Digital Detox – Getting Started

I mentioned earlier this week that I was starting to get organised for my Digital Detox.

It’s incredibly frustrating to want to break a bad habit and find myself unable to do so. So I keep trying to remind myself that I’m not an idiot, I’m not weak and I can’t rely entirely on willpower. In fact, I’m reacting exactly as I’ve been programmed to. I’m not the consumer – I’m the product.

Here’s a primer from Tristan Harris (Design Thinker)

The Secret Ways Social Media Is Built To Be Addictive (and what you can do to fight back) by Catherine Price from Science Focus was eye opening. Basically, she agrees – it’s all about attention. Mine and yours.

… it explains why social media companies would want to capture our attention for as long and as frequently as possible: it’s profitable. And to do this, they build features into their apps that manipulate our brain chemistry. These tricks are borrowed straight from casinos and slot machines, which are widely considered to be some of the most addictive machines ever invented.

Consider the ‘pull-to-refresh’ feature common to social media apps, where dragging the screen downwards prompts the screen to refresh. Not only is the action itself similar to pulling the lever on a slot machine, but it takes advantage of our attraction to unpredictability. Psychologists call this ‘intermittent reinforcements’ (and I call it ‘the reason we date jerks’). Sometimes, when we check social media there’s something exciting waiting for us (a ‘reward’), sometimes there’s not. It’s the unpredictability that keeps us coming back.

Catherine Price

I’ve never thought about the ‘pull to refresh’ feature as anything sinister – I mean it’s so inoccuous – just a page refresh. And yet it’s inherently manipulative – by design.

There’s no question that these design features are effective. But what’s good for profits is not so great for our mental health. Studies have linked excessive social media use to sleep deprivation, anxiety, loneliness and depression in teens, and given the design tricks we’ve revealed here, this is perhaps no surprise. The attention-based business model of social media platforms means that their goals and the goals of their users are often inherently at odds. “Social media isn’t designed with your long-term happiness in mind: it’s designed to capture as much of your attention as possible right now,” says Kevin Holesh, creator of the Moment app.

As long as social media platforms continue to make money by selling our attention, they are unlikely to change their practices on their own. “There’s an arms race for attention,” says Alter. “And if you don’t use every tool at your disposal to ensnare consumers, you’ll be left behind. Short of pressure from consumers or government intervention, it’s hard to imagine companies abandoning the hooks that make their products hard to resist.”

Article linked above

I wrote – Harris-Creative posted a piece last year called ‘Mental Health and Instagram – should we get rid of the Gram?’ which I’ve found very useful – the whole post is worth reading (and I’ll likely reference this again in future posts) but there are a few tips at the end that I’ve tried out.

Here are their tips:

  1. Utilise the mute feature. Hide accounts that post content you don’t like or don’t want to see.
  2. Set yourself Instagram time based on what makes you happy. Whether this is only one day a week or 5 hours every day, set yourself designated time to use the app and stick to it
  3. Hide the app. Putting it in a folder away from your home screen, or regularly moving where it is, means you are less likely to open the app out of boredom or habit.
  4. And most importantly, only follow people who post content that makes you happy. If they’re not posting something that appeals to you visually, writing thought-provoking or educational content, or simply not making you smile, then hit that unfollow button!

1. Muting on twitter I’m fine with. I didn’t even know that was a thing on Instagram as I only followed people that I knew and my problem was just scrolling scrolling scrolling between food or craft videos that I will NEVER EVER end up replicating.

  • Blocking I do less often and almost never for people that I actually know. The previous US president I blocked the day that the results were conceded as a pre-emptive measure. It did not help – everyone kept sharing screenshots anyway. And the one person that I had actively blocked? Well – nightmare – decided recently to unblock as it sat uncomfortably with me and accidentally hit the screen twice and followed for a second. #LeSigh

2. I haven’t set myself time limits on Instagram as I deleted the app in November and although I’ve checked it since them, I’m not missing it massively. However, I think I will have to start doing this for other apps. Hello Twitter and Guardian and Independent and WhatsApp. In fact, I shall do this tonight!

3. Moving or hiding the app has been SUCH a good tip for me. I’ve deleted the Guardian off my home page. I still go and look for it several dozen times a day – but some of those times – it not being where I expect to see it – is enough to remind me that it’s unlikely anything has happened that I desperately need to know in the last four minutes. It has certainly helped me.

4.The only following people that bring me delight is such a good one. On twitter, I’ve ended up following a load of journalists and news sites. Over the last five years, I’ve become such a news junkie – almost as though I could be insulated by any ‘bad’ political acts if I was aware of each and every one of them. However, Brexit has happened. The US appears to be in more stable hands. So perhaps it’s a safe enough time to have a cull.

A tip from a friend at work was that I use the accessibility features on my phone so that when I click the button three times, it goes from colour to black and white. I can’t tell you how effective this is – the brain just does not find the screen to be an interested to look at AT ALL! Finding it difficult to show you because of course once I click back to colour, all the screen shots are coloured too. 😀

My housemate told me that his phone has a wind down option so I’ve been taking a look at some of the accessibility features. In Display and Brightness, I’ve set up Night Shift which will make the screen go warmer to remind me to go to bed. (Also, while I’m at it, I’ve changed Siri to an Irish accent.) And tomorrow, I’m biting the bullet and setting strict screen time settings.

Fingers crossed that over the next few months I stop scrolling and start thinking. Or at least discover that it wasn’t the phone use preventing it.

(To turn your phone black and white, go to the Settings app > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Color Filters. Turn “Color Filters” on, and you’ll see the option for Grayscale at the top. That’s all there is to it!)

2 thoughts on “Digital Detox – Getting Started

  1. Pingback: Digital Detox – Getting Started | LeedsBookClub

  2. I really want to try to use my phone less. I’ve moved everything off the front page and put a lot into folders to make it a bit harder. Even an hour later I find myself reaching to idly scroll through gmail or have a look at twitter. I need to find some way of blocking it during the day on my laptop too.

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