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How Billionaires Stole My Mind

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You may have fallen into the same trap as me, and I want to help us all get out.

You use your phone as an alarm clock, and because you do, the first thing you learn, every morning, is that while you were sleeping someone messaged you, Liked you, or Mentioned you.

The one-second task of turning off the alarm leads to ten or twenty minutes of swiping and scrolling through pictures, messages, memes, jokes, diatribes and recipes. Maybe you find reports of a violent attack somewhere, or a gaffe by a politician, or a GIF of a baby goat. Or all of those things.

You learn some things your friends have been up to—someone checked in at Olive Garden, someone ran in a 5k fundraiser, someone bought tickets for Yo-Yo Ma, someone doesn’t like some country’s labor minister, and someone plans to make cake pops later, or is at least thinking about it.

This ritual seems benign enough, but sometimes you think it takes up too much time. Twenty minutes a day (if somehow you only fall into this pit once daily) adds up to a lot of your life gone. 

But wasting time isn’t all this habit does to us. More and more often, while making my morning coffee, I notice myself already agitated, or at least preoccupied, by something I read or watched in those impressionable few minutes after waking. It isn’t always about a serious news issue; it might just be a soccer player writhing flamboyantly to draw a penalty, or a guacamole recipe that contains some offensive ingredient like mayonnaise or green peas.

Whatever it is, ten minutes into my day I’ve already seen a hundred things that can easily push some psychological button, namely the ones for indignation, worry, judgment or ill will, just because I like getting notifications and I don’t want to get out of bed.

Think of how absurd it is to wake up this way. Before your mind can take in the immediate reality of your life this morning—your bedroom, your house, your neighborhood, and the other concrete details life is actually made of—you are already asking it to process the implications of different health care systems, compare your work and family life to those your peers, and take stands on genetically-modified food, Swedish immigration policy, whether ketchup belongs on hotdogs and a dozen other things.

Whether it makes sense to put all these elective tasks through your brain at all is an open question, but it should be clear that seeding your mind with fifty disparate concerns from all over the world—some petty, some very serious—is a completely insane way to begin a day. I don’t know about you, but I was only looking for an alarm clock that doesn’t use a horrible buzzing sound.

I take full responsibility for my actions. But it is understandably very hard to defend your attention from very smart tech-industry billionaires whose primary goal is to capture and keep as much of it as they can.

They know how your mind works better than you do

From the designer’s end, nothing is accidental about your morning phone habit. Social media services are designed deliberately to take over as much of your attention as possible, from as early in the day as they can get a hold of you. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other services have teams of experts employed solely to exploit your psychological weaknesses, hijacking your reward centers and personal insecurities to serve their business goals.

Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google, wrote a fascinating but also disturbing piece outlining nine common ways this is accomplished. Everyone who has a smartphone or a social media account should read it.

We all joke that it’s easy to spend too much time on these services, but we don’t recognize quite how engineered our social media addictions are. I knew I had a bad habit, but I didn’t grasp the gravity of what has really happened: a few big tech companies have literally succeeded in securing my attention from literally the moment I wake up, every single day.

I don’t mean this to be a general rant against social media. I like social media. These tools give us useful, if costly, ways to learn and connect. But if we’re going to use them, we should understand two things:

1) They are designed to take up as much of your attention and time as possible. Harris frames it this way: a small number of designers at Twitter and Facebook influence how a billion people think and act every day, right down to how they get out of bed, how they eat breakfast, how they shop, how they vote, how they think. The goal of these services is not to improve your life, it’s to increase the amount of time you spend on their service—”time on site” is the primary metric they gauge their success with. Everything else is secondary, including how much you enjoy that time. If the addictive experience they create harms your morning routine, workday, friendships, self-esteem, or ability to concentrate, that’s not their problem.

2) We don’t use them for the reasons we think. We think we’re connecting with people and staying aware of the world at large. But mostly we’re hooked on a carefully engineered, slot-machine-like reward schedule of notifications and social approval. Each time we check for a new such reward, we end up aimlessly scrolling and swiping for another fifteen minutes. I can’t be the only one who cycles through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, then finds that they’ve opened Facebook a second time, or clicks “refresh” once or twice after opening all the new emails.

After reading the Harris piece (and listening to his interview with Sam Harris—no relation), I listened to an interview with Cal Newport, of Deep Work fame, on the same topic, and before it was over I had deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone.

Immediately after that, I had a classic 21st-century experience that brought this whole series of revelations home. I was swiping through my phone, dimly aware that I couldn’t do whatever I was trying to do. After failing to find what I was looking for for the third time, I realized that what I was trying to do was announce on Twitter that I had deleted Twitter from my phone.

And that was enough. Clearly my mind has been successfully warped by Silicon Valley tech designers. I began to fantasize about taking a month off the internet completely. I can’t really do that though, because in the years since my online behavior became so automatic I accidentally became a professional blogger.

I do love the internet. I would never quit using it. But I would like to stop bleeding my time and attention away every day seeking tiny Pavlovian rewards dangled by a few big tech companies. My goal is to not to stop using social media services, but to stop using them unconsciously.

Using the Internet, 2007 style

For the next 30 days, I will not be waking up to a torrent of images, opinions, jokes and fears from around the world. The first step was to get the most addictive apps—Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, for me—off my phone. I still have accounts, and will still use them, but I’ve set them up so that I can’t reach them from my bed, or from waiting rooms, coffee shops, and sidewalks. And they can’t reach me in those places.

All my social media use will be done “2007 style”: when I want to use one of these services, I have to go to my desk, and manually “log on” by typing in my username and password. At least for the next 30 days, social media will no longer have an all-day, or even everyday, presence in my life. I want to use them like the tools they used to be, picking them up when I need to use them and putting them down when I’m done.

This will be my first official lifestyle experiment of 2017. It starts today, and will last until the end of this month. [My four-month no-drinking campaign wasn’t an official experiment, but it ended yesterday and I’ll report on it soon.]

Join me if you like. I’ll report my progress here.

I’m going to live in my local, concrete world, using the internet much like we used the television back in the 80s—there’s a world of stuff to discover on it, but it’s in one place, and you’re either using it, or it’s off.

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Photo by Lauren Powell-Smothers

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Ethan May 1, 2017 at 2:41 am

I struggle with “keeping up” with what’s supposed to be relevant (to the world, but mostly me). I’ve recently started a “regular reads” list, because my original feed keeps growing to a huge one. By the end of the day, I wonder how they’re still relevant.

Every platform seems to have their own “psychology” department, not just social media. Realizing it is beneficial in the long run, of course. It’s just that the more stuff becomes available, the less I tend to entertain.

I’ve been lying low with Facebook, but I’m not sure whether I ain’t really missing out on anything … although there’s Reddit, which can steal easy three good hours, and before I’m supposed to sleep.

Will be keeping an eye on your experiment. Thanks, David.

David Cain May 2, 2017 at 10:48 am

Reddit is the worst one for me, because it is genuinely interesting, and there’s always more. My Facebook feed never captures me for a long time, but it gets me into “social media mode”, which often spirals into a Reddit hole.

Ron May 1, 2017 at 2:41 am

That’s an excellent experiment, David. Look forward to hearing how it goes. I might do something similar, if not so radical, inspired by your post. I do think there is another angle from which to approach all this, however. We can also strive to become less susceptible to these internet attention grabs, indeed any and all inputs that trigger our thoughts and emotions, and engage life and the internet with more equanimity, whatever may come our way. Of course, that’s a lifelong quest. And, indeed, changing habits in the way you are about to do can be an effective tool in pursuit of grounding ourselves in our deeper being and becoming less negatively affected by a morning’s internet perusal.

David Cain May 2, 2017 at 10:51 am

Managing our attention is the bottom line, and it does extend well beyond social media. I think in the 21st century attention-management is more important than ever, and we all need to have strategies. It’s going to get even worse once we have immersive VR and other even more compelling media options.

Ron May 2, 2017 at 6:15 pm

The obvious trend is that it will get worse, but I don’t think that’s inevitable, or I should say, won’t at some point change to it being a positive. I have read some interesting ideas about how VR programs/experience could be developed to help us with our attention management, to use your term. Even present day social media can help us do so, if we are so inclined. I’ve experienced it myself. I am far less reactive to triggering FB and Twitter posts, for instance, than I was, say, five years ago. It’s the ‘if we are so inclined’ part that’s the key, imo. Huge subject! And something I am currently writing about. Love your blog, btw, lots of great ideas and well-stated insights. Thanks for doing it, a true service.

Frau_Mahlzahn May 1, 2017 at 3:00 am

You are so right about this — I noticed how much better my mornings have become ever since I re-installed my cell phone and couldn’t be bothered to arrange the settings in a way that I get notifications for new messages. Also (living in China) I didn’t re-install VPN, so cell phone use of facebook, blogger and the like is off limits for me…

After I realized the benefits, as a next step i went through my wechat and what’s app contacts and deleted all the people that aren’t good for me or that I never text with anyway, dropped out of group chats that couldn’t care less about, muted the wechat moments where people put their “happy” lives on display, … and so on.

It is actually quite good, :-). Now I just have to be careful not to miss the important messages, haha.

Cheers,
Corinna

David Cain May 2, 2017 at 10:53 am

I like how sometimes we discover a better way by accident. I just moved yesterday and don’t have internet yet, so I have to fit it all in in a one-hour visit to a coffee shop. And maybe that’s not the worst way to use the internet :)

Chris May 1, 2017 at 4:04 am

I wish you all the best for this experiment.
You are certainly right about the power social media has to capture people and keep you scrolling through.
I luckily never got into Facebook. I only use it as a tool to communicate with friends, just as you described your goal to be. However, if I find myself on that news feed it can quickly keep me there for awhile if I don’t force myself away. That compulsion to keep scrolling is very powerful.

Your idea of going to a “2007 style” is great. It made me think of getting back into reading a book in the morning after waking up like I used to do before the internet and checking news sites took over my morning routine.

David Cain May 2, 2017 at 10:54 am

Reading was a major reason I wanted to do this. I used to give myself a full 90 minutes to read before I did anything, and at some point the internet took over most of that.

Linda May 1, 2017 at 4:11 am

Hi David,
This is so topical for me right now. Realised before my month-long holiday that I was addicted to Twitter. Countless hours were wasted away just peering through other people’s tweets, or thinking about what I should tweet about! So I decided to remove twitter off my phone so I couldn’t waste time on it on the holiday. Haven’t really missed it yet. I was free to just enjoy the holiday without trying to compose pictures or thoughts for my “followers” (all 10 of them).

Funny story on how I became aware of this! I was busy scrolling through my Twitter feed on my phone, when my partner asked me what I was doing. I said I was wasting time on Twitter and that I was going to stop, and then switched to my PC. 1 hour later I realised I was scrolling through Twitter on my PC! Yeah….

David Cain May 2, 2017 at 10:55 am

It’s amazing how something can be such a compelling thing in our lives and then we don’t miss it when we get rid of it. It makes me wonder what else I do that just takes time and doesn’t do much else.

Zoe May 1, 2017 at 4:13 am

I hadn’t thought of it like that… but it does make sense, of course.
It’s really easy to fall into this trap and to find reasons to stay there. I keep thinking my mental health would seriously benefit from a FB/Twitter break, but then a small voice in my mind pipes up and says that I need to stay visible in order to build up my social media profile as a writer with a book to publish.
Deep down, I know it probably won’t make much of a difference whether I disappear from social media for a while or not, but there’s that “fear of missing out” always lurking and whispering… :-(

David Cain May 2, 2017 at 10:58 am

FOMO is a bigger factor in our lives than ever, because we have access to so much more information about what’s happening elsewhere. I think we will each have to confront it in our own ways to get our attention back.

Naomi Alexander May 1, 2017 at 5:14 am

I don’t have a mobile. Not even the basic kind. I am 44 tho – and grew up without even having a phone in our house (had to go to the phone-box at the end of the road). People think I’m completely insane not having a phone. My 98 yr old Nanna is the only other person I know without one. However, I use the internet (and love Twitter) on my laptop which I log into a few times a day – when I have time to sit (with a coffee or between chores or whatever). It’s not hard to be without a mobile telephone: there’s a landline at home and at my workplace… and if I’m anywhere else, I probably don’t want to be found! :o)

Cassie May 1, 2017 at 3:41 pm

Your comment might be my favorite. I love that you don’t have a cell phone!

David Cain May 2, 2017 at 10:59 am

Mobile definitely makes it way easier to lose time to social media. Just a few small barriers (having to sit down and log on) might be enough to keep the worst of it away.

Leticia May 1, 2017 at 5:27 am

I use my phone as an alarm. It will wake me up at 8:30 if I am not up already, that is coincidentally the time I have to take a pill, so it does both things. What I don’t do is unlock it. I might see that there is an email or some other notification, acknowledge it and go on to make my coffee. I’ll deal with whatever came up after I am caffeinated and fully awake.

I figured out long ago that Facebook is annoying, that I really don’t care about peoples anxieties, fake happiness and outrage. I think that we evolved in small groups of up to 150 individuals and we don’t have the emotional fortitude to deal with all the tragedies of the world. I will be outraged or worried or happy or sad when something happens to someone in my group, then maybe I can offer help or just a shoulder. For those extra billions: sorry, nothing I can do. My suffering for them won’t alleviate their suffering.

Twitter is the saddest form of pseudo communication invented. I never did create an account. I like long texts (obviously), long conversations and the format never appealed to me. Reddit is weird. I have browsed a few times and thought it is too much. Way too much.

I read feeds from the websites I like, such as yours. But even those are culled from time to time. They include no “news”, just subjects I am interested in, such as art, culture, embroidery, a few comics, frugality and self-learning, fashion, science. Stuff that makes my day better, everyday, with my coffee.

My country is having some social unrest and I get to know about it “There’s a general strike on Friday” from people I know. If I want to know how the strike went I can go online and read about it for 10 minutes. It wasn’t very successful, it seems.

That is why I don’t get why people allow themselves to be dragged down by information that is not relevant, actually informative nor uplifting, such as news, social networks or the conflation of those: Twitter.

Julie May 1, 2017 at 7:37 pm

I feel totally the same.We must be kindred spirits.

David Cain May 2, 2017 at 11:08 am

I think I’m headed to this same attitude toward each of these platforms, I’ve just taken a more circuitous route. Facebook is mostly about outrage and affected happiness; Twitter is about soundbytes, aphorisms and quick takes; and Reddit is just too much, like you say. Stepping outside of this is making it obvious that our minds aren’t well suited to make good use of information delivered this way.

The Tepid Tamale May 1, 2017 at 5:31 am

Wow, like you, I often think and joke about the time and toll of social media.
I would then make only minor changes, and then quickly return to normal. The depressing thing is, the article you referenced was written a year ago. I was hoping it was the start of a ‘movement’. But no addict likes to stop, me included. Ah, internet, is it possible for you to make my life better? I think so, but you make it so, so difficult. David, thanks for bringing this to my focus this AM, it is great timing for me.

David Cain May 2, 2017 at 11:11 am

It is worth committing to some kind of experiment, to step away from it and see what you miss. My experience so far is that it was taking more than it was giving, and that seems to be typical. But we probably have to make a more organized commitment to changing the behavior that a “trying to cut down” sort of attempt. Join me for May!

The Tepid Tamale May 2, 2017 at 8:08 pm

I am in for May. No social media on my phone, and I will use RescueTime to track PC usage. Thanks!

Ashley Kung May 3, 2017 at 9:29 am

I can vouch for RescueTime also. I used that at work, and my productive time skyrocketed, and remained consistently high for a LONG time. I couldn’t believe how well it worked.

DiscoveredJoys May 1, 2017 at 5:32 am

More by luck than judgement I do most of my interwebbing on a Desktop PC. I use Dropbox and Evernote for keeping track of ‘stuff’. I don’t have any social media accounts. I have a laptop for use away from home but it is set up as a ‘lite’ version of my desktop. My mobile phone is primarily for phone calls (and occasional note taking) and my tablet primarily for ebook reading and alarms/timers/reading recipes in the kitchen.

But then I’ve spent the last thirty years using computers at work and home where I did my computing at a desk and didn’t invite the rest of the world to look over my shoulder without asking.

Come to think of it, I rarely watch TV either. Good luck with your experiment.

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:11 am

I think I am rolling back to this kind of arrangement. I like the idea of sitting down to use the internet, and not taking it with me.

John Burzynski May 1, 2017 at 6:10 am

Turn off every notification on your phone, for everything…..news, social media, all of it. That pretty muh solved my problem, I check Facebook once a day, maybe twice, and even then I don’t go too deep in my news feed.

Whatever it is, if it is important, someone will call me about it or tell me in oerson the next time I see them, the rest is just chatter, which is fine in lerson but not so much on social media.

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:13 am

For me, notifications are part of it, but I also would find myself opening Facebook/Twitter/Reddit whenever there was any delay in the day, or whenever I didn’t immediately know what to do, even if there were no notifications. I turned off notifications for those services a long time ago, but I still had Gmail notifications. I love having no email notifications until later in the day though.

Bob May 1, 2017 at 6:47 am

Interesting read. Can’t relate to this particular trap though. When my phone alarm goes off, all I care about it is turning the damn thing off. Then I roll over and try to argue myself out of bed instead of going back to sleep. I don’t touch my phone again until after I actually get up. Sometimes not even then.

I guess lack of sleep has some benefits after all :)

David Cain May 1, 2017 at 7:12 am

Good morning everyone! Thanks for your comments so far — I’m looking forward to reading and responding to them. Today is moving day for me and the truck’s on its way, so I won’t get to them till later but keep them coming :)

Rocky Mitchell May 1, 2017 at 7:21 am

Smart phones…. the greatest time waster of all time…..

Burak May 1, 2017 at 7:47 am

Good luck with the experiment David.

As you put, it’s a kind of addiction. I noticed one thing about addictions. When you quit something like smoking for a long time, and then somehow return back to it, the intensity of that addiction generally tends to increase as if you want to compensate for the time you left it.

I’ve seen it with social media addicts as well as smokers. In fact, I left using twitter on my mobile about 4 years ago. Last year, on a special occasion, I reinstalled it, and experienced this harder strike of an older addiction first hand.

Just my two cents to be aware of it…

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:16 am

I don’t think I’ve experienced the same thing. A lot of my experiments involved getting away from something that had become compulsive, and usually when I go back to it it’s no longer so interesting. My no-alcohol experiment has been over for three days and I haven’t even bothered having a drink yet, for examples. I may not have the most addictive personality though.

Marvin Hagler May 1, 2017 at 7:47 am

Social media is food that tastes good but has no nourishment. It’s a cotton candy breakfast. That’s why I’m off all of it and rock my dumb phone.

I love that phrases, “2007 style.” We’ve become the frog in the pot of boiling water. Many of us don’t realize that our usage and consumption has changed and increased 10X since 2007. Nice wake up call, David.

MH

MH

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:17 am

Frog in the pot, exactly. The water was a nice temperature maybe ten years ago, so I’ll go back to that.

Dean Wilson May 1, 2017 at 7:48 am

Interesting decision on your part. I grew up in a family of journalists, the ability to be on top of current events an accepted cross to bear. When Facebook first came available I was a natural for the “service”, making use of every upgrade, touting to one and all what a wizard I was to be connected to the entire world. It came to be unmanageable and dominant, definitely having a negative impact on my most important personal relationships.
I signed off on FB three years ago and don’t miss it too much…there are times (like not consuming alcohol). They send me notifications and attempt to trick me into activating my dormant account. I resist, reminding myself that it will pass.
I have dabbled in other social accounts, coming to the same conclusion, they occupy too much time and effort with to little benefit. A number of blogs and other periodicals come to me, the use of the delete button always a positive option. Keeping my life as simple as possible and manageable my mantra.

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:21 am

Hi Dean. These services are really not that great for the thing they’re ostensibly for, which is to inform and connect. I’m not a journalist but in that Cal Newport interview, Ezra Klein said Twitter has become this essential thing to do for 21st century journalists, even though it’s hard to know if it really is necessary. It’s an interesting listen: https://player.fm/series/the-ezra-klein-show/cal-newport-on-doing-deep-work-and-escaping-social-media

Dollar Flipper May 1, 2017 at 8:26 am

Nice! I uninstalled both apps as well. Just forcing myself to login makes me question myself. Now if only I had a good solution for Reddit other than the nuclear option…

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:23 am

I’m really starting to learn the great value of setting up little psychological barriers between me and the things I want to do less of. Typing in a password isn’t hard, but it’s enough to make you think “Ah, forget it.”

Estelle May 1, 2017 at 8:26 am

Just this Friday I noticed I was spending way too much time scrolling through stuff I don’t give a shit about on Facebook (and I would always close the site feeling more worried, or annoyed than I did previously). I ended up unsubscribing to a boatload of pages and people, deciding to only follow the people I had an actual interest in (friends and inspiring individuals mostly). Previously, I followed a lot of acquaintances for “networking” reasons, but ultimately, I don’t think knowing the minutiae of their political opinions and daily lives will really help in any way. We’ll just have more to discuss when we bump into each other at events if I don’t already know every single noteworthy thing they did.

Then I deleted Facebook from my phone. That didn’t entirely curb my 20-minute-bed-phone habit, but instead of Facebooking, I started reading webcomics. Not perfect but it does put me in a much better mood than Facebook ever did.

What you said about social media being a tool and using it 2007-style rang true. I never had an addiction to social media before I had it on my phone. I’d check Facebook twice a day – in the morning before university and in the evening when I came home.

My friends would make fun on how “out of the loop” I was because I didn’t see memes or participate in funny conversations the instant they were hot and happening, but I didn’t care. Now that I know what it’s like to be “in the loop” I don’t think I could go back to that, but striking a balance is surely doable.

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:25 am

Heh… if there’s a “loop” I don’t care to be a part of, it’s the loop of ephemeral internet memes. If you think of the “loop” as more of a lasso or a snare, it might be something you don’t want to be in at all :)

Vicki May 1, 2017 at 8:30 am

Watching my partner log out out of FB on his phone last night prompted me to comment that I tend to forget you can, log out that is. It is interesting that to do so you are required to tap the menu and scroll to the bottom of a very long list first.
I resisted installing on my phone for years and still don’t have FB messenger on it, however usage creep has become apparent as I am on it more and more. I have just logged off… and may uninstall later depending on how strong my will to stay off remains.
I’m a bit old fashioned, and still use an alarm clock.. but after I sit down with my cup of tea it is sit and scroll all the way. Time for the frog to jump out of the pot. Thanks for the reminder, and best of luck with your move!

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:26 am

I know! Logging out is so 2007! I didn’t realize that until I thought about this experiment. I’m sure the disappearance of the logout as a part of our lives is no accident.

jimmytwin May 1, 2017 at 8:31 am

turn off social media notifications. do it now.

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:28 am

I did a long time ago, but the icons for FB and Twitter still show a little number there, even if you turn off the ones that show up on the top of your screen. Anyway, I just deleted them from mobile so there won’t be any sort of notification.

Josephine May 1, 2017 at 8:36 am

I will join you! I often set my alarm early to get to work earlier (it’s a digital radio alarm clock) and then go back to bed for the extra time just because instagram is so fascinating all of a sudden (who would have expected?). The “endless scrolling” thing is the worst. The only benefit I see is that the bright phone screen wakes me up so I won’t fall back asleep. Ps. I do like reading your articles first thing in the morning :)

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:31 am

I’m monitoring my use of Instagram, and so far it hasn’t become a problem. I will report on it in the experiment log.

Anyway, glad you’re joining me! You should definitely read my articles first thing in the morning :)

Tonya May 1, 2017 at 8:41 am

Just this morning I checked my email in bed and I got a notification that my credit score had dropped. I practically sprinted out of bed to start up my computer (which is old and takes nearly 10 minutes to get going), meanwhile thinking of how could it have possibly dropped? Did someone steal my identity? Was it my brother? What would happen now? My life is going to suck! Seriously, I thought all this. Then when I finally checked, there was nothing wrong. It was great! Ugh! I have made strides in the last year. I deleted all but instagram (although I still mindlessly scroll that-I convince myself it’s because I like pictures), and I deleted work email. THAT has made a huge difference in my stress levels! #babysteps.

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:33 am

I figure instagram is a good stepping stone away from the more insidious social media platforms. I don’t know about you, but I don’t follow that many people and it only takes me about two minutes to look through.

Anna May 1, 2017 at 9:14 am

hello david,
I used to get up at 5:30 everyday and do my morning pages but now i get up and go straight to popclogs, Facebook and emails….if i go to YouTube im absolutely done for and two or three hours later when i wake the kids up ….(usually leaving us 20minutes to get ready because i had to just Watch one more britains got talent audition) What a waste of three hours but i dont seem to have any control over it….ive struggled with this for so long now that im almost giving up trying. Ive had periods where ive set up a goal on popclogs to keep it to 20minutes a day or Something for a week;…but it always goes back. By the way 43things is back up and running. I am staying with popclogs but i just thought you would like to know.
Happy experiment,
Anna

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:35 am

YouTube is a dangerous one, but luckily I never really use it on my phone. I hook my laptop up to my TV to watch certain channels, but it’s always a “Okay, time to sit down and watch something” sort of decision, never an unexpected interruption.

Charvee May 1, 2017 at 9:17 am

I do not use facebook and twitter on my phone from 2 years and this is what I have accomplished –

1. I used to say things like, “I want to write, update my blog, now I actually do”.

2. In 6 months my mind got used to sit on the desktop and log on to twitter or pintrest or facebook and I slacked by spending more time on desktop. What I did was, I started clearing my saved passwords everytime I logged out and my frequency of logging on reduced. Love it.

3. I no longer have the need to buy a phone with more space, I am fine with 5s 16 GB, I have more space and very happy. I also realized that facebook really lacks memory management and could be too heavy. I love it that my phone breathes.

4. I realized no body really missed anything that I had to say, really. Hurt a bit but well, now I know it hardly matters.

5. I use Facebook Pages and instagram on my phone because i manage my business from these.

6. I have more music collection and actually listen to it. Wow.

7. I read more and so I can really write more now. It is an achievement for me!

Since I did not have these distractions I actually could keep my phone away from where I sleep so that when the Alarm goes off, I actually have to get up from bed, to stop it from ringing, that way I get up from bed and don’t go to bed. At times I go to bed so I will try your trick of setting an alarm clock and not use my phone. This idea is genius. Thank You :)

All the luck for your experiment !! More Power.

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:37 am

Sounds like you made a good choice. One of my favorite parts about these experiments is the unexpected benefits, like the phone storage space perk you mentioned. It isn’t always clear what a behavior is costing us until we get away from it for a while.

James F May 1, 2017 at 9:38 am

I don’t use my phone as an alarm and leave my phone on Airplane Mode until after breakfast… though it would better if I put it off longer.

Kate May 1, 2017 at 10:05 am

Love your challenge to yourself and the realization of what social media has done to your routines and life. I quit Facebook over 5 years ago now, and recently quit Twitter/IG almost a year ago. It feels so freeing to take photos without the intent to share. It was a learning curve, but I have regained my choices, my intentions for my time, and filled that with learning, reading, and helping others. You might find you like it that way after a month, but it will not be easy at first to detach and it’s an odd thing to do among others who live on their devices.

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:39 am

It’s early, but so far it’s been easier without those apps. I’m reading a lot more, my phone battery lasts way longer, I don’t get all cranky first thing in the morning. We’ll see what I’ve learned by the end of the month but it feels like a good tradeoff already.

Ashley Kung May 1, 2017 at 10:07 am

I disagree with everyone who says social media is not worth the effort or is a waste of time, and doesn’t have enough benefits to justify its use. You just need to learn how to use it in a way that maximizes the pros and minimizes the cons. What worked for me was completely eliminating my News Feed (hear me out, it makes Facebook a much higher quality experience):

I unfollowed everyone and everything, until my News Feed was completely empty, all the time. It sounds drastic, like I’m going to miss EVERYTHING, but it isn’t, because of another neat Facebook feature – If I navigate to my Friends list, I can click a link at the top that says “New Posts” and it will only list friends that have posted since I was last on, along with how many times they have posted. From here, I can go directly to the pages of people I want updates on. Facebook remembers whose posts I’ve seen, so when I refresh my “New Posts” friends list, that friend is removed from the list (until they post again!). Facebook makes this even easier by listing the friends I visit most near the top of the list, and those I visit least, or never, near the bottom. (Note: This feature is only available in the browser, not in the app, which you might consider deleting anyway).

I see fewer updates, but they are from the people I care most about. I don’t waste time visiting friends or pages that haven’t made any new posts yet (unless of course I want to post on their page). I interact with one person at a time instead of five dozen. I’m more likely to actually remember what I liked and reacted to. It ends up feeling like quality time spent, and since I feel fulfilled, I can wait a while before checking friends’ updates again. And with no News Feed, I don’t absent-mindedly scroll through Facebook to kill time – I wait until I have a block of time to sit and focus on just Facebook.

Get off News Feed autopilot by giving this a try.

Cassie May 1, 2017 at 4:35 pm

Fantastic reply!

sandybt May 1, 2017 at 5:15 pm

Wow, thanks for this tip! Works beautifully; so much junk can be bypassed this way!

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:43 am

I have actually already done this, but in a different way. For years I have been unfollowing everybody I don’t want to hear from, so my feed is fairly sparse. But even when it comes to good friends, I don’t always want to hear them rant about whatever they’re ranting about. Facebook personally has not been the biggest time waster for me; I just don’t find it very interesting. But I would still open it up out of pure muscle memory many times a day. Getting it off mobile and unfollowing people who post stuff I don’t want to see seems to be the key for me.

Heather Carroll May 1, 2017 at 10:12 am

I’m lucky that I don’t need an alarm in the morning so I tend not to look at my phone for anything other than time of day when I wake up. However my iPad is a different issue. I grew tired of FB a while back and only check it every few days to see what the family is up to. Twitter was/is a big issue for me. After the last inauguration I signed on and started following activists and journalists. After 3 months of reading during free moments, I realized my anxiety levels were higher than they have ever been before. Is it possible to get PTSD from Twitter? Long story short, I pulled the plug on Twitter last week and I’m finding I get a lot more done, I sleep better and my anxiety levels are close to approaching normal. I think the biggest step is recognizing what is in your sphere of control and concentrating on that instead of railing against the injustices that you have no power to fix. I look forward to hearing how your experiment plays out. Good luck!

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:45 am

Yeah I fell into a similar trap with Twitter after the election, thinking I had a “responsibility” to stay informed on vital issues. But whether or not that’s true, Twitter is a crap way of doing that. It’s just a zillion shallow opinions in a short span, no depth, just soundbytes and aphorisms. It’s a perfect machine for raising your anxiety without anything to show for it.

Theresa May 1, 2017 at 10:15 am

Enjoy the experiment. I hope it goes well for you. I live in that 2007-style that you mention, and even that feels like too much connectivity at times.

I know your blog is read by people all over the world, but to help those of us living close to your time zone, would it be possible to change when you publish new articles to midway through the day? As much as I love your articles (this is one of only two blogs that I subscribe to), they can be one of those first-thing-in-the-morning things just like any other.

Ashley Kung May 1, 2017 at 10:33 am

lol, the very first thing I did this morning after waking up was read this article, on my phone :)

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:48 am

I publish at about 11pm CST on Sundays, so when you receive them obviously depends on where you live. That works best for me for a number of reasons. So you will have to adjust for it on your end, maybe by not checking email till midday, or whatever makes sense for your routine. Frankly I don’t think it’s the worst thing to read first thing in the morning :)

Ashley Kung May 1, 2017 at 10:29 am

Thought of one more issue regarding Facebook that I have dealt with in the past: if you are addicted to constantly checking Facebook for likes and comments on your own stuff, then you are using Facebook as a “social approval drug.” Each visit you make promises another “hit” to fulfill your need for approval/acceptance/likes. Are you visiting Facebook more often for these “hits” than you are for actual social interaction? Then you might want to deal with your need for approval/acceptance/likes. Then you can begin to enjoy and use Facebook for the friendly interactions and interesting updates, rather than as a drug.

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:49 am

Check out the Tristan Harris interview I linked above if you haven’t already. He talks a lot about that.

Ashley Kung May 3, 2017 at 3:16 pm

I listened to both interviews yesterday, and realized I probably should have done that before leaving a redundant comment! But thank you for sharing them, I found both the article and the two interviews very useful.

Michael May 1, 2017 at 10:33 am

I’m pretty good about turning notifications off, but I’m absolutely susceptible to the casino model on Twitter, checking multiple times a day, not even just to see reactions to something I may have posted, but just to see what’s new “in the world.” I’ve got a much better system with Feedly – I only check it once or twice a day. Not from any discipline, but just out of habit. Though I think that’s because it’s an RSS feed that only points me to longer articles. Twitter is too easy to check repeatedly, due to the nature of tweets, knowing there’ll almost always be something new, and short, that I can squeeze into a few seconds (which, of course, inevitably turns into a few minutes). It really replicates the arm of that slot machine in an uncomfortably close way.

But after listening to that Tristan Harris interview with Sam Harris, and realizing how much of my daily life was spent in ways I wasn’t choosing, but that were essentially chosen for me, really forced me to double my efforts to step away from Twitter, and my phone in general. It really reminds me of your earlier post – Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed. There are so many aspects of life in which we don’t think to ask what’s not on the menu. So thanks for the reminder to do just that!

David Cain May 3, 2017 at 10:53 am

Everyone should listen to that interview. It was really what made me act on this problem in my life. Tech companies have succeeded in placing a slot-machine like device in our homes an on our person at all times to direct us towards advertising, 24-7. It’s completely insane when you think about it.

Edith May 1, 2017 at 10:48 am

I’ve never had Facebook or Twitter on my phone, and I’m the same age as David (model 82). I noticed how it took time away from other people, and how addictive it is, so I took advantage of that and I downloaded Stoic phrases apps, meditatation apps, mindly (to remind me of my goals), gratitude garden (to remind me of being grateful), habithub (to keep track of my new habits), reading apps, and the cbc radio app. I get to be bored for a while and do something productive with my phone if I want to. My weak spot now is my recent Netflix account. I knew I cannot be trusted with it, so fi I continue with the addiction, I will have to ask my hubby to change the password and don’t give it to me. But only after I finish the last season of Black Mirror ;)

David Cain May 4, 2017 at 11:50 am

Black Mirror is good for the mind, IMO. In fact there is probably no better show for showing you the dangers of unrestrained social media in society.

Bobbie May 1, 2017 at 11:18 am

Very timely post. The first thing I thought after reading this was, “I’ve got to post this on Facebook”, and I will, but only after my self imposed No-Facebook-Till-Noon Experiment makes it to noon today. I’m addicted to FB and I hate it. I’ve noticed that anything I post on FB containing substance gets few to no likes, while anything ridiculous and/or stupid gets dozens. For the most part it’s a vapid showcase of pointlessness. May I recommend a Chrome extension called Social Fixer – which helps me limit how deep into my news feed I go.

David Cain May 4, 2017 at 11:52 am

Someone should invent a chrome extension that changes every occurrence of “Facebook” into “Vapid Showcase of Pointlessness”. I would install it.

Patsy Roeder May 1, 2017 at 11:19 am

Since I have a “dumb” phone and only use facebook when sitting at our very old computer, I have not experienced the morning phone/fb thing. However, in order to join you in your quest, I’ve decided that I will only get online with fb once in the morning and once in the evening (after dinner). This, alone, will be a change and probably not easy to do. I like to keep input to my fb page decent because I am old fashioned in that respect. So, I spend some time every so often unfollowing people who cross my personal line. Other than that, I found that fb is the only one of many programs that I choose to use. Good luck, David.

David Cain May 5, 2017 at 5:04 pm

Great, let me know how it goes.

Valdast May 1, 2017 at 11:33 am

I totally agree with you on the slot-machine-like thing.
A couple of years ago I had also noticed that I was using Facebook and the like in a mindless way and this was taking up a lot of time (that I could have dedicated to other, more important activities).
I thus decided to limit my time spent on it (and I still do) to just 4 times a day, after each one of my meals.
What I’ve noticed, though, is that my habits morphed into something different: since I wasn’t loggin on facebook every two seconds anymore, I started to frantically check my emails, looking for something new to pop up and grab my attention.
I’ve personally gone a long away compared to what I used to do in the past, but your article has been a sort of reminder that there’s still a lot of work to do to free myself from the “internet manacles”.

David Cain May 5, 2017 at 5:05 pm

I’ve noticed a similar kind of “attention vacuum” — it’s obvious that I’m used to these little slot-machine prizes throughout the day and I find myself seeking them, opening my phone only to discover that there’s nothing to do.

Duncan May 1, 2017 at 11:39 am

I’ve had this FB newsfeed eradicator active for the past 6 or so months:
https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/news-feed-eradicator-for/fjcldmjmjhkklehbacihaiopjklihlgg
(there are safari, firefox etc versions too)

It allows me to message friends / receive event invites (the only things I find of value on FB), yet there are zero other distractions to keep me on the site. Highly recommended.

As far as my phone goes, I have data turned off 95% of the time. Greater battery retention, and no notifications unless I explicitly connect to wifi.

It’s very peaceful here in the morning :)

Michael Baker May 1, 2017 at 12:06 pm

This is just one of the reasons why I’ve never owned a cell/smartphone. I have enough trouble snapping myself out of electronic hypnosis here at my desktop.

kim domingue May 1, 2017 at 12:32 pm

Well, I don’t have and have never had a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account. I have a cellphone that can receive and send calls and texts but have resisted getting a smartphone since my dumb phone does everything I require a phone to do. It keeps me in touch and available to the important people in my life. My​ husband has a Facebook account that he uses primarily to keep up with distant family and friends. He tends to be a bit more social than I am. But he doesn’t have a smartphone either and so must use the desktop computer. As he works at a computer all day long, the last thing he wants to do is sit at one all evening when he’s home, lol! I watch my daughter use her phone to check her Facebook account. The majority of it is random bits of nonsense…. pictures of what someone ate, an update on their cat, political rants, pictures of their vacation or their toenail fungus, snapshots of the shoes they’re thinking of buying, a quote, a joke. I don’t understand why people think that this is worth spending large chunks of time on. And, from what I’ve seen, Twitter is even more idiotic. I spend a good bit of time in the evening reading blogs, such​ as this one, that pertain to a subject that I’m interested in but that’s about the extent of my tablet use. I don’t care to watch a video or tedtalks or listen to podcasts, I’d prefer to read the information. YouTube is useful if I need to SEE how a thing is done and to listen to a particular song. Other than that, I don’t use YouTube either. I guess what it comes down to is that I’d rather be spending my time doing things myself than spending my time with a phone in my hand looking at other people doing stuff.

Eric Goebelbecker May 1, 2017 at 1:31 pm

My Facebook account has been “deactivated” for about a month now. I’m still deciding if I want to use it again or not. For now, all or nothing seems to work best for me.

I only heard the T. Harris interview with S. Harris last week, and while I was already aware of what app designers do, it was still very revealing to hear it spelled out so clearly.

Twitter happens to be the best way to get updates on transit, so I need it on my phone, at least for now.

And no, ketchup does not belong on hot dogs.

Michiel May 1, 2017 at 2:30 pm

I’ve noticed that in the morning as well. I would loose a lot of time starring at my phone so I try not to do so. I’m know I’m an person vulnerable to addiction and when I notice it I try to stop it (goes for smoking, drugs and alcohol) I also notice that I use my phone a lot during ‘death’ times, waiting for a bus, being on the bus or toilet etcetera so I try to stop myself from doing so. Recently I’ve noticed that apps give a lot of useless notifications I try to ignore them. Sometimes it’s hard to do but I think being aware of it is step one. Very often I try to leave the house without my phone (when possible with work and stuff) the next step my be remove most apps. Sometimes I won’t to buy an old-school cell but a smartphone does have it’s benefits especially when you travel a lot, like the me.
The way I see it is the more useless notifications, warnings and apps they ‘ll invent the more likely I will stop using it.

Ruth May 1, 2017 at 3:37 pm

Many people view Apple as some kind of Benevolent Entity, but it is a corporation. Like Google, Twitter and FB, etc. are corporations.

Thanks for this idea, David. I love the idea of going back to 2007!
I’m going to make a list of what I will do instead if I get the urge to be entertained by one of the time-wasters.

Abhijeet Kumar May 1, 2017 at 4:11 pm

Before 2012 — I was hooked like a fish, being carried away everywhere and my mind being torn to pieces.

2012-2015 — I knew something was not right about spending so much time on the internet without learning, achieving, or improving anything.

2015 onwards — I don’t use Facebook. Only may be if some old friend or a family member wants me to look at it. It feels like how fast food chains feel like a lot of people. Not healthy, and why do it?

David May 1, 2017 at 8:44 pm

Well I’m all moved in but have no Internet till Wednesday, which is a good way to begin this experiment. Tomorrow I’ll go to a coffee shop and answer the comments. Thanks everyone.

Johan May 2, 2017 at 9:35 am

I’ve been fortunate to never have the urge to open social media accounts. However, I still noticed I was spending time on useless apps even though I didn’t have a need for them. I’ve since taken the “zeromalist” approach (http://verekia.com/zeromalist/#phone) and removed all notifications, keep only a handful of apps, and have a clean home screen with one or two apps.

I still spend too much time on my desktop though! I try to keep it to reading blogs like this, doing something useful like budgeting or looking up song tabs when I’m practicing music. I still, however, fall prey to the black hole of the internet from time to time.

Helen May 2, 2017 at 11:53 am

The life-changing magic of getting up without the internet (like we used to do.)
Thank you, David, for yet again making important points so powerfully.

Tom May 3, 2017 at 6:22 am

Using the Internet “2007-style” is something I’ve been trying to implement gradually over the last couple of years.

I deleted Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media accounts at the start of 2015, and haven’t missed them. Reddit was slightly more difficult – I now have it permanently blocked on my laptop, but occasionally check some of the subreddits that interest me when I’m at the library.

I have an iPhone, but I use the “Restrictions” feature to keep it simple. I’ve disabled the web browser, podcasts, the news app, as well as the app store, and my girlfriend is the only one who knows the passcode. The only apps I have installed are weather, dictionary, a meditation timer, and WhatsApp. If I want to make any changes to the set-up, I have to ask permission! It’s hard for me to waste too much time on my phone because I have nothing particularly interesting on it. I find it useful to have access to maps, a better quality camera, and the other apps I mentioned; otherwise I would be quite happy with a feature phone.

On my laptop I have Cold Turkey installed and set up on a schedule, which restricts my interest use in the following ways:
– Except for a 30-minute window between 8:15 and 8:45 am, no access to the internet whatsoever until 12noon.
– “Distractions” blocked until 6pm (pretty much anything that could be considered “entertainment” or “news”)
– No restrictions (except Reddit!) between 6pm and 9pm
– “Distractions” blocked between 9pm and 10pm
– Web browsers disabled again until 8:15am

For some people that might be a bit extreme, but even this feels too lenient at times. I have it set up in this way to help me make the best decisions when I’m lacking self-control – when I’m tired or having a bad day. That’s when I’m more likely to have the impulse to do something online – usually to distract myself from how I’m feeling. It’s taken quite a bit of experimentation to find the system that works for me. I was getting uncomfortable with the, as you say, all-day or everyday nature of my relationship with the internet. Ultimately I’d like to get to the point where I only go on once a day, for no more than, say, an hour.

Lately I’ve been repeating to myself something Seneca wrote: “To be everywhere is to be nowhere”.

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