Photo by Neil Ta

Dear friend,

I used to be the biggest addict to social media.

Now I can proudly say, I have (mostly) overcome my addiction to social media.

Does social media bring us closer together, or further apart?

To start off, I once taught a class as an undergraduate titled: “Sociology of Facebook and Online Social Networks.” The description for the course was this:

Have these phrases and scenarios become a part of your everyday language?

– Within relationships: “It’s not official until it’s Facebook official”
– With first encounters: “Remember to ‘Facebook’ me!”
– Even for birthdays: 100+ “Happy Birthday!” Facebook posts and no phone calls

Online social networking websites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter have dramatically altered the ways in which individuals in society interact with one another. When it comes to many college students, no longer do individuals give each other phone calls, but instead they write on each other’s “Facebook walls.” No longer are diaries private, but instead they are now public and available for all to see on blogs. Although the Internet is overcoming the distance gap in terms of communication, how authentic are these cyber-relationships? Can relationships now be defined by quantity instead of quality? Is the Internet ultimately bringing us closer together, or further apart?

When I was 20 years old (in 2009) I was curious — is social media and the internet bringing us closer, or further apart?

I think a little bit of both.

In one sense, the internet and social media has brought us closer together. If it wasn’t for social media, I wouldn’t have met all these incredible new friends I’ve met across the world.

However on the other hand, a lot of my ‘friends’ are mere acquaintances. I could only name 5 ‘real friends’ who I have deep-entrenched relationships, who I might risk my life for.

The black mirror

When I started teaching my social media course, it was before everyone owned a smartphone. Things have changed dramatically.

When I was a college student, everyone was addicted to Facebook. But it wasn’t as big of a deal, because people would use Facebook when they were distracted on their laptops at home, or in class. But (for the most part) people still had face-to-face conversations, without having people check their smartphones every 5 seconds.

Now, we are addicted to the ‘black mirror’ — the black screen that reflects ourselves. I know personally when I was addicted to Instagram, I would have a conversation with a friend and I would randomly think to myself, “I wonder what photo I’m going to upload today?”

How I became less addicted to social media

I’ve made a personal goal to be less addicted to social media– better yet; to eliminate my addiction 100%.

The steps I took were steady but progressive over the last few years. Here are some things which have worked for me:

1. Uninstall Facebook news feed blocker

I remember this event very vividly: I was with my friend Charlie Kirk in Istanbul a few years back, and cuddled up in a sleeping bag, and checking Facebook before I went to sleep on my smartphone. I was scrolling through my news feed, and I saw friends relaxing in Mexico, at some beach, with a Corona in hand. I remember feeling envious of that friend.

But wait a second– why was I envious of a friend enjoying a beer in Mexico, when I was in Istanbul, one of the most beautiful and exotic cities of the world?

At that moment, I realized that I needed to do something.

The first step I did was uninstall Facebook from my phone.

The second step I did was try to figure out if there was a way I could best still use Facebook, without getting distracted with the news feed. Because I still wanted to use Facebook messenger to keep in contact with friends, but I didn’t want to become envious of the lives of others through the news feed.

I did some searching, and found out there were a lot of Facebook news feed blockers. If you Google ‘Facebook news feed blocker’ — you can find tons of extensions to use on any computer browser.

So for the last 4 years or so, I’ve lived without a Facebook news feed. And I can tell you; I have so much more clarity of mind, less envy, and less jealousy. I’m more content with my life, because I’m not comparing myself with others.

2. Don’t crowd-source your self-esteem

“I’ve been awakened from an enlightened man’s dream // checking Instagram comments to crowd-source my self-esteem” – Kanye West

In life, we are always comparing ourselves to others. Unfortunately, we ‘crowd-source’ our self-esteem by checking how many comments, likes, and followers we have on social media.

As humans, we keep ‘score’ with numbers. We think the people with the most 0’s in their bank account is the happiest. In today’s world, we track ‘happiness’ and ‘success’ by how many likes, comments, and followers we have on social media.

Unfortunately, it is true that the more social media followers you have, the more leverage you have. For example, if you are a photographer with a lot of social media followers, companies are more likely to send you free stuff, or have you shoot advertising campaigns for them.

But it isn’t good for your health or your self-esteem to count your social media likes or followers. Because no matter how many likes or followers you have, there will always be someone with more likes/followers than you.

An unlikely source of inspiration was from Justin Bieber, who deleted his Instagram account in 2016. He said something along the lines of, “I’m almost 100% certain that Instagram is the devil.”

3. Prevent yourself from seeing your follower/like numbers

What I’ve personally done in my life is to stop checking my social media follower numbers, and likes.

I’ve personally setup roadblocks to prevent myself from always checking my numbers.

For example, I currently have no social media apps on my smartphone. I’ve made it a daily goal for a while to try to uninstall one app from my phone each day. At first it was a bit scary and painful, but post-surgery; I’m a lot healthier and happier.

Also, when I upload things to social media, I try to use tools which prevent me from actually checking my numbers. For example, when I upload stuff to Instagram, I use a Lightroom Instagram Uploader Plugin so I can upload my photos from my laptop to Instagram. This way I am less likely to see how many likes/followers I have on social media. Adobe Lightroom also allows you to do this with Flickr and Facebook.

4. Turn off your phone when you’re with your loved ones

When I have my smartphone in my pocket, I fall victim to the ‘phantom vibration’ sensation. This means, you feel your phone vibrating in your pocket, and when you check your phone, there is actually no vibration or notification. Your brain has tricked you into thinking that your phone actually vibrated.

I have heard ways you can have better ‘face time’ with your friends (or family) in real life — all which involve turning off your phone, setting your phone to airplane mode, or stacking up all the phones on a table, and the first person who checks their phone needs to buy everyone a round of beers.

I know for me personally, I know I have no self-control with my smartphone or social media. So I try to setup roadblocks for me, knowing that I will be tempted in the future.

I often get distracted with my phone when I’m at dinner with Cindy. One time I just locked my phone in the glove compartment of my car, before entering the restaurant. I wasn’t tempted the entire dinner, and had a deep, meaningful, and engaged conversation with Cindy the entire night.

But for me, the best is to just turn off your phone, completely. Especially before you go to sleep.

5. Start using a real alarm clock

Most of us use our smartphones as clocks to wake up in the morning. If you don’t want to check your social media or email (the first thing you wake up), use a physical “real” alarm clock to wake you up in the morning.

Another tip: if you want to charge your smartphone in the evening, keep it in the other room.

6. Block social media from your browser

Use website blockers like ‘Waste No Time’ for Safari, or ‘StayFocusd’ for Google Chrome to disable access to your social media websites.

I know that I used to have a habit in Google chrome: I just typed the word “f” into the address bar, and Facebook.com would always auto-complete. It became a bad habit; a nervous tick. The same with gmail (just typing ‘g’ in the address bar).

So try to block your social media access with these plugins. Or just turn off auto-complete from your website browser, so when you check social media, it is more intentional.

Is social media evil?

There’s a saying in silicon valley — “If you use a free product, you are the product.”

Social media is essentially using your personal data to sell that information to advertisers. That is how these social media platforms are ‘free.’

Always be skeptical of free software or products; especially social media. All these social media companies have hundreds of employees, whose principal job is to make their products more addictive.

I think ultimately social media is a great tool for some, especially those who are poor, with limited means. Social media has enabled free, instantaneous contact throughout the world. Ultimately I think what Mark Zuckerberg has a noble goal through Facebook — trying to connect everyone in the world. Yet then again, I find it hypocritical that he buys millions of dollars of homes to protect his own privacy; when Facebook is feasting on everyone’s personal privacy and data.

Privacy is freedom

I used to believe this: “I don’t have anything to hide, so I don’t care about my privacy. Facebook or Google can do whatever they want with my personal information, as long as it makes my life easier.”

At this point, I’m a slave to social media and Google. All of my personal information is embedded in these services, so I have lost a little bit of personal freedom. I can no longer imagine living a life without Google Maps or Uber on my smartphone.

I am starting to believe– the less privacy we have, the less personal freedom we have.

Not only that but the more data that a social media network has on you, the more subtle ways they can influence your thinking.

For example, I uninstalled Google Chrome from my smartphone because I hated how it started to suggest all these new articles or blog posts for me to check out (without asking for my permission). It became a huge source of distraction, and killed my focus.

Similarly, I used to love (now hate) how Amazon Kindle always recommends me to read these books. Because I can no longer focus on the books I am currently reading. Instead, I’m thinking about the next book I’m going to read. And it suckers me into buying these new books, which I don’t really need to read.

Each day, I’m trying to find out how to be less reliant on these social media sites. Because I want control of my time, attention, and focus. And social media is stealing it away from myself. And I know that I am very easy to distract.

Conclusion

I hope this article has given you a few ideas on how to be less addicted to social media. I do believe it is possible to kill all addiction to social media, like how alcoholics can overcome addiction to booze, or smokers to cigarettes. But it does require constant training, constant deliberate action, and to modify your environment to not get tempted.

Above everything; value your focus and attention. Never trade your focus or attention for anything– especially to social media. Because once you’ve lost your focus and attention, you cannot regain it.

Always,
Eric