This month I did an experiment.
Over the past few months, I’ve noticed that I’ve been disappearing into my phone for longer and longer periods, endlessly scrolling Instagram and Reddit (I don’t have Facebook) and it wasn’t doing me any good. I’d be scrolling while doing chores around the house, during the small amount of time I have off with my wife and even right before bed I’d be crouched over by the charger flipping past dumb videos. It was pretty bad.
I wanted to do something about it.
The first thing I did was turn on a time limit for those apps on my phone. I wanted to limit myself to one hour per day per app. I also removed the apps from my home screen, and made it harder to find them on my phone. That worked for about a week. Then I realized how easy it was to ignore the limits I set for myself and I realized I was back up to like two hours per day on each app.
At the same time, I set out to unfollow the same amount of accounts as that day’s date. So on Jan. 1 I unfollowed one account. On Jan. 14 I unfollowed 14 accounts. Like that. Based on my poor math, that’s about 496 accounts. The idea was that most of the 2,000 accounts I followed were either big companies, influencers or other businesses and not real people.
Essentially, Instagram was acting like a big advertising platform and I was just consenting to get 2,000 corporate advertisements every day.
The other type of content I was getting was political. I followed a lot of news, non-governmental organizations and activists. The thing was, being bombarded with content showing how many things were wrong with the world wasn’t helping my mental health.
I either wasn’t getting any actual meaningful interaction out of it, or I was being overwhelmed by how bad the world was. I felt hollow as I scrolled. When I first had the idea, I got a bit ahead of myself an unfollowed one big batch. In all, I’ll unfollow about a quarter of the accounts with which I started. It’ll hopefully make a big difference.
Now, I mentioned putting a time limit on my apps, but said that it was really easy to ignore. I had to find another solution. Now I know just downloading another app is just a techno-fix, and that’s another conversation, but that’s what I ended up doing.
I found an app that redirects the user to a calming pause screen, asks the user “is this important?” and basically disrupts the brain’s neural pathway that makes it so easy to get sucked into scrolling on apps.
Instead of getting the instant gratification from social media, I’m given the chance to take a deep breath, reevaluate and change my mind — and therefore my behaviour.
I like it. It’s helped a lot.
I’ll be starting this year following over 500 fewer companies on social media, and severely limiting how much I use it.
A digital detox can help all of us. Next time you scroll, ask yourself if you’re actually happy doing it. There are ways to take back some of your attention and get some of your life back.