The start of a new year is a time many of us use to take stock – of our goals, our habits, the ways in which we spend our time. For me, one significant change has been adopting a more sane approach to social media, and apps in general.
I’m a huge fan of technology, of course, but I also fully acknowledge that tech also has its downsides – and social media in particular has been a very mixed blessing …
In my case, the primary offender was Facebook – and yeah, I know that makes me officially old, thanks. Maybe for you it’s X, Instagram, TikTok, or something else, so convert my references as appropriate.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
For me, Facebook is great for two things.
First, keeping up with friends in other countries. Prior to Facebook, we’d likely have exchanged emails for a while and then gradually lost touch. With Facebook, I can continue to share in their lives, and vice-versa.
Second, I’m more involved in the lives of friends and family members generally. There are those I see often, and other less frequently – but Facebook makes it easy to keep up to date with what they are up to.
For me, the biggest problem with Facebook is how easy it is to get sucked in to more and more content. We start by following real friends, then acquaintances, then someone we met at an event …
Then we add Pages and Groups into the mix. Each individual one doesn’t add much to our feed, but it can easily reach the point where it’s more than half our content. Plus suggested and sponsored posts are completely out of hand; if I had the option of subscribing to an ad-free version, I’d gladly take it (thanks, Brexit).
For me, the worst thing about Facebook is its attempt to turn itself into TikTok. You watch one video, and the app puts you into a separate infinitely-scrolling video section.
Each social network has its own pros & cons
The lists of pros and cons likely looks different to you, depending on your most-used social network. I’m a reluctant X user, as you kind of have to use it when you work in tech. But I do restrict my usage to work.
I did have to change one aspect of my behavior. Just as I read the comments on my pieces, and do my best to reply, I used to make a similar effort on X. However, X seems filled with people who reply to headlines without reading the piece; who make objectively idiotic comments; or, worst of all, get into a stupid spat with someone else and fill up my Mentions with their feud. I finally had to take a ‘Life’s too short’ attitude to all these, and simply block or mute the offenders.
I took a broader look at other apps
I took a look at my usage of other apps, and realized that one in particular was a big time-suck: YouTube.
I’m a big fan of the platform, and actually retained my YouTube Premium subscription when I ditched Netflix, as I was watching plenty of content on the former while I hadn’t watched the latter for many months.
But I realised that there were times when I got sucked into watching more content than was ultimately satisfying, or felt like a good use of time.
Here’s what I’ve changed
First, I’ve unfollowed a lot of people and groups on Facebook, so that my feed is much shorter.
Second, I religiously zap all suggested and sponsored Facebook posts, using the X button. Interestingly, that results in almost none showing up for about a week at a time, so a once-a-week bit of quick housekeeping gives me a clean feed, making it shorter still.
Third, I’m much more deliberate in my YouTube viewing. I’ve almost entirely stopped clicking on Shorts (those things that look vaguely interesting and will only take 30 seconds to watch, but whose time can add up rapidly). I’m much more selective about longer videos, and exit the app after a much shorter stay.
One tactic I’ve found works well with video content generally: Add it to my Watchlist, and then see whether I actually still want to watch it the next day. Mostly, I don’t. In this way, it works much like the classic dieting advice: Don’t deny yourself anything, but wait 20 minutes and see whether you still want it.
The result has been a significant reduction in my leisure screen time, and I feel like I’m using my time in more satisfying ways.
What about you?
Have you made any changes to the way you use social media, or apps in general? Is it something you plan to do? Please share your own thoughts and experiences in the comments.
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