Social Media make you anxious and unhappy. You check your feed compulsively, but without much pleasure. You just want to spend more time in the real world.
Whatever your reason, limiting social media usage is extremely difficult. Those platform are designed to make you spend as much time as possible on them, to make you addicted; and chances are, you are.
I certainly was. Even if I never was a big poster, I was a huge consumer. Without going into too much gloomy details, at one point I was spending more time in front of Youtube than sleeping.
This not only made me a unproductive slug, but also isolated me and carved into my already crushing anxiety. Social Media was really destroying my life, like the one of many other.
In this post, I want to share with you my techniques and advices that helped me get my freedom back.
If social medias are that bad, why don't you just quit?
Alright, you're fed up, that's it, you're decided to quit this time. You sit down on the couch, relieved, starting to wonder how your new (less online) life will be, and how beautiful nature is. Except that it will probably not last long.
Going cold turkey can be appealing, especially if you see yourself as having low will power. Apps and browser extension that block certain websites are extremely popular, because you don't even have to use your discipline. Seems like a good idea, right?
For sure, it can give you a quick win, which is good. However, cutting your online activity too brutally can actually be counterproductive in the long run.
As I said, quitting, or even limiting, your time on social media is extremely difficult. What was a pretty substantial part of your life suddenly disappear, and the things you tried to avoid by diving online will come back right at you; which can be discouraging really fast.
Turns out boredom is quite hard to stand these days.
Websites blockers are also really easy to cheat; just go in private navigation, use a different browser or device. But why would you cheat? Well, you maybe just want to verify an info on YouTube, really wondering what this person is saying about a current event, or just checking out of habits; there are a lot of way our brain can rationalize an addiction.
And yours can simply shift form: You blocked Youtube and Twitter? Cool, now you have the sudden urge to discover how Reddit and Pinterest work, or any other social media you didn't use before.
You built a dam in the river to stop it, but the stream is still going. It will always find the path of least resistance.
And maybe you simply can't give up social media just now: maybe you need to use them for work for example, to communicate with a team or find clients.
The goal of this article is to take control back, to slow down the stream directly; not isolate yourself from the world.
I'll now focus on actionable steps to limit your social media usage in the long run, with different degree of commitment and effort required. This way, you're certain to find advice that you can easily implement, and maybe build on in the future.
That's how I did it; in fact, I used all of them to some extent, gradually, until I felt in control again.
The main takeaway, and were all those advice lead to, is to remove part of your environment to change your behavior over time, naturally. This way, stopping will not be a hard choice at all. You'll not even think you're quitting social media, because you'll plainly not think about them at all.
Some might be obvious, other really unusual. They're ordered arbitrarily.
Like, seriously, most of them are annoying anyway; or even worse, ring at the worst time possible. You don't want to hear Twitter's whistle at a funeral, don't you?
It's something I did really early on : cutting a large part of the notification, as well as the sound on my phone.
Notification are the main way for social media to lure you back into their app, even when nothing is happening; for example, Twitter constantly make up event to notify you : "Someone liked someone else post", "Here's a random person opinion, would you like to follow them?"...
Without the sound, you now have to choice as to when to use it. You're allowed to forgot about your phone.
And of course, you totally can leave them for private messages if you want, but you absolutely need to cut down the majority of them. It'll feel empty at first, but it's one of the most effective way to achieve our goal.
Yep, you're still reading the same article.
Why a watch? Because now you're not obligated to pull out your phone every ten minute to check what time it is!
Plus, even a cheap one can greatly improve your look. You should totally try! I have a Casio F-91w, and I can't live without it.
This step is simple: unsubscribe from most of your feed. You can choose an arbitrary number of people you'd like to keep in touch with, and limit you to that number. If you want to add one above the limit, an other one has to go.
This is really up to you to find what is your ideal threshold : it can be a hundred, none, or anything in between.
First of all, we all have account which we are not that much into, personality we follow because everyone else does, or account that just repost/retweet a lot without bringing much insight. Even if we always scroll past them, those account all take place on your feed.
By limiting the amount of noise on your feed, you'll quickly feel like you've seen everything, and you'll get bored. And that's exactly what we want. Make social media boring again.
If you want to use your game console less, one trick is to hide the controller in a drawer, or somewhere difficult to access, instead of the center of the living room.
That's exactly the kind of tricks we gonna use for social media: limiting the compulsory usage by making them slightly more inconvenient to use.
There are three degrees deep we can go with this idea. How far do you want to go is up to you.
Don't get scare, we are not going to prevent you from checking them (yet).
What we are gonna do is first uninstall the app (Reddit, Twitter, Youtube...), and use your phone browser to access them. Once you're logged in, most of them don't feel much different actually. Maybe some are a bit clunky at time (by design, to push you toward the app), but that should not make that much of a difference to you.
What it does to your environment is add friction : You don't have the icon on your home screen anymore, you have to open a browser, type which site you want to visit, and then access the content.
Small friction like this can do wonder to change your behavior.
Now that you're used to getting your social media juice from your browser, we're going to add another layer of friction: logging-in.
Even if your browser automatically fill-in your email and password, as most of them do, this will still add one layer of friction if your previous habits survived the level 1.
You could eventually choose to disable your browser's password manager, or even change your password regularly to make it annoying to remember, but I admit that even I didn't go that far.
It's not feasible for every site of course, notably Twitter and Instagram. But for the other one, they will be usable, but infuriating to use: popup asking you to login, no way to post your reaction, and most of all no way to actually be subscribed to anyone! How is that not going cold turkey?
Well, I still don't prevent you from going there; you can watch and use it however you want, but you'll have to be more intentional about what you want to see. Maybe keep a list of your previous subscription (which is now quite short if you've have applied the previous step), and manually type their name to see how they are going.
Tedious right? Well, that's the whole point.
Taking back control also mean having to be more intentional with your information/media consumption, instead of mindlessly being spoon-fed new stuff by algorithms.
If enduring the popup message asking you to download the apps or create an account is too much, I have some alternative coming up.
There a surprisingly large amount of alternative portal for social media. By that I mean alternative way to access the same content, without an account or worrying about being tracked.
I'm not talking about alternative social media, like Mastodon or PeerTube. This is a great thing that they exist but they're not at all the cure to a social media addiction.
I personally really like Nitter for Twitter, Invidious for Youtube and Bibliogram for Instagram. But depending on when you're reading it, some of them probably became out of date, replaced by better option, or simply don't work anymore. That's for you to do your research.
Here are the advantages most of these front-end carry:
Browser extension exist to redirect you from a website (say Twitter) to it's alternative (Nitter), which can be really handy: How many time someone sent you a link to a post, only for you to realize 30 minutes later that you've mindlessly clicked on your feed and scrolling without realizing it?
You can also get your content by other means, notably thanks to RSS feeds. Some platform, like YouTube or Reddit, have them built in, just not advertised. For other, third party solution exist, like the one I mentioned above. Those things tend to change rather quickly, so do your own research; but you should be able to find a RSS feed for most of your subscription.
RSS is great, you should definitely use it.
Social Media are built on two things: shallow content that make you laugh, and outrageous content that make you mad (those are sadly not mutually exclusive). Either way, it's always designed to make you spend more time on the platform.
So to achieve our goal, we have to be selective about the content we allow the platform to show us.
First of all, block people, YouTube channel or recommendation that are damaging to you.
Don't like some politician's tweet? Cut them off and block the account. Certain topic triggers you? Cut it, block this keyword. You spend way too much time watching this channel even after you unsubscribed? Cut it, tell YouTube you're really not interested.
Each time you find yourself attracted to a content, see an user or a subject coming up frequently, ask yourself this question: does it have a positive impact in my life? It is really important to me? Or am I using it to avoid something else?
If the response to these first two question is no, cut it.
The final straw came when [Carmack's cat] peed all over a brand-new leather couch that Carmack had bought with the Wolfenstein cash. Carmack broke the news to the guys. “Mitzi was having a net negative impact on my life,” he said. “I took her to the animal shelter. Mmm.”
The same rule applied to a cat, a computer program, or, for that matter, a person. When something becomes a problem, let it go or, if necessary, have it surgically removed.
- Master Of Doom
I could rant way more about all the different strategies I tried and used over the years, but you now have the essentials.
Am I cured yet? Well, mostly yes. I still follow some account thanks to RSS, but I mostly focus on slower content like podcast and blog, from a limited set of people. I also sleep better now that I don't see the world and my attention span crumble a little more every day. Life seems more clear without all the noise.
As for any addiction, I could fall back into it with a cumulation of bad choices. But that's exactly the point of my method : I created a safe environment that prevent me from making them.
I'm really grateful that you've read this far; not only because I'm honored that someone read me, but most importantly because you're trying to save your life too, to take control back.
If you have any question or comment, feel free to send me a email.
I wish you good luck on your journey.