrested lead to his first professional job. He believes talking to strangers can change the world, but nothing would make him happier than if you closed your eyes for 20 seconds and just listened to your breath.

Photo: IRL Glasses allow you to live IRL (In Real Life) and see everything except screens. In just 30 days, our Kickstarter raised five times its original goal ($140k) from over 2,000 backers, was covered by Wired, Vice, FastCo and the BBC, graced the front page of Reddit, and was #1 Product of the Day on ProductHunt.

Photo: IRL Glasses allow you to live IRL (In Real Life) and see everything except screens. In just 30 days, our Kickstarter raised five times its original goal ($140k) from over 2,000 backers, was covered by Wired, Vice, FastCo and the BBC, graced the front page of Reddit, and was #1 Product of the Day on ProductHunt.

Q1: What inspired you to start IRL Labs?

I’ve been exploring the intersection of technology and humanity for many years now, it’s a common thread throughout my work. For instance, Snail Mail My Email was a project I created where over 2,000 people transformed 30,000 emails into handwritten letters. 

Another project I created was installing a bunch of NO TECH ZONE signs in parks across San Francisco. One more is Facebook Sabbatical, that empowers people to take a break from social media. 

I finally started IRL Labs in 2018 because I wanted to go all-in on creating a way where my like-minded collaborators could come together to create concepts, products, and experiences that empower humanity to free itself from the unhealthy constraints of technology. We have some big projects coming out at the end of 2019 and in early 2020, so stay tuned!

Ivan Cash designed and installed official-looking ‘No-Tech Zone’ signs in parks across San Francisco, encouraging passersby to question the role technology plays in our lives and environment.

Photo: Ivan Cash designed and installed official-looking ‘No-Tech Zone’ signs in parks across San Francisco, encouraging passersby to question the role technology plays in our lives and environment.

Q2: Are you affected by digital fatigue? If yes, how are you able to overcome it? If no, what methods would you suggest so that other people can overcome it?

I totally get distracted, overwhelmed, and burnt out from too much media. I think that’s why I empathize with the feeling of being inundated with too much noise and distractions. To cope with this, I actively create space between myself and media. 

This includes morning and evening rituals, I don’t really watch TV, and I barely use Instagram. As a mental foundation, I participate in tech-free, silent meditation retreats every year, and am constantly thinking about ways of putting up guard rails to protect my sanity. Translating my experiences and creating this work for others is second nature.

Q3: Have you ever taken a digital detox? Could you describe the experience? How did you feel? Did it help?

In addition to the yearly meditation retreats, I also used to be a ‘camp counselor’ for CampGrounded, a digital detox retreat (or a technology free) summer camp for adults) that my good friend Levi Felix (RIP) created with Brooke Dean. 

Ivan’s work reminds us it’s more important than ever to cultivate simple, yet profound moments of connection which are always available to us. Ivan Cash is an award-winning interactive artist and film director who believes in the power of human connection.

Video: Ivan’s work reminds us it’s more important than ever to cultivate simple, yet profound moments of connection which are always available to us. Ivan Cash is an award-winning interactive artist and film director who believes in the power of human connection.

Q4: We love the fact that IRL Labs isn’t a startup or a store and that it’s a call to action. In what ways are you contributing to the digital minimalism movement?

See question one and my previous projects that relate to the digital minimalism movement. We also have a manifesto which reads as follows:Not too long ago, phones were attached to the wall, TVs weighed as much as refrigerators and computers rivaled minivans in size. Then everything changed…

Screens became untethered. Computers went pocket-sized. All the world’s information was instantly available at our fingertips. Suddenly, life as we knew it wasn’t being lived so much as it was being shared, liked, ‘grammed, and tweeted.

The very devices promising to connect us in actuality made us feel more isolated, as we began living further and further apart in the digital world.

IRL is not a startup. IRL is not a store. IRL is a call to action.

To triumph in the face of digital fatigue. Taking a break from the nonstop torrent of news, notifications, and direct messages. To get back in touch with what truly matters… Seeing each other face to face. We are a collective of designers, creatives, and artists. Hellbent on creating mind-bending and conversation-starting products, and practices that inspire humanity to control tech (not the other way around).

Q5: What is your opinion on feature phones? Do you use one? Would you use one?

I have a Lightphone (a phone with pared-down capabilities) that I use on occasion. I am friends with the founder, and I love what they’re doing!

Q6: Awesome! We’re supportive of any methods people use to spend more time offline. How do you maintain a balance between being online and offline? 

I grew up in a household where cable TV and video games were completely banned. Growing up without media forced me to play outside, going fishing and building forts in the woods. It sounds idyllic but at the time I got bullied and all I wanted was to fit in with my peers. This inspired me to start my career in the ad industry, wanting to finally be apart of and have some influence over the pop culture worlds I was deprived of as a kid. 

Then I got burnt out and in 2011 quit my day job. I have been independent ever since. This push-pull tension between a desire to participate in culture and a yearning for balance fuels my work.

Q7: Where’s your favourite place to switch off?

My favorite place to switch off would be at the spa, in nature, or playing sports!

Thanks Ivan!

We’re so glad Ivan could share his experiences with us and we hope that more people will adopt and encourage a more offline way of life. If you’re interested in learning more about all things IRL, exploring how the digital age impacts our health, happiness, creativity, and spirit, subscribe to The Slow Scroll email newsletter. If you’re interested in sharing your experiences with us or writing a guest post for us, send us an email via hello@mudita.com!

Please feel free to get in touch via social media (send us some photos or videos too), you can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, let’s connect! To learn more about Mudita, take a look at our website and our other posts. If you enjoyed reading this interview, please share and recommend it! We need to be online to find people who’d like to spend more time offline.