@lightpohl

Reducing Input

October 1st, 2020

Hey all—

I've been thinking a lot about technology and social media usage lately, and it's affect on my mental health and habits. Mostly negative. I get into some of that down below, but there's a lot of prior work that's really great that I'll list here first if you're interested:

I've spent an incredible amount of time curating who I follow on Twitter trying to find the perfect balance between lighthearted conversation and newsworthy trendiness. Subconsciously attempting to find the right number between 100 and 300 follows where my feed doesn't become a soup of misinformation and anxiety inducing news. Even using third-party apps like Tweetbot that remove the mysterious timeline with its suggested tweets and liked posts from your friends doesn't fix the issue. These problem are not unique to Twitter, each platform prods users into a different set of behaviors that can only be described as abnormal.

2020 is an awful year for many reasons, but one thing 2020 has done for me is remove most of the natural breaks I used to have from the Internet. Less time in the car and fewer social events means I have less time where I am obligated to put my phone away. It was wrecking my attention span and preventing me from engaging meaningfully with books and other types of long-form work.

I deleted my Twitter account about a month ago. I've tried taking breaks from Twitter or other social media sites by deleting the app on my phone and making a conscious effort to not think about it, but I found myself just loading up a mobile browser and logging in there. A worse experience definitely, but not enough to stop me. Twitter (and probably TikTok) are too good at the algorithm. Each like, view, and likely dozens of other metrics determining the best way to get me to engage. It's not worth it. Unless a platform allows you to meaningfully curate what you see I don't believe it's worth engaging with anymore.

There are a couple things I've done so far to begin cutting social media usage down to an amount hopefully without the drain.

The first bullet is a bit nebulous, and what apps someone might need to remove will differ. For example, I have no issues with Instagram staying on my phone because it doesn't capture my attention in the same way as Twitter. Should certain messaging apps count as social media? Maybe. It'll depend on the person. Just the friction of needing to log on to an actual computer is enough to cut usage for me.

Using iOS Screen Time or the Android equivalent gives myself an an easy out and allows a schedule to make the harder choices for me ahead of time. I've set Screen Time to turn off the majority of apps from 10pm to 10am the next morning. This gives me time to read, work on a side project, or just get my morning going without scrolling my phone for an hour.

I ultimately think interacting with more curated content is better for anyone's happiness overall. Handpicked newsletters from trusted writers, RSS feeds, and favorite podcasts and vlogs are better than the alternative. Human curation is better than the feed.

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Written by Joshua Pohl
Software Engineer in San Antonio, Texas. Find me on Instagram.