Kevin Bjorke
Kevin Bjorke
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Unsocializing

Five or six years ago, I found a simple way to squash social-media addiction, one that I haven’t seen in any of the many 240+ page self-help books offering a path to escape from the modern internet Attention Machine.

My method didn’t require erasing, cancelling, or closing my various accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or the rest. The de-FOMO method is quite simple:

Make it a chore, and schedule it.

The first platform to get this treatment was Facebook, because it was wasting more of my 2017 than the others.

Day One:

I chose a day of the week to read and respond to Facebook posts, and put it in my calendar. Tuesdays. One hour: 8AM. Every week. I have to. The task: “Look at Facebook, read and reply to any messages.” I also scheduled “read any fresh replies from Tuesday” on Wednesday.

The rule: don’t log in to Facebook any other time, except

  • accidentally following a link (say, to a business’s FB page in which case I look at just that page and ignore the Notifications and Messenger buttons);
  • there’s a Real Emergency like a family illness or earthquake, or
  • once each for a few Big Holidays: Christmas, Thanksgiving, family birthdays.

One hour, and if I hit the end, or miss my start: stop anyway.

Because I know that the next time will roll around eventually: no FOMO.

On the first day, I posted a brief note: “I’m only looking at Facebook on Tuesdays now. Sorry if I’m slow to reply, but you know how to reach me” – which for anyone who really needed to reach me was 100% true.

In practice, the first Tuesday’s effort took about 20 minute. The first Wednesday, roughly the same, mostly poking likes on comments replying to my Tuesday post.

Day Seven:

One week in, and I’d already felt a massive lift. No more FB FOMO, almost instantly. More free time.

My second Tuesday login: even shorter than the first Wednesday. Second Wednesday: even less.

Reviewing the feed, it was obvious that there had been a lot of activity during the previous days. Most of it was already cold. Some public someone had said something provocative on Thursday. And a post about it by someone I knew had launched a dozen irritated outcries. Repeat, repeat. But it’s Tuesday now, and I’ve already heard about it and no one will read my comment #13 no matter how clever, angered, insightful, hilarious. No one will see it because the algorithm has moved on, because it’s last week’s news, because when you look at the responses from last week their spark has gone out, they’re just an array of crushed-out cigarette butts.

Did I look for some newer connections? Sure. Direct messages. A group post. But already the steam wahad blown out of the kettle.

At the same time, my email box was exploding with messages from Facebook’s robots, dutifully spamming me many times each day with emotionally-worded escalating noise about all the important unread messages that possibly mentioned me that had been posted by co-workers, by family, by high school acquaintances, motorcycle clubs. The text spelled out the details of our connections: you friend from Matterport, your family member. The robots kept steadily crawling outwards through my entire social graph of friends and friends of friends and friends of those who I might be interested in these three important ways to add links to your chain: just like Jacob Marley.

These emails persisted for many months. They were easy to filter-out automatically: it’s just a menu item in GMail.

My weekly routine of scheduled access persisted for four weeks. After the fourth week, I shifted to a monthly schedule: look at Facebook on the 28th of each month, allow a few minutes for reviewing replies on the 29th.

The quality of posts visible in my Facebook feed, unexpectedly, improved. There was less noise. The posts I could see were more interesting and less dogpiled, at least to this observer. An occasional thumbs-up icon usually satisfied my need to comment.

Within two months, I forgot to visit on the 28th, despite the calendar alarm. I think I was busy riding my bicycle, or having a conversation. Oh well, those are the rules: I had to wait until the next 28th.

Seven months in, I realized that I’d missed two months, and… when I visited my feed, nothing but ashes.

Today, I almost never visit. I’ve never had to delete my account, and can visit pages for local stores or private groups or my parents without the slightest urge to find out about That Thing Taylor said or any of the rest.

Next

I applied the same method repeatedly, one network after another. My “free” time, time for being free, increased at each iteration.

Accept No Substitutes

Social networks do play upon genuine, natural desires to connect to others. I’ve repeatedly found myself being lured by other feeds: Reddit, or an online forum. Twitter had a run. Google News. Youtube. Oh, Youtube. Online shopping.

A trick to defer that dopamine dizziness is simply to delay. Found something cool on Amazon? Put it in the cart, because you have a rule to only actually buy anything on Fridays, and nothing over $5 should ever linger in the cart for less than 24 hours – at which point it might be less appealing. Likewise Youtube – for every suggested video I do watch, a dozen go into the “Watch Later,” probably to never be seen.

A related rule: ignore my phone for at least one hour after waking. Have a coffee, watch the world light up, write – let my mind be my own for at least the start of each day, in response to nothing but my own thoughts, not an advertiser’s.

It’s amazing how much time there is.

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