Curbing Social Media

Person using phone at work

I thought I would share some tips on how to cut down the amount of time spent on social media, and why you might want to do so. I’ve based these points partly on observations of myself and others, and also some articles I have read in the past.

Person using phone at work
Image by Alvaro Reyes

Curbing Social Media

There are many reasons to use social media. It could be to

  • keep in touch with friends and family that would otherwise be hard to contact
  • get news (assuming you haven’t forgotten how to think critically when browsing the web)
  • consume content like video series and webcomics.
  • see what celebrities are up to and keep up with gossip.

But social media can make people feel worse, can distract people, can even be an outright addiction. Cutting out, or even just curbing its use could be of great benefit to a lot of people.

Keeping in Touch

One of the main reasons you may have started to use social media was to “keep in touch” with people. This is definitely a good reason, but these days there is an increase in the availability of services and apps specifically designed for person-to-person communication.

If you’re finding that you spend too much time with full-blown social media networks, you could consider cutting your use down to just a chatting function, or trying out a dedicated chat app instead. And don’t forget that the old fashioned phone, SMS and email systems still exist.

Spotting Addiction

You might not realise you are addicted to social media. There’s a very easy test for this. The old “If you’re not addicted, then why don’t you just stop using it?”. The answer may well be “I could stop any time, but I don’t want to”. Uh-huh.

Try just uninstalling a social media app from your phone. You can always re-install it later, anyway. It only takes a second to do this, but you’ll very quickly become aware of if you are addicted to it. You might find yourself fidgeting with your phone for no reason, unlocking it only to realise there’s no app to open. This may well indicate you are addicted or at least forming a habit, to the point you’ve built up muscle memory to use social media. I would suggest if you find yourself in this position to take steps to decrease your usage, to combat possible addiction.

Or, after uninstalling social media apps you might well never touch our phone during the day. In which case, do you even need to reinstall the app later?

Engineered Addiction

Further to the idea of addiction, think about why you want to use it so much. Companies spend a lot of money developing algorithms designed to show you just the right amount of a type of content to keep you coming back, so they can show you just the right kinds of advert to click or tap on.

You could read up on such topics as dark patterns in user interfaces to see how these companies trick you into keep using their services.

You can then ask yourself if you actually trust these companies and if you are happy to keep using them. You might feel a bit creeped out, in which case, there’s an easy fix: just don’t go back to them.

Organising and Pruning

If you would find it too difficult to stop using something entirely, try an alternative approach: Structure your consumption.

You could make custom lists or feeds when browsing Reddit organised by the type of subreddit. On Facebook, you could curate feeds by the content a page posts or the relationship you have with someone. For Twitter, you could make similar lists, and browse them on Tweetdeck.

By making such organised your social media use in this way, you could more easily see what kind of content you come to a particular service to get. You could then more easily make decisions on what you want to cut down. Even if you didn’t want to cut it down entirely, you might find that certain lists could just be viewed once a day (like a feed of webcomics or news stories), freeing up your time in the rest of the day.

Assigning Value

Another way to convince yourself to cut down use would be to assign an imaginary monetary value to everything. If you were paying a particular page for a users posts, or a YouTuber for their videos, would you find it worth your money? If yes, then you probably do engage and enjoy their content. If no, then would you be any the worse to just cut it out?

Saving it up for Later

Take a moment to consider the frequency and substance of what people you follow post. Is it just small snippets, images, videos that this page posts frequently? In that case, try unfollowing them, but making a bookmark in your browser. Then, make a designated time every couple of weeks to just binge on this content all at once.

I suggest this because that will help clean out your feed to stuff that you find useful and important, and also that you might actually enjoy the content more if you consume a lot of it at once – many people take the binge route to consuming content these days, and if you set aside a specific time for this, you can concentrate more during the rest of your day (or even week).

For the kind of content which you might briefly come across one time, and find amusing, I would caution against immediately following a particular social media user. If you do so, you end up just cluttering your feed. I would suggest only following a user on social media if you find yourself frequently returning to see their posts.

If you still wanted to keep tabs on something you found, you could always bookmark the page for another time without further diluting your social media feeds. This would also keep the novelty of the content you found fresh.

Concentrating better

At Home…

Imagine you’re watching a TV show, or a film. You subconsciously pick up your phone to look at social media. Why would you do this when you’re watching a film?

Doing so will only split your concentration between what you’re watching and your device. Focus on the TV show, you will enjoy it more. The stuff happening on twitter or Facebook isn’t going to disappear by the time your program finishes.

You might also realise that you’re not really enjoying the TV show, and you went to look at social media out of boredom. If so, just stop watching the TV show and find something else. There’s no point in just sitting through something you don’t like and passing the time on social media, find something you will really enjoy.

… and at Work

The idea of concentrating on a task also applies at work. Unless you’re a social media manager for your business, you probably shouldn’t be spending your time browsing social media. Ever.

  • Not on break (you should take a moment to go for a stroll, sit away from your desk to have lunch, actually relax).
  • Not at your desk (You should concentrate on the job at hand).
  • Not even during your commute (Prepare yourself for the work day ahead, or have a little detox and relax after a hard days work).

When I focus during a workday like this, I feel much better about my day, you probably will too.

Notifications

If you find it hard to concentrate with social media, and don’t want to give it up, consider turning off notifications.

  • Either in-app (Do you really need to know every time someone liked a tweet?)
  • or Push notifications that pop up on your devices (Do you need to responds to a message right away, or can it wait until you check your inbox?).

Even if an app won’t let you turn notifications off, most mobile operating systems let you do that anyway. By turning off notifications you can cut out a big temptation to visit social media sites or apps.

Need

You should also take a moment to consider if you actually need to use social media. It may certainly feel like you need to see what all of your hundreds of Facebook friends are doing, that you will be worse off if you don’t keep up with the hundreds of twitter accounts you follow or YouTube series that you watch.

But ask yourself if any of that is vital to you going about your day. If the answer is no, you could consider just cutting a particular network off completely.

Keeping up to date and Being First

One final point is about the feeling that you need to keep up to date with things, and need to know about them right as they happen. This could be anything from social media gossip or even the news.

  • Do you really need to know the gossip developments right as they break, versus finding out about them a couple of hours or days later (especially considering the might not even be true)?
  • Will your life be that much worse off if you learn about a news story by someone telling you instead of you being told by an app with an obnoxious notification sound?
  • Forget delaying it until a designated time: What if you just never found out about a piece of gossip or news story. Would that put you in a measurably worse position?

Think about if you really need to be connected, and that you need to be the first person to find something out, so you can smugly share it to everyone else as the bearer of news. Well, unless it’s your job, you’re never the first person on the internet to share something. And what if this is all just a feeling the engineers of these services and apps have instilled in you so you feel the need to keep using them?

In the past people could go whole days without getting their gossip, may have only got the news in the morning and evenings. We somehow managed to get by just fine in the past, so ask yourself if having a constant connection to social media to keep constantly up to date is actually helping you in your life.

Final Words

I have seen many people who get too distracted by social media. I’ve seen others place far too much importance on what it offers. If everyone took a moment to just slow down and cut out a little bit of social media usage, I think that would go a long way to making people a bit happier.

It doesn’t take long for you to give it a go, why not try right now?

Join the Conversation

  1. Fantastic article! I am trying to curb my social media usage (despite not being on it much in the first place), with a view to withdrawing entirely from social networks. The only social network I am currently used by is Facebook. One thing I have found extremely useful is to remove the official app and messenger from my phone, and only use the web site from a browser (I keep a separate browser just for this). My phone now works like brand new, is no longer roasting-hot, no longer crashes, and I get several more days out of the battery just because the app isn’t sitting in the background consuming all the phone’s resources. I also get the added bonus of not constantly getting beeps and updates pushed to my phone. It reduces your stress levels quite a lot, I can tell you! For some people, the app is pre-installed, in which case all you can probably do is go into the app settings and disable it (or root your phone then remove it if you dare). Either way, it will save you and your phone a heck of a lot of time and energy!

    I have long noticed the phenomenon of social-media addiction, and the fact that it makes people more miserable and depressed. I have had friends that curate unrealistic perfect censored versions of their lives to display on social media, whilst their real life spirals downwards, in an attempt to keep up with others’ carefully-curated display-lives. I have also had friends who needed an audience for everything: If it didn’t happen on Facebook, it didn’t happen at all.

    I think I will miss being in touch with people I went to school/university with, who I don’t see often any more, and people who change their phone or email address very often – but if I give them a nice personal message with my email and phone number, I’m sure if they’re genuine friends they’ll always let me know when they get a new address/phone.

    As a side-note, I make a point of avoiding the use of the terms “consume” and “content” in the context of viewing video, listening to music, reading an article, etc., for the same reasons that Richard Stallman does. Whilst it’s personal preference, it’s certainly food for thought and forces me to appreciate peoples’ work a bit more (and not waste my time with the rubbish). In a nutshell, the idea is that saying that you “consume content” is cheapening someone’s original artwork to the level of a near-worthless commodity to be used once and thrown-away. To “consume” is to “use up”, much like we consume food or a fire consumes fuel… and of course artwork can be enjoyed time and time again. The word “content” implies that it’s little more than a filler, a worthless commodity, something to bulk-out your time, not the product of somebody’s time, effort, and/or imagination to be savoured. It reduces an artwork from something that can contribute to society and civilisation and bring about change, to an inert packing-material! Maybe it’s a silly overreaction to how language naturally evolves, but it certainly made me stop and think.

  2. Great post. Well researched and written. I have two additional points:
    – when done Log Out of your Social Media account. If you have to Log In every time that will keep you one step further away from it.
    – Regarding “Engineered Addiction”, the BBC did an excellent documentary on that very subject several months ago on our BBC News channel in Canada.

  3. I manage to stay connected to social media most of the day, but importantly don’t use the official apps.
    This means I have less to take notice of, and when I do it is because something actually needs my attention.
    I am connected to FB chat with Trillian so I am available, but do not see any posts updates or nags of any kind, unless I run one of the mini FB clients from F-Droid.
    Using FB in a web browser is made sane with the FB Purity extension This lets me hide all the crud that is not useful (promoted posts and “news”), and show posts in a way that suits me.

    Twitter is also much easier to deal with in Trillian, Pidgin, or Miranda-NG. The user can define the frequency of updates and filter which tweets are shown.

    Being able to use these services without getting distracted, is easy if you don’t see any distractions.

    My biggest time-saver these days is the open source app “Voice Notify”, which will read aloud the messages from apps I select. This means I can keep up to date with posts and chat without even taking my phone out of my pocket, or wasting time opening it to read stuff I may have missed.
    The sound of a robot (Samsung TTS option) talking in my pocket does get me some strange looks, but I specifically use the robot voice as a reminder;
    Me Human, me Boss. You robot, you slave.
    I physically interact with my phone a lot less now, which as a bonus also helps save battery charge.

  4. I picked up a Kindle 3 months ago, so I don’t have much time with the phone now… I’d say reading is the best cure – you simply lose interest in the 99% of wasted time browsing and playing games.

  5. Tune out social media. You do not need social media if you can use the web. Meet real life friends, take a hike in the forest, meditate, play a game, learn to play an instrument, cook, help elderly, there are hundreds of ways in which you can substitute.
    I used to browse for an hour every morning Twitter and Facebook every day. Then I went to a retreat. It was a silent retreat with no access to cell phones, computers, not even diaries. We were not allowed to talk to each other, and not even so much as look at each other (we had to look front and down at all times if we met anyone at the retreat). The food was provided for; otherwise all day we did physical exercise, sit meditate, walk meditate and were to be mindful at all times. This went for four days. When I returned home, I gave up Facebook. I have not used since. None of my 1500 facebook followers and friends cared or wrote to me. One person emailed me why I was not posting on Facebook (I used to post news, thoughts, snippets at the rate of about 10 posts per day with numerous photos). Then it died on its own. My facebook page and feed still exists somewhere except I do not post and I do not browse.
    But that meant I was more active on Twitter, and I have about 20 K posts on twitter with over 2000 followers and for a while I had great discussions on Twitter. It felt like fun. Last week, I was back again at the retreat, silent meditation retreat but only for the weekend. Started on a Friday afternoon after a heavy workweek, and meditated and worked in the bootcamp in the kitchen, and followed the same routine as earlier (no talk, no eye contact, just meditate, walk, meditate, work, meditate, sleep, meditate, stand, meditate, exercise, eat, meditate, …). Returned from the bootcamp on Monday and the first victim of my meditation practice was Twitter.
    Then I picked up Vivaldi …. , 😉
    ….
    The next retreat is in February of 2019 I think.

  6. A bit of a long winded article, just delete your account off social media and be done with it.

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