The first step in dealing with any addiction is to recognize that you have a problem. So…
"Hi, my name is Judy, and I'm addicted to social media."
Social media and I have weird relationship, and yes, addiction is part of that. I'm obsessed with understanding how security works on the platforms, but the moment I'm in there…
"Oh, look… Some useless post about red carpet fashion disasters… or the latest chaos among the British royal family… or how the children of stars look like their parents."
I'm a sucker for the meaningless and boring… and there just went my precious writing time.
Back in July 2020, I posted about the Social Media Realignment Experiment. It was an attempt to realign my social media usage to my professional goals. Quitting all social media wasn't an option for me, but my everyday usage was out of control.
However, in the original experiment, I was too vague on what I wanted to achieve. So, it's time to kick the Social Media Realignment Experiment into Version 2.0.
Social Media and Me
When I first started on Facebook, back when my kids were little, it was just a means to an end, sharing photos with the family in the USA and the Netherlands. But somewhere between then and now, it had become a professional tool closely connected to my writing and editing.
Within my local writing circles, I have become a resident expert in all things internet with a focus on security, privacy, and protecting oneself—and people love me for it. I share my knowledge freely, but having this knowledge has come at a price.
I struggle big time to define the balance between staying connected on the various sites so I know what the pitfalls are of using them and getting sucked into the rabbit hole of too-much-time-on-social-media.
And for me, the biggest addiction centers on Facebook.
I can't just delete my account—as many tell me to do—because if I did that, I might as well kiss my career goodbye. No joke, people.
I have spent the last 5 years building myself up as this expert in how writers' online platforms work, specializing in social media security. If I was to cut myself off from Facebook, I would cut myself off from the biggest social media platform in the world. Not a good idea for a social media security expert.
Redefining Social Media Realignment Goals
In the original experiment, my goal was to stop spending so much time on social media. Sounded simple enough, until it came time to execute some sort of plan.
It was too vague with no specifics to work from. It was doomed to fail from the start. Sure, it was measurable, but measuring time spent only works if you actually measure the time spent—all of it!
Yeah, I cheated… and I didn't even realize I was doing it.
After countless discipline talks with myself and multiple self-doubt moments, my efforts shifted into a conversation with myself about what my goals for my career actually are. I had lost sight of them.
I want to be a writer, editor and writing coach, making a decent living wage from my combined tasks. Recognizing this, I've been able to refocus my efforts, shifting my social media usage.
In the Social Media Realignment Experiment 2.0, the goal is to spend less time fluffing around on social media, shifting my time spent on the various platforms to activities that I value. If my time on social media does not have an intrinsic value that will service my ultimate goals as a writer and editor, then it is time to shut down the internet and start again.
It's a subtle difference, but it is one that seems to have the greatest impact in helping me kick my Facebook and social media habit.
The advice that doesn't work for me…
I have heard all the advice out there about reclaiming your life from the digital world, and trust me, I've tried it all. And I've found the kinks in the good advice that people give.
They say to use apps to restrict access to sites. Massive failure!
They say to use programs to restrict your access to certain internet sites on your computer. Yeah… I'm just too techno-savvy for my own good. I used another browser to bypass all the lockouts. So, that one was a complete failure.
They say to remove the apps from your phone. Multiple problems with this idea!
1) Instagram is a mobile-only app. Through the web version, you can comment and reply to messages, but that's it. There are third-party programs that can help you get around this issue, but they're not stable and cause issues with cross-posting. Which leads me to the next kink in this plan.
2) To cross-post Instagram photos and stories to Facebook, you need the Facebook app installed. It was an annoying little quirk that I discovered when I tried to post an image to my Instagram from my tablet—which has never had Facebook on it. I tried to set up those connections, but they wouldn't work without the app installed.
Big fat, massive DOH! Curse you, Facebook.
3) As a social media security expert, I need to know how the phone apps are different to the web version. For the most part, security settings set on the web filter through to your phones too, but the mobile versions of the apps have additional security/privacy settings specific to phones. In particular, connecting to your phone's contact lists. And this setting is not just on Facebook.
FYI, Instagram is not an addiction for me. I post my sunrise photos, hit a few likes and leave, not to return until I have another photo to upload the following morning.
The people who tell me to "turn off the internet at the wall" don't have children who are studying via online learning.
COVID-19 has a lot to answer for, but there has been some good from it too. The fact that my son's university studies could move to online lectures, assignments, and exams has meant that he's able to keep going.
But it also means that the internet in the house needs to keep going.
And turning the computer to airplane mode means certain programs stop working.
It turns out that for ProWritingAid to work, you need an active internet connection. How did I figure this one out? Well, I tried switching my computer to airplane mode and wasted a good 30 minutes trying to figure out why the program stopped working. Flipped back on my internet connection and… "WOW, it works!"
BTW, wireless printers also stop working if you're in airplane mode. Funny that. They require your connection to your router!
It comes down to sheer willpower!
Everyone could give me all the advice they want about combating my social media addiction. Because of my odd circumstances, I had to figure it out on my own.
I'll admit it, I'm my own worst enemy. If I really don't want to do something, I'll find any excuse I can to not do it. And I'm good at it too. It's a quirk of my psyche. I need to reason with my subconscious, internalizing the importance of various tasks.
Now that my entire brain agrees on how important this social media addiction is to get control over, it's ready to work. But I can help it by removing temptation.
There are many strategies that people can use to curtail their digital life, reconnecting with the physical. Here are just some things I've found to work for me.
Phone stays in the lounge at night.
I've always done this. Never really understood why others don't. I don't even have a TV in the bedroom. I don't see the point. Those backlit screens are not good on your eyes or your resting brain. Instead, they keep your brain engaged.
My brain is on 100 mph all the time. It is a writer's brain. I don't need stimuli from a tiny backlit screen making things worse.
And for anyone who says that they use their phone as an alarm clock… Buy an alarm clock!
Disable push notifications for annoying apps installed on the phone.
Even when I first got a smart phone, I disabled those annoying sounds that insist on drawing my attention from the real world. Seriously, a ding every 3 seconds is overkill, and some apps were doing just that.
So, the moment I discover any app with sooooo many annoying push notifications… Settings… TURN OFF!
I've employed the Do-Not-Disturb and Screentime features on my phone.
These are two separate features and have different purposes.
The Do-Not-Disturb turns off the notifications from anyone and any app during certain times of the day. I have my settings configured to shut off all notifications from approximately dinnertime to lunchtime the next day. It's called protecting my mornings for work.
The Screentime feature locks access to certain apps on a smart device. I have my phone settings set to force me to click a button every 15 minutes to continue using certain apps. It doesn't stop me from using the app, but it makes me hyper-aware of the amount of time that I'm using the app for.
Apps that I'm avoiding have been buried to where I need to hunt for them.
This is one area where the Android interface works better than the iOS interface, because on an Android device, you can just remove the icon from your screens. But on iOS…
Well, my phone is an iOS (don't get me started on that love/hate relationship). So… I've added a swipe screen to my interface and moved all the apps I want to bury into folders on that screen. But moving the folder wasn't enough. I have swipe screens upon swipe screens added to the folders… and Facebook is buried as much as I could bury it.
The app is still there if I really need it, but I have to go hunting for it. It stops the absentminded, subconscious activity and shifts it into conscious behavior.
To limit my hunting desire, all apps I want to use on a regular basis are sitting on my home screen.
When out and about, the phone is in bag or in the back pocket.
The point of this is to get the phone out of my hands and out of sight. I will listen to podcasts or audiobooks while on long walks, so the phone is in a pocket at that point, giving me the ability to get those arms moving. And in the car, it's in the handbag. If someone calls, I just answer using the hands-free connected to my car stereo—but only my hubby or daughter calls, so…
On the computer in my main browser, shortcuts to the social media sites were buried or deleted.
Not sure how well this one will work in the long run, but I've either buried the shortcuts to the social media sites or deleted them. It means that Facebook is not just a click away, but do you know how easy it is to just type the URL.
The jury is still out on this one. Here's hoping that the out-of-sight-out-of-mind adage works.
It's about purposeful usage.
The Social Media Realignment Experiment 2.0 is not about ceasing social media activities. It's about adding purpose to those activities that are aligned with my professional goals. My strategies are not about trying to stop me from using the apps, but minimizing the subconscious, mindless acts.
I'll report in the new year on how this 2.0 Realignment is going.