I think it’s common knowledge now that the same techniques that make slot machines addictive have been used to maintain engagement on social media. It seems most people are aware of this and still they shrug and keep using. Maybe we all think we’re smarter than the platform.
Here’s how I got Facebook out of my habit cycle: I unfollowed everything.
Remember, unfollowing is not unfriending. (Although, I wouldn’t put it past Facebook to change this in the future if more people reduce engagement by unfollowing.)
Other users won’t know that you unfollowed them. It only means that Facebook won’t automatically serve up their posts as part of your feed. You can still check on people when you choose. This is important. If you unfollow everything, and ruthlessly limit what appears in your feed to only information that makes you happy, you’ll find social media becomes a lot less addictive.
Step One: Acknowledge you want to use Facebook less.
Step Two: Unfollow everyone. Even your friends and family.
One of the most addictive qualities of facebook that user barely recognize is the endless scroll, and the mindstate we enter when interacting with the site. According to Cal Newport, if we aren’t intentional when we take in any media, we’re opening our minds up to emotions we didn’t want or intend to feel. These constant spikes of emotion are addictive.
By unfollowing even your family, you get to control when you see their updates, when you invite emotion into your life. You break the cycle of emotional response that Facebook uses to keep you engaged. Make a list of bookmarks of family, friends and groups you want to check on (I’ve found having a list helps me remember how long its been since I checked in) and use that as your friends list.
Only allow content that makes you happy and doesn’t trigger an emotional response. I follow SF art pages and groups, that’s content that I like to share, and I can usually stop looking at it whenever I want. If a group starts posting content with troll responses or arguments, I unfollow them.
Step Three: Use Social Fixer
Once you get your follows trimmed, add Social Fixer to your browser. This is a plugin for Chrome or Firefox that allows you to hide parts of Facebook you don’t want to see, turn off friend notifications and end the endless scroll. Once you hit the end of updated content, Social Fixer will give you a notice and it’s time to close facebook. Social Fixer is run by one guy and its definitely worthy of donation.
The one thing Social Fixer does add that I turned off is friend list change notifications. For some reason, when someone does unfriend me rather than unfollow, I get a little jolt of negative emotion. I don’t want that, especially since I can’t control what people do and if it mattered they would probably talk to me about it. Social Fixer turns this on by default, so you need to go into its settings and disable it.
Step Four: Remove all notifications from your phone
Since I do have facebook on my phone — it makes it easier to upload content when I do want to do it — I disable all notifications, and I don’t look at facebook on my phone except to upload. I take it off my home screen as well. Facebook will sometimes find ways to reactivate notifications, so I turn them off when they pop up.
I also turn off all notifications for Messenger and only check it when I want to. Never allow messenger to scan your contacts list, and take it off your home screen.
Step Five: Put social apps in a folder
If you do want Messenger and Facebook to be accessible on the home screen, I put them in a folder with other social media apps so I can’t see their icons. If the app still appears in the folder’s icon, you can rearrange them so another less obnoxious app is visible.
In doing all this, I guess it could be argued that I am not the target market for social media. I have never really enjoyed being social online. I’m more of a passive consumer of content and always looking for interesting things… which is why I’ve learned to limit the constant flow of emotion inducing things passing in front of my eyeballs.
Step Six: Read articles on your terms
Comments are the worst for me, and I immediately want to respond. I constantly fight the impulse to scan an article and then jump to its comments so I can read if people disagree with me or not. To fight this, I’ve started saving articles to Pocket and them reading them later on an e-reader like my Elipsa. The comments aren’t loaded with the article, and I can focus on the text without other distractions.
Pocket also makes it easy to save links for later reading so I don’t follow the urge to click away from what I’m reading and skim yet another article.
Step Seven: Be intentional
The goal is to be use social media when you want to, and not simply surrender your free time and headspace to whatever it wants to serve up. When you go to Facebook with a purpose, like to check on a certain group or friend, it’s a lot easier to accomplish that goal and get out.
If you open the Facebook app on your phone out of habit, or find yourself typing in facebook.com in a browser bar out of muscle memory, something is wrong. Your headspace and mental well-being are too precious to just open them up to whatever Facebook wants to feed you to maintain your engagement on their platform.
You could be using that time to listen to the Beastie Boys.