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Experiment Log No. 24 — Making social media immobile again

In this experiment I eliminate social media from my morning routine, and my phone. Will I wrest Mark Zuckerberg’s silicon grip from my brain, or will I act out his wishes without realizing it?

For the month of May, 2017, I will limit my social media use in the following ways:

The Terms

No online anything until 9:00 am. Gmail and its notifications are blocked until 9:00am (using AppBlock), and everything else I normally use upon waking has been deleted. Not that it’s a habit, but I reserve the right to use Pocket before 9:00, an app that saves articles for offline reading.

To use Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, I need to log in at my desk computer. I’ve eliminated Facebook, Twitter and Reddit from my phone. I don’t use SnapChat or Slack any of the other ones. The only one I’m keeping is Instagram, which doesn’t seem to have any of the negative effects on my that the others do (I only spend about ten seconds at a time on it, and nothing there agitates me noticeably.)

That’s it. The purpose is to a) break the habit of checking my email and social media accounts first thing in the morning, and b) to tie my social media use to a single location — my desk.

The Log

Day 3 – May 3, 2017

Well I moved on the 1st, and just got my Wifi hooked up an hour ago. Having no internet is difficult for a blogger, but being away from mobile social media has not been difficult at all. So far it really feels like I’ve dropped a pretty significant weight on my time and my mind.

I am finding I keep taking out my phone without planning to, only to find there’s nothing to look at but Instagram, which holds my attention for all of 40 seconds. I have been making good use of Pocket, an app that stores articles offline to read later. I’ve read quite a few articles in the past few days, which is great for times when I really do have a few minute to spare. I don’t interrupt myself to read them the way I interrupted myself to check Twitter.

It’s too early to make any conclusions but so far it has only made my life easier.

***

Day 6 – May 6, 2017

Full steam ahead! Still feeling great. I am already starting to see my phone as a less interesting object, rather than the portal of pleasures it has been. I still notice myself absently swiping through it now and then, but I am doing it less and obviously spending much less time at it whenever I do.

When I do log on to Twitter and Facebook, I’m not just quickly bored by it but I feel kind of repulsed. It just feels kind of gross, like going to a frat party after you’ve quit drinking. The inanity of the the kind of conversation that happens in those places is more obvious than it was before — impotent political rants, self-indulgent “what I’m up to” reports, ostensibly important news that won’t change anyone’s mind or behavior, snark and sarcasm, self-affirmations and so on.

Not all of it is like that of course, but the bulk of it is very obviously pointless except for its entertainment value to the person posting it. These feeds really mostly seem like the mental waste products of a bunch of bored people. That may be overstating it a bit, but not by much.

It’s strange that I didn’t really notice this until I stepped away from it, and that I didn’t need to be away from it for long to see it this way.

Anyway, the bottom line is that life is better and I have a lot more time.

***

Day 9 – May 9, 2017

Not much new to report. When I log on to Twitter or Facebook or Reddit I am quickly bored by it, and vaguely repulsed. This happens often with my experiments — I step away from something that I have been doing too much of, and then become a little (or a lot) judgmental of the whole enterprise. So I’m wary of becoming sucked into anti-social media zealotry. But after taking even a little time away from these platforms, whenever I check in I can’t help but see them as repositories for stray feelings, and energy that we don’t want to spend on anything consequential. They seem like places to go when you’re bored, or when you’re actively avoiding the thing you know you should be doing. I know a lot of this feeling is pure projection — I certainly used these platforms that way.

I have also discovered that I can fulfill some of my bloggerly social media duties without actually opening Twitter — I’ve been sharing interesting articles by using the “Share on Twitter” function in Pocket. Lots of apps have this one-way feature, so that you can engage with other users without getting sucked in. Later in the day I check twitter and there are responses to what I’ve sent out in this way.

There has been one interesting development since last update: Facebook has noticed my absence. When I logged in, I was surprised to find a half dozen notifications, which surprised me because I haven’t been posting anything. But they were a new kind of notification, total make-work stuff like “Check out your friend John’s comment on his photo,” as though someone I know commenting on something is some sort of interesting development I should be notified about. When I checked, I found they were just random comments, nothing to do with me.

And of course Facebook has thought of this — anybody taking a week or two off Facebook won’t have any notifications waiting for them, because they’re not posting anything that might be responded to. Since these little “cookies” are a major driving force keeping people using these services, they want to make sure there is something to find when you check. So if their algorithm senses that you’ve become jaded on the service, they make up this crap to give you some kind of dopamine hit when you return, otherwise you’d have little reason.

***

Day 12 – May 12, 2017

At this point I’m finding myself forgetting that Twitter, Facebook exist, and then remembering. They don’t have a steady presence in my mind like they used to, even as I sit at my desk working as a blogger. Maybe once a day I check in to each one, but never spend much time.

Today, I realized I completely forgot about Reddit. I checked in today because I had a few minutes and didn’t want to pick up a book. And it really wasn’t very exciting, which is a little surprising, because only two or three weeks ago I was spending a good 30-60 minutes a day on it. I found it addictive and gratifying, and it was easy to keep hopping from thread to thread, even when I should have been doing something else.

I feel really over it though. I’ve spent so much time on Reddit that it seems like I’ve seen all the same threads before. And really, I have — the askreddit threads are usually questions I’ve seen before, and when they’re not, they’re essentially the same kind of question I’ve seen many times. Even each specific-topic subreddit is just a list of iterations of the same ideas or questions. It’s clear that most of us go there not because it adds much to our lives, but because we’re bored, or avoiding something. Anyway, the whole thing just seemed old. Rather than seeing individual threads with interesting ideas, I’m just seeing a single, familiar spread of used-up forms of internet entertainment — memes, references, pith, snark, puns — and it’s easy to pass on the whole thing. I’m seeing the trees for the forest, so to speak, and just like Twitter and Facebook, it doesn’t hold my attention anymore.

What’s interesting is that this fatigue was not really gradual. Just a few weeks ago, each of these sites was compelling enough to keep me opening them and engaging with them; why else did I feel a need to do this experiment? So that must mean that we can believe we actually like something and find something compelling simply because we’re still in a pattern of using it, but really we’re just carrying out the momentum of a habitual behavior.

***

Day 17  – May 17, 2017

Not much to report. I am happily living with social media off to the side.

Today I removed the quick-launch Facebook and Twitter icons from my browser bar, because I had launched them a few times just out of muscle memory. I have almost no desire to check them, but the conditioning runs deep and there were moments when I found myself looking at Facebook or Twitter.

Of the two, I thought I was more uncomfortable with Facebook, but Twitter is the platform that I find most objectionable when I do open it. The format does not lend itself to careful thinking or complete explanations. Nobody can post a complete thought, aside from clever-sounding aphorisms. It’s like a torrent of disjointed thought and superficial impressions. It’s just an infinite Rolodex of reactions to similarly shallow bits of information. It’s an almost perfect illustration of the problems the information age creates for the human mind.

***

Day 24 – May 24, 2017

This will be my last report before the end of the experiment — Friday I’m going on a meditation retreat and will have no access to the internet at all until what would be Day 33.

It’s been a breeze, and it’s been very rewarding. I have more time and space in my day, I don’t get needlessly agitated about issues I don’t plan to do anything about, and I am reading a lot more interesting long-form articles on all sorts of topics. I encourage all of you to do it.

I’m now exploring different ways to post to Twitter and Facebook without even logging on. I do want to share and discuss interesting reads, and of course my own stuff, on these platforms, but I don’t necessarily need to scroll through my feed each time I do — which is exactly what social media designers want you to do. I use the excellent Pocket app to recommend articles and share them to Twitter and sometimes Facebook. That focuses the discussions I have when I do check my replies to things I actually want to talk about.

Aside from that there’s little to report — I have seen the emperor’s new clothes. There was never much behind the time-sinking behavior other than a well-engineered reward cycle, and it was easy to break because there was so little real value being delivered. It’s a good way to stabilize the wandering mind when you’re not sure what to do next, and I think that’s most of what it provides to people.

I do still check once or twice a day, but never stay long. It feels like a dubious place to be — many temptations but few rewards. Scrolling through my feeds now feels something like standing in front of an open fridge and realizing that you’re there because you’re bored, rather than hungry.

***

Day 38 – June 7, 2017

The experiment is over and I’ve learned a lot. I’ll posting a full recap for the next Raptitude post.

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