I took social media off my phone for 30 days and this is what happened.
August 31 2019
5 minute read
I blankly stare at my screen, not knowing what to do. This device which I have had toxic relationship with now does not seem to take shape of a friend, foe or lover. It's just a collection of electronic parts. Why did I allow this piece of equipment to have an abusive relationship with me.
The allure of connectedness seems to have faded from this device. Honestly it's day 3, when writing this, and I wish this was 100% true. This clarity is something I only get a glimmer of from time to time while being present. It's like looking at a window and being fixated on my reflection, then allowing my eyes to adjust, just a little, to take in the beauty that lies beyond the window. The month of August 2019 I pushed myself to gaze past my reflection and take all social media apps off my phone.
How I got here.
I am addicted to my phone, and most likely so are you. I am often lost off in the webs of the internet somewhere while on my phone. There are giant tech companies that have access to buzz, ring, and notify a device that we hold close to our heart. Sometimes this is a good thing, but more often then not I find that I am not happy with the way I end up using my phone.
I will often get stuck on these social media apps. I open these apps up with an intention. "I need to message Janet" or "I want to see that picture I posted earlier", but often I end up mindlessly scrolling through my feed. Almost instantly too. Its like you open the app and its setup to keep you there. The random rewards of likes and messages keep me coming back to these applications. After all the A/B tests these companies run have figured out how to exploit the human attention to their advantage.
I read the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport and it lit a fire under me. Not to stop using these social media apps. I think there is usefulness to these applications. I just wanted to change my mindset towards these apps. I want these apps to be a tool that I can pull levers and get value out of them. Wether that value is human connection or even monetary. I would like these apps to serve me.
I can get all the value I need out of these apps without them being on my phone. Removing the ability for these companies to follow me around during the day. I already had experimented with removing these apps before. I'll remove Instagram, then install the web app, then reinstall the app again. All within a course of a week. I decided that I am going to try and form a habit, or put into better terms, try to get rid of a bad habit. I have been pretty good at devoting myself to do monthly challenges. Completing two monthly challenges this year already. Vegan for a month, and minimal waste for a month. This one would be tougher for me due to the nature of my profession as a software engineer. Which forces me to be more connected, and often testing applications that live on my phone.
The parameters of experiment are as follows.
- Remove, or disable social media apps on my phone.
- Allow for usage of social media on desktop but also try to keep that to a minimum. This is to avoid the need to reinstall these apps to respond to a message.
The following apps where removed from my phone during this experiment.
What did not go so well.
I would like to pretend that everything was perfect. As if the thought of reinstalling these apps never pass through my mind. I never did reinstall any of the apps but there is a few things that did not go as planned.
I quickly found out that my browser is a portal to the world I was trying to avoid with this experiment. I essentially would get an email from Twitter and click through not even thinking about it. Suddenly, I was starring at the beast of social media right in the eyes. This would happen from time to time and I just made sure leave quickly, and close the tab on my browser. Was there times I ended up staying longer then a I wanted? Of course I did. Making sure to close the tab was key too. I had to go into the browser for a few things throughout the day and it was best not to have the social media app open in my view while going into the browser.
Another thing that I had to deal with is my obsession with YouTube. Funnily enough, on my Android phone I can not uninstall the app. I did disable the application, but this has been, to me, the hardest part of this whole experiment. YouTube is one of those app that you can find meaning in right away. Want to cook a certain dish? There a video for that. Need to fix an appliance? There is a video for that too. Youtube has a wealth of knowledge, and it is hard to quarantine the app. During . the beginning of my experiment I give myself a hard time when ending up on Youtubes site, but after a while I let it go and that was for the better. Essentially I would set some time towards the end of the day for entertainment and stuck to it.
Overall I think I achieved what I was hoping for with this experiment and the benefits I received far out-weighted any negatives.
My feelings, and findings.
Typing this at the end of the 30 days its feels like I have not had these apps forever and, to be honest, I am debating if I am going to install them back on my phone. My relationship with my phone has totally changed.
I would consider 90% of the time on my phone is now "time well spent". I find that I am not mindlessly scrolling through feeds anymore. The extra time that I got from not doing this has been amazing. I have read more this month then prior months. I have started writing more often. I am hanging out with friends more often. I am stronger then ever in my meditation practice. There is so many wonderful things that has happened this past month to me. Can I say its all because I took these app off my phone? No of course not, but I do think all the extra interactions I have had, due to not having these apps, are a catalyst for all these things happening.
I did have a few people that said that they missed me on social media. This is what I expected, and these were people that I interacted with outside social media anyways. One most notably with my mother. She had came to visit me for a couple of days. I told her about the experiment and she exclaimed that she loved to see what I was up to all the time on social media. That being said she said she now was more compelled to call me to chat on the phone to catch up. I agreed with her that a phone call was much better then the other interactions we had on social media.
I think in this next month I am going to continue the experiment, or life without social media apps. Maybe I'll download one sometime in the future. I think this experiment makes me think that time boxing your social media usage is a great way to cope with the attention consumption of these apps. I would encourage anyone reading this to try this experiment out. It can be tough at first but over time you may wonder if you needed social media app in the first place.