Six months ago, I deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts. Beyond data privacy concerns, social media became a virtual band-aid applied to moments of weakness and sadness for me. I became more aware of the effects of social media on my mood and general outlook on the world, as I explained in my decision to delete my accounts. Six months passed since I deleted my accounts. Along the way, I learned a few lessons on creating a healthy diet of media and pop culture consumption in a world of constant connectivity and endless media reservoirs.
This article explains some of the changes I made in my life to how I use social media and my smart phone since deleting my accounts. Hopefully you will find these tips useful too.
1. Social media on-the-go is a no
Today’s world has no shortage of content. Videos, friend requests, likes, comments, memes, notifications. We are always connected and online. An endless amount of media, pop culture, and content is at our fingertips. Sometimes this is helpful and convenient, like a quick message to a friend.
But a constant connection is a drug too. When a short escape from a moment always exists in your pocket, this creates unsavory habits and a default action of opening the phone and flipping through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or anything that offers momentary stimulation or something “more interesting” than whatever we are doing at the moment. Ultimately, we turn to social media on our smartphones for a momentary blast of dopamine.
Two steps to break the habits
There are two steps to break these habits. First, acknowledge there are negative effects to social media usage. If you are like me, I also had to acknowledge that self-discipline and self-moderation is hard. I acknowledged the negative effects of social media usage, but despite knowing this, it was still hard to avoid it. So, the second step is to make the self-discipline easier: drop the apps from your phone.
When I deleted Facebook and eventually Instagram from my phone, they were no longer convenient. To check either site, I either had to use a mobile web app or use a computer. The mobile web apps were tedious and slow, and a computer was not always accessible. When the “convenience” factor was gone, it became easier to disconnect from the online world because it simply wasn’t there.
Anything that required me to use social media could wait until it was convenient – usually when I am sitting down at a computer.
2. By the numbers: Scientific method applied to phones
After deleting my social media accounts, I wanted to understand: how often do I use my phone? What applications steal most of my attention? How much is too much? I decided to take a scientific approach and run an experiment.
Monitoring on my own
First, I tried to become more aware of my usage on my own. If I was going to have dinner with friends or colleagues, I turned my phone off before entering the restaurant or meeting the group. My phone is off at the moments I turn to it at the dinner table. Powering it back on is inconvenient. Whatever I wanted to do would have to wait five minutes for the phone to boot.
“Right, it’s off for a reason,” I would think, as I slipped the phone back into my pocket.
Second, I took a more quantitative approach. I wanted to measure my usage my application and know how much time I spent on various applications. I discovered QualityTime, an application that met my requirements. QualityTime measures your total daily screen usage, how much time you use on all applications, and how many times you unlock your phone screen in a day.
After I set it up, I used the default quota of two and a half hours a day as the control. Surprisingly, I came close to that amount every day. Now, I see what applications take most of my time. Then, I make adjustments based on the feedback I see. I started to think things like…
“Is this application worth the 30 minutes a day?”
“I need to cut back on this app, 48 minutes is more than I realized.”
Now, I had data to support my lifestyle changes or to help me make adjustments when needed. When I saw my usage quantified, I better understood my own habits. It built awareness into how I use my phone and manage my digital life.
And often, awareness is the best foundation for making incremental changes to our life and how we manage our time.
3. What you see is what you find
The most important lesson for continued use of social media is actively thinking about what you allow into your feed. Your “feed”, for any application or app, is powerful. Your feed is a daily dose of perspective and thoughts to the world around you. What you see is what you will find in the world around you.
In my case, I still use Twitter as my primary social media application. Since deleting my Facebook and Instagram, I also become more aware of my Twitter timeline. I never followed many people by some standards – 200 people or so. First, I realized that I missed a lot of content from half of those people because of how Twitter tailors what I see. Second, I become more aware of the actual content from the people I followed.
Optimism vs. pessimism
Since the November 2016 elections, social media content is an ever-increasing black box. You find powerful optimism, overwhelming pessimism, and some things as a balance between the two. I became aware that the content on my timeline had a tangible, noticeable effect on my daily perspective. If someone I knew fired off a thread hinting at doom and gloom, that content translates into my daily view.
We cannot pretend that what we read on the screen has no effect on our real lives.
Trimming off content
So, I became a “jerk”. I trimmed who I followed to a minimum (about 60 people). Then, I sought out people from various aspects of my life—technology, spirituality, friends and family—that played a positive impact to my daily outlook. I put a filter on what I filter in my feed: I looked for inspirational wisdom, people who would motivate me to enlightened action. I turned away from people who would paint the world with darker colors.
To this point, there is a balance between naïvety and cynicism. We can choose optimism without being naïve. Additionally, we can choose skepticism without being cynical. The point is not to drown out reality or put myself into a bubble. The point is to be realistic about what is happening in the world and to stay hopeful. To stay motivated. To not wake up, read your feed, and curl back depressed into bed.
As a result, some of my best advice is be conscious of what you filter into your feed. Your feed is close and personal. It is powerful. And what you often see is what you will often find in your life.
Considering Facebook deletion?
Considering to cut the plug? Check out this excellent article from Recode about how to responsibly cut the plug. Even if you aren’t ready to fully delete, it also offers helpful ideas on making the time suck less.
These three lessons are fundamental to me and changed how I use social media and my smart phone. Beyond the digital world, I notice the translations of change in my life. I feel more present in the things I do and spend my time on. Now, when I go out with friends and family, I appreciate the moment with them without a hole burning in my pocket.
I hope these lessons are also helpful to you too. Additionally, if you have any other tips or comments for others, please drop a comment below!