Forget ditching the booze – it’s social media that we really need to detox from. But how?
For some, the urge to turn over a new leaf this year is manifesting not in yet another attempt to lay off the booze, meat or chocolate – but social media.
Like other addictive pleasures, receiving validation in the form of “likes” on social media triggers a dopamine rush in users.
As Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, notes, “It’s a little bit like taking a drug. As far as your brain is concerned, it’s a very similar experience.”
Indeed, the University of Chicago found social media to be even more addictive than cigarettes. Perhaps one day, constant browsing will be equally frowned upon as a dirty habit doing untold damage to our health.
Last year’s #StatusOfMind survey, published by the Royal Society for Public Health, found a link between social media use and increases in anxiety, depression and poor sleep.
Even Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, felt the need to take a 10-day break at the end of the year.
So here, two of our writers explain why they’re joining those attempting a Dry-Fi January.
My Facebook feed has become dismal. And yet I can’t stop reading
Jon Yeomans, business news editor:
“I don’t get out much these days – having two small children sees to that – but it’s nice to know what others are up to.
“On New Year’s Day, my Facebook feed was all parties, fireworks, smiling faces, and best wishes. Then I closed the app and dragged it to the rubbish bin.
“The irony is that New Year is one of the few times when people actually post something on Facebook.
“Most of the year, my feed is a long, tedious scrawl of brands, news stories, viral videos and adverts for sofas that stalk me around the internet because I once looked at the John Lewis website.
“A few hardy souls still battle their way through the clutter to write updates, but the platform has become dismal.
“And yet I can’t stop reading. More fool me. You know it’s a problem when, with 15 seconds to kill, you find yourself reaching for the phone; the mindless scroll sucks you in.
“I gave up Facebook for a month last year and my head felt clearer. I’m now doing it again, for at least a month. I’d quit Twitter too, if I didn’t need it for work.
“The only reason to go back, and why I won’t delete my account, is that Facebook is still an incredibly simple way of sharing news and keeping in touch with friends you don’t see often.
“I’m a big believer that people need to make connections in the real world. I worry that we are losing that habit. As Barack Obama urged last month – go to the pub instead. Or the gym. Or a book club.
“I take hope from the fact that people are starting to debate these issues, and I predict that a “Dry-Fi January” for tech will become the norm – perhaps even a movement. Even Facebook admitted late last year that passive “lurking” on the site is bad for you.
But, short of flashing messages up on the screen warning you to take a time out, it’s hard to see how it will change. Far easier to bin that icon from your screen, and do something – anything – else instead.
I’d scroll Twitter in the street, in the office – even in the loo
Alice Vincent – arts and entertainment writer:
“In the first grey dawn of 2018, I turned to someone trustworthy and handed them my phone: ‘Change the password, remember it, and don’t tell me what it is’.
“It was open on Twitter – the web version. I’d deleted the app, along with that for Facebook, several years ago, but my endless scroll habits had barely waned. I’d scroll in the street; I’d scroll walking through the corridors of the office; I’d scroll, shamefully, in the loo.
“I would occasionally find the germ of a news story. But mostly it was digital flotsam, interrupting me from whatever I was meant to be doing.
“In November, after six weeks of reporting on Hollywood’s sexual misconduct scandal – much of which was unfolding through Twitter – I logged off and went to California for a leisurely work trip. I managed to stay off Twitter for three weeks, and it was restorative.
“Back in England, the same bad habits crept back in: I could feel my attention span shrinking, my mood noticeably darken. I wasn’t learning anything new. Worse, it was actually making me feel bad.
“So I’m stopping. I’m no longer posting, nor checking my notifications. I’m going to miss the excellent reads I found on Twitter, and the feeling of being part of a conversation that seems to begin before the headlines do. I’m also going to miss the people I talk to on there.
“I rely on Twitter trends and search function for work purposes, so I’ll continue to use those – but without the compelling circle of new notifications, I won’t dive back into my own feed.
“I know the brain space I’ll get back will reap rewards: there are work projects to focus on, books to be read and life experiences to be enjoyed. Already, I’m enjoying not checking Twitter the minute I wake up.
“I don’t know when I’ll log back on. Maybe at the end of January, maybe beyond that. Maybe never.”
Five-step tech diet
1. Change the way that you unlock your phone.
You do it on autopilot. But change the passcode and then every time you feel the need to scroll you will be forced to think twice about it.
2. Remove – and move – apps
Social networks, even e-mail, can be accessed via a web browser, it just takes a bit more in the way of effort. Leave the first page of your phone for useful tools such as maps, calendar or notes.
3. Turn off notifications
App and e-mail notifications are on by default, often making a sound, pushing an icon and vibrating your handset. You can “mute” distracting Whatsapp conversations, too.
4. Install blockers.
Applications such as Freedom can limit app and website usage, but also allow you time windows in which you are permitted to make use of them.
5. Charge your phone outside the bedroom.
We all know why you have it in there, but there’s a simple answer – buy yourself an alarm clock. – The Daily Telegraph