Six months ago, I deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts. Beyond data privacy concerns, social media became a virtual band-aid applied to moments of weakness and sadness for me. I became more aware of the effects of social media on my mood and general outlook on the world, as I explained in my decision to delete my accounts. Six months now passed since I deleted my accounts. Along the way, I learned a few lessons on creating a healthy diet of media and pop culture consumption in a world of constant connectivity and endless memes.
This article explains changes I made to how I use social media and my smart phone since deleting my accounts. Hopefully you find these tips useful too.
1. Social media on-the-go is a no
Today’s world is full of content. Videos, friend requests, likes, comments, memes, notifications. We are always connected and online. An endless amount of media, pop culture, and content is at our fingertips. Sometimes this is helpful and convenient, like a quick message to a friend.
But a constant connection can be a drug too. When a convenient escape from a moment always exists in your pocket, this encourages a default reaction of opening the phone and scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or anything that offers a momentary distraction or something “more interesting” than whatever we are currently doing. Ultimately, we turn to social media on our smartphones for a short blast of dopamine.
Remove the “convenience” factor
I took two steps to break this habit. First, acknowledge there are negative effects to social media usage. I also had to acknowledge that self-discipline and self-moderation is hard. I knew the negative effects of social media usage, but despite knowing this, it was still hard to avoid. So, the second step is to make the self-discipline easier: drop the apps from your phone.
When I deleted Facebook and eventually Instagram apps from my phone, they were no longer convenient. To check either one, I had to use a mobile web app or a computer. The mobile web apps were tedious and slow, and a computer was not always accessible. When the “convenience” factor was gone, it became easier to disconnect from the online world because it simply wasn’t there.
Anything that required me to use social media could wait until it was convenient – usually when I am sitting down at a computer.
Soup is on, phone is off
I also took steps to increase my awareness of my usage. If having a dinner with friends or colleagues, I turned my phone off before entering the restaurant or meeting the group. My phone is off at the moments I turn to it at the dinner table. Powering it back on is inconvenient. Whatever distraction I was looking for would have to wait five minutes for the phone to boot.
“Right, it’s off for a reason,” I would think as I slipped the phone back into my pocket.
2. Data-driven observations: Scientific method for phones
After deleting my social media accounts, I wanted to understand: how often do I use my phone? What applications steal most of my attention? How much is too much? I decided to take a scientific approach and run an experiment.
I took a quantitative approach. I measured my usage by application to understand how much time I spent on different apps. I discovered QualityTime, an application that met my requirements. QualityTime measures your total daily screen usage, how much time you use on all applications, and how many times you unlock your phone screen in a day. [Note: Since this article was written, both iOS and Android introduced phone usage metrics. No app is required for this anymore, but QualityTime still offers some useful features.]
After installing QualityTime, I used the default quota of two and a half hours a day as the suggested maximum daily use. I was surprised I came close to or past 2.5 hours every day. Now, I see what applications take most of my time. Then, I make adjustments based on the feedback I see. I started to think things like…
Is this application worth the two hours a day? What am I getting out of this?
I need to cut back here, over four hours is way too much.
Now, I had data to inform my lifestyle changes or alert me when I need to make changes. When I saw my daily usage by the numbers, I better understood my own habits. It increased my awareness into how I use my phone and manage my digital life.
And often, awareness is the best foundation for making incremental changes to our life and how we manage our time.
3. What you see is what you find
What and who do you allow in your social media life? Your “feed”, for any application or app, is powerful. Your feed is a daily dose of perspective and thoughts delivered directly to your phone. What you see in social media is what you will find reflected back in the world around you.
In my case, I still use Twitter as my primary social media presence. Since deleting my Facebook and Instagram, I also become more aware of my Twitter timeline. I never followed many people by some standards – 200 people or so. First, I realized I missed content from half of those people because of how Twitter tailors what I see. Second, I become more aware of the actual content from the people I followed.
Change configuration settings of your mood
Since the November 2016 elections, social media is a “black box”. You will find many different things. You find empowering optimism, cynical pessimism, and some things between the two. As I found out, content on my timeline has a tangible, noticeable effect on my daily perspective. If someone I follow launches a cynical Twitter thread about a current event, that cynicism translates into my own view.
We cannot pretend that what we read on the screen has no effect on our real lives.
Less is more
So, I became a “jerk”. I reduced who I followed on Twitter to about 50 people. Then I sought out people from various aspects of my life—technology, spirituality, friends and family—that have a positive impact to my daily outlook. I put a filter on what I filter in my feed: I looked for inspirational wisdom, people who would motivate me to enlightened action. I turned away from anger, angst, hate, and cynicism.
However, there is a balance between naïvety and cynicism. We can choose optimism without being naïve. Additionally, we can choose skepticism without being cynical. The point is not to drown out reality or hide away in a bubble. We must be realistic about what is happening in the world and stay hopeful. To stay motivated. To not wake up, read through your feed, and curl back depressed into bed.
My best advice is be conscious of what you filter in your social media feed. Your feed is close and personal. It is powerful. And what you see digitally is often what you find reflected back at you in non-digital life.
Considering Facebook deletion?
Considering to cut the plug? Check out this excellent article from Recode about how to responsibly cut down on Facebook. Even if full deletion is not what you are after, it suggests helpful tips on spending less time there.
These lessons are fundamental to me and changed how I manage my digital life. Beyond the digital world, I notice the beginnings of change. I am more present in the things I do and spend my time with. Now, when I go out with friends and family, I appreciate the time spent with them without a hole burning in my pocket.
I hope these lessons are also helpful to you too. Additionally, if you have any other tips or comments for others, please drop a comment below!
Featured image arranged by Justin W. Flory.