My detox

Why didn't I try this before?

My theme for 2021 is Experimentation. As with every good theme, it’s vague on purpose, and it works as a compass to orient myself during the year rather than as a strict rule.

Last week I happened to make a drastic choice that falls under the umbrella of this theme. I finally decided to start an experiment I never had the will (or the strength) to attempt: I quit social media.

It’s not the first time it comes up

I remember there was a lot of talk about digital detox around two or three years ago. Many creators were announcing their attempts to the world, and Google and Apple were announcing tools to help their beloved users spend less time on their smartphones. Did someone say conflict of interest?

The topic came back into the discussion in 2020, thanks to The Social Dilemma on Netflix. That was perhaps the first time I felt pushed to stop and reflect on my use of smartphones and social media and fix the situation. I also wrote an article about it.

However, from what I remember, I never felt the need for a sharp cut. I don’t know exactly why. Maybe I thought everything was under control, maybe it didn’t seem doable, or maybe I had some FOMO.

The only social network I had consciously abandoned was Facebook, but more because it seemed a useless pile of garbage to me, not as a way to fight addiction.

What has changed

Lately, however, I realized the situation was not sustainable anymore (or maybe it never was). Between Twitter, Instagram, Twitch, and YouTube, I was wasting time and attention every day.

The clear and visible problem was that, at the end of each day, I had amassed a certain number of hours spent on social media that I could’ve spent better.

The less clear and less visible problem, but no less important, was that those weren’t the only wasted hours. If I’m focused on my work and decide to check Instagram for 20 seconds, I won’t lose only 20 seconds, but also a big chunk of my focus. When I get back to work, I will need to spend time and energy to go back to that same level of concentration.

But worse, social media don’t even work for what we think we’re using them for, i.e., recreation tools. When I say that those hours would be better spent doing something else, I don’t necessarily mean in a more “productive” way. You can’t abolish all recreation in favor of work, even though some crazy lunatics suggest something along these lines. Recreation is vital. The issue is that social media suck as recreation tools because they almost never provide true entertainment and relaxation. We want to be on social media even though they don’t give us true enjoyment. For the biochemistry in our brain, “wanting” and “liking” aren’t the same thing.

If you want to truly enjoy yourself, it’s better to spend one hour walking, playing a videogame, or reading a book rather than scrolling stories on Instagram.

What I did

During the last few weeks, I asked myself, more than once, if it was time to start a detox more drastic than my previous shy attempts (some here).

The last straw was one Sunday evening while I was in bed, ready to end the week. I don’t remember what happened (maybe I regretted wasting too much time), but I made up my mind and programmed the experiment for the following day.

Monday morning, I uninstalled Twitter, Instagram, Twitch, and YouTube and blocked the corresponding websites. I also started a note to collect relevant thoughts as I try to do with all experiments I run.

These are my notes from the first day:

  • Uninstalled everything. I only left Twitch on my iPad because there’s one programmed stream I want to watch.
  • I’ve already tried to open Instagram, but it’s not there.
  • I feel that visceral need that I was talking about in the post about social media.
  • I ask myself how to pass the time, which is good given that social media aren’t a sane way to do it.
  • Feeling a bit of FOMO.
  • End of day 1: no real issue, if not that I have nothing to use as a filler. But I see this as a positive result.

(I uninstalled Twitch after watching that stream.)

After these notes from day 1, there’s a hole until day 5, where I stumble upon the note and remember it exists. The only thing I write is “all is well.”

I’m now in my second week, so it’s still early. I haven’t had significant issues, apart from instinctively trying to open Instagram or Twitter when I unlock my smartphone.

Looking at how this first period is going, I’m left wondering what was stopping me before. Maybe I was only blinded by the addiction?

I don’t remember them, but I’m sure I invented loads of reasons why I just couldn’t ditch these attention-sucking holes. In practice, nothing bad has happened. The world keeps spinning, the universe keeps making no sense, and my existence proceeds.

I’m sure I missed some interesting pieces of content. Maybe I’ll reintroduce drops of social media under certain conditions. Maybe once per day or per week? Twitter and Instagram will need to stay hyper-limited, given that they’re the most dangerous ones, being enablers for the “20-seconds compulsion.”

Anyway, we’ll see. In the meantime, all is well.

Perhaps it becomes more challenging with time?

But wasn’t breaking an addiction supposed to be more difficult at the start?