Noisy Deadlines

socialmedia

I was listening to Cal Newport’s podcast episode 262 and in the final segment he commented on a video by Better Ideas about overstimulation. The video discusses social media addiction, internet addiction and its relation with dopamine. Inspired by the video, Cal Newport then suggests some solutions to the problem.

In summary, his advice to combat online overstimulation is simply:

Don’t use things that cause overstimulation!”

The reasoning behind it is to avoid giving opportunities for our brains to fire up the dopamine response. Dopamine is released when we anticipate doing something pleasurable. So if we get used to reaching out for something entertaining all the time, we will be constantly seeking that stimulation. And nowadays, there are infinite ways to get that dopamine hit at our fingertips instantly.

Cal Newport makes an analogy with smoking: to get rid of this addiction, the end goal is to quit smoking. The solution is never getting used to a regime of smoking less or controlling when and where you smoke: the solution is to actually quit.

So he suggests we remove sources of overstimulation from our lives:

  • Delete all social media! Simple as that.
  • Don’t scroll online news. Subscribe to one or two interesting newsletters instead, or listen to one podcast with daily events if you need to keep up to date with news.
  • Videos and YouTube: YouTube can be a good source of information if used well. Install AdBlockers and Distraction Free extensions for YouTube to eliminate the automated recommendation feature. Another tip is to watch YouTube on a TV in your living room, like you would sit down to enjoy a movie.
  • And the most important tip is to replace all the distractions with high quality entertainment: movies, music, books, high quality videos, documentaries. The more we consume high quality content, the less we will enjoy junk information. We will eventually lose our taste for shallow content.

From my experience, this approach works. I’ve deleted major social media accounts years ago (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter) and nowadays, I don’t miss those services. I’ve recently tried to use Mastodon as a lightweight alternative to social media. Even if Mastodon is open, decentralized and have no algorithmically generated timelines, the model still mimics Twitter, and I was feeling similar FOMO effects using it.

So, I’m keeping away from Mastodon for 30 Days. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to use it without feeling distracted. I might eventually delete my account. We’ll see.

Post 20/100 of 100DaysToOffload challenge!

#100DaysToOffload #100Days #journal #noisymusings #attentionresistance #socialmedia

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

Yesterday I was super distracted at work. Looking back, I think it’s been going on for the past couple of weeks. I’m having this twitch of reaching out for my phone every moment of a small pause. Let’s say I’m calling someone, and those seconds when I’m waiting for the other person to pick up, I look at my phone, trying to check something. It’s an unconscious behaviour. It’s kinda scary to notice it and then realize it was automatic: I had no conscious choice over it.

I’m getting better with my phone: deleting the Discord app made it way less interesting. But I still have that urge to look up things online. I feel like I’ve been conditioned to do that, even when I don’t need it.

Throughout the day I find myself opening the browser. I might be in the middle of a task and something gets unclear or fuzzy, I get frustrated and open a tab. I look at my bookmarks. I keep on switching tabs, checking my bookmarks. I keep waiting for something interesting to happen. Waiting to be entertained.

So I need some time off. One website I’ve been visiting more and more during the day is Mastodon. Similar to the Discord app on my phone, Mastodon is one of the main drivers for my behaviour. Even though Mastodon doesn’t have algorithms and I’ve curated my timeline for it to be less overwhelming, I still have this illogical urge to check it.

I think it has to do with the “Twitter-like” format. Information is too scattered, it's too noisy, too random. This format of short asynchronous messages creates the illusion of cool things happening all the time. It inherently generates FOMO. This “Always Keep Up” method of being online is extremely draining to me. So I guess these micro-blogging formats are not for me anymore.

I’m not deleting my account yet, but I will not use Mastodon for 30 days and re-evaluate. I’m logging out from all my devices and adding the address to the blocked list on all my browsers.

I’ll keep on blogging here. I will still read my RSS feed, which is highly curated and I don’t get FOMO from it.

I’ll check how I’m doing in a week and observe if other sources of distraction will replace Mastodon.

Post 19/100 of 100DaysToOffload challenge!

#100DaysToOffload #100Days #journal #noisymusings #attentionresistance #socialmedia

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

In August 2018 I deleted my Instagram account! It’s been 5 years!

But the first photo sharing social network I ever used was MOLOME. It was around 2007-2008, if I'm not mistaken. => Edit: It was around 2011, most probably. I would upload photos from my digital camera, a Fujifilm FinePix S5000, and apply the filters to publish my photos. It was like Instagram, before Instagram. There were no ads, only likes, comments section and stickers. I remember I had a Nokia N8 phone running Symbian for a while then I upgraded to a Nokia Lumia 820.

I don't think MOLOME is still around but I have a backup of the photos I published there, a total of 103 photos. Some photos from that time:

I think I joined Instagram in 2012 or 2013. It was okay at the beginning. Then advertisements started to get more and more ubiquitous. Then a more powerful algorithm was introduced and made horrible decisions of what to show me on my timeline. And they introduced Instagram stories. It quickly became very annoying to use the platform and I was getting stressed out by it. As part of my bigger social media declutter project, I deleted my account in 2018.

I don't miss it at all. It was the first big social media service I got rid of. I knew I was addicted to it and that it was negatively affecting my mood. Life went on, I felt less distracted and I was spending less time on my phone. I stopped seeking artificial digital approval from others online. It started my process of slowly distancing myself from all the attention economy based social media.

Post 03/100 of 100DaysToOffload challenge!

#100DaysToOffload #100Days #noisymusings #socialmedia #internet #attentionresistance

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I’m reading the book “Homo distractus: Fight for your choices and identity in the digital age” by Anastasia Dedyukhina, and I enjoyed the section that discussed our society’s increasing sense of lack of time.

The perception that there’s not enough time to do things comes from the increasing amount of information we have to deal with today. Emails, text messages, news updates, endless social media feeds…etc.

And the apps designed to distribute all this “content” make us believe that it’s important to “share” all this information, as fast as possible, even without truly understanding the message. The author explains:

“Sharing information, encouraged by social media, is another example of how tech design creates the sense of urgency and the lack of time in our minds. The faster we share, the more rewarded we are by getting our likes or shares.” — Homo Distractus, Chapter 4: The Time Crisis

So, it seems social media spaces are now this crazy noisy place, where everybody is shouting something, trying to get attention (rewards), without even knowing what they are shouting about:

“By sharing whatever captures our attention, and not what we know is credible, we just contribute to the overall noise making ourselves and others even more overwhelmed.” — Homo Distractus, Chapter 4: The Time Crisis

And that just creates more noise… it’s overwhelming. It's too scattered, it's too noisy, too random. This “Always Keep Up” method of being online is draining (thanks ~loghead for the term) and I can’t stand it anymore (I’m looking at you, Mastodon!).

#noisymusings #socialmedia #internet #attentionresistance

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

About a year ago I deleted my social media accounts. I thought I had done it long ago. But, no, it’s been a year!

So, what have I learned?

  • The only thing that worked for me to stay away from social media was: total disconnection. Delete them. For real. After I deleted my accounts I thought many times about re-creating them but I also remembered how annoying it was. And how distracted I used to get. So, it was important in the first week to remember WHY I deleted them in the first place.
  • I didn’t need to do this all by myself, relying on my willpower alone (I tried, never worked). I used technology to fight technology. For the first few months, I used the app Freedom on all my devices to create a barrier. And it worked. The secret for me was being able to stay away from social media long enough to get my brain back to a “baseline” with no constant dopamine-induced activities. I started to feel my brain working differently 1-2 months in.
  • I started going out for long walks. Looking back now, it was not an easy time: the COVID-19 pandemic, dead of winter in my region, short days, and freezing temperatures. But it was the only thing I could do to fill in the void. I had to be outside. I learned that snow pants are awesome and that it’s okay to walk around with a headlamp (there are no lights on the pathway by the river, where I used to walk).
  • After deleting social media I still had the urge to scroll something. Anything. I would scroll through my email inbox. But it was finite so sometimes I would open a news portal and just scroll. I was not interested in anything that was there, but I needed to SCROLL. This behavior lasted for some weeks. Then I realized how pointless it was.
  • Sometimes I feel like I want to scroll something, even today. I still use RSS feeds so that became my “scrolling” thing. I paired down my feeds with only a small number of blogs I regularly read. So it’s a manageable list now, I scroll but it’s not an endless pit of junk anymore
  • I now feel repulsed by any website that is too “social-media-like”. Or that has too many ads. I avoid them all.
  • If I have a question about something I’ll go to Wikipedia first to find the answer. I feel like I’m 13 years old again going to the library and opening up an Encyclopedia to search for an answer.
  • I read better. I can read a book non-stop for an hour now. But that happened only recently. It took me months to be able to just sit down and read for more than half an hour without fidgeting or grabbing my phone.
  • I learned that it is important to embrace boredom. The best way to train it for me is to go out for walks, with nothing in my ears. No music. No podcasts. Just my breathing and surrounding sounds.
  • I decreased my podcast consumption. A lot!
  • I learned that I don’t enjoy audiobooks that much. I hear that one of the advantages of audiobooks is that you can read while doing something else. I tend to prefer to do one thing at a time. I can occasionally listen to podcasts while doing the dishes or cleaning the house, for example, but not books, especially if I’m enjoying it. When I’m reading something I need to pay attention and focus and reflect. Audiobooks don’t go at my mind’s speed, I guess.

Some people do a regular “digital detox” for a short or long period of time and then get back to whatever they were avoiding without letting it turn into a compulsive behavior again. Trying to use social media in moderation never worked for me. This technology evolves every day with new ways to hook us up and maybe I don’t have the energy to fight it all the time.

I’m happier now 😎. I love the Internet, but only some (quieter) corners of it.

#socialmedia #attentionresistance #internet #noisymusings

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

It's been a little over a month since I deleted my Facebook and Twitter accounts. At the beginning I went through some weird cravings to check something, anything and: scroll, scroll, scroll! That probably lasted a couple of weeks. I was constantly getting into news websites, checking the weather forecast, checking e-mail... in a rate that was abnormal. Even sites with any addictive features like Read.Write.as became an obsession. I realized I was just duplicating a learned behaviour after using the internet for years: scrolling endlessly. If one source was done, I jumped to another, to keep on scrolling. Weird. I think it was a withdrawal reaction. And for the first time I was aware that this scrolling addiction was imprinted in me at a subconscious level.

After the realization something clicked in my head: I just decided that was not a behaviour I wanted to practice anymore. I also observed that my phone was my twitch. It was easy enough to reach out and start some “doom scrolling”. This post “How My Digital Lifestyle is Changing” brings the definition of “doom scrolling” which I found interesting. So, yeah, my digital lifestyle is changing as well.

And every time we stop doing an addictive behaviour we better have a substitute. A more fulfilling one. Cal Newport in his book “Digital Minimalism” says that if we white-knuckle through a “digital declutter” without substituting the old behaviour with a better one, we will go back to the old behaviour. And social media, specifically, are basically a replacement for social interaction. We think it will fulfill our “social bucket” but then we are caught up in its addictive algorithms and the quality social connection we expected is not there. Cal Newport suggests that we need to think about high quality leisure activities to replace the time we would have spent otherwise (like doom scrolling).

For me, reading, writing, long walks with my partner and yoga were my substitutes last month. I fulfilled the social part of the equation by engaging with my city's local science-fiction and fantasy book club. They've been having virtual meet-ups since the pandemic started. I attended one meeting yesterday and had lots of fun! Since I'm an introvert I don't crave a whole lot of social interaction, so that was the perfect cup of tea.

After I felt I was disengaged enough from the scrolling addictive behaviour, I started exploring the Fediverse to see how it was different from the major social media platforms. I have a Mastodon account now. At first I thought I would fall into the same old doom scrolling pattern, but since it's decentralized and it doesn't have the ads/news monetizing cycle, I don't feel the addictive pull. I access it on my own terms and it doesn't create that craving or FOMO feeling for me. I'll keep on experimenting.

I just saw this video today by The Minimalists that I think gets to one of the main issue with social media, and it is by design. Food for thought.

#socialmedia #attentionresistance #internet #noisymusings #deletefacebook #digitalminimalism

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

My process to delete these social media accounts has a timeline. It was not overnight.

Delete Facebook - Jan 10, 2021

Being aware

I've been thinking about the attention economy and social media addiction since at least 2016.

I created my Facebook account in 2009. After Facebook introduced the bottomless scrolling newsfeed with companies advertising inside the platform, I started to get annoyed by it. But at the same time I developed an addiction to it. I remember that feeling of logging in to Facebook and scrolling for a couple hours only to realize it was a waste of time. But everybody I knew was (is) there: high school friends, friends I made at a training course in Sweden, family, co-workers, bloggers, etc. This was before the Cambridge Analytica scandal but I remember seeing those “personality polls” they used to get information. I don't think I ever clicked on those, but they were everywhere.

Trying to remove distractions but still using it

I decided to get rid of Facebook's feed by “unfollowing” everyone I knew. This was before there were plugins or extensions that could hide your entire timeline. Then I used plugins extensively to avoid the feed and all the ads. I was only interested in participating in some Groups that organized local meet-ups, for example. So I used tricks to only see the Groups when I logged in and avoided all the other distracting things on the page.

Long story short, all those strategies weren't getting to the core of the problem. I started to join more groups and I was still checking Facebook every day, several times a day.

Read more...

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This week Cal Newport talked about this paper titled “The Welfare Effects of Social Media.” I don't have access to the paper but research of this type always interests me. The social media site used on the research was Facebook and it's not surprising to see that:

“Deactivating Facebook freed up 60 minutes per day for the average person in our Treatment group.”

I deactivated my Facebook account last year and I don't miss it. Not having the urge to open Facebook and get lost in its endless timeline and roller-coaster of “likes” gave me more time and mental space. Time to read more books, time to reflect on what I read, time to meditate, time to do Yoga, time to do... nothing.

After doing this little experiment myself I'm sure social media, as it is available today, really hijacks our minds and changes our behaviours. It creates a weird feedback loop in which we click, click, click, get small amounts of dopamine due to its intermittent novelty and the return of our time investment is not proportional to the effort.

After I stayed away from social media for a while I realized I don't enjoy snippets of information anymore. And by that I mean: I deactivated Facebook, I drastically reduced the number of accounts I follow on Twitter and I deleted my accounts on Instagram and Pinterest. So even the short science/educational videos on You Tube started to annoy me. I prefer now to watch a full length documentary about a topic instead of watching 4-5 short videos about cool and interesting science facts.

I'm changing the way I consume content. It takes time because all around us everybody is still on this fast-paced mode of paying attention to quick snippets of information. And the way this information is presented to us is addictive. That's why I'm changing.

#attentionresistance #socialmedia #facebook

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I ask that because I noticed one day I was working extremely focused. The whole day. My working hours were highly productive. I was in a state of flow. It felt good. And that meant I didn't check social media. I checked my personal e-mail only 3 times the whole day. It was one of my most productive days in months!

And when I got home in the evening I sat down to read a book. And I just couldn't focus! I couldn't get past the first sentence. My mind was searching for something. CRAVING for something. And 15 minutes later of reading the same sentence over and over I realized I wanted to check news. Updates. New information!

It seemed like my brain needed stimulation before doing focussed work again. Does that mean I got addicted to the dopamine release related to the social media usage? I got my mobile phone and looked at the shiny screen... ...I opened Twitter, but there nothing much there anymore. ...2 minutes later I checked my 2 e-mails accounts. Nothing of importance. ...5 minutes later I checked Whatsapp and Telegram. Read all the messages. Nothing major to reply. ...10 minutes later I opened the Discord app. Read all the messages of the groups I currently participate on. Didn't need to reply anything. Done.

And then I was good to get back to my book.

There is one good thing happening here: none of the apps that I looked into had an endless timeline. Twitter could potentially have the never ending scrolling feed but I only follow 9 accounts there, so nothing much to see. And so I spent 17 minutes checking my “feeds”, which is not much considering that in the past I used to be sucked into the Facebook feed for hours.

I think I'm making progress...

But I still think my brain is not the same. Why did I had this urge to check any of those apps? I felt like a lab rat pulling the lever to get some food.

Weird... I wonder if I will ever get rid of this brain hack.

#socialmedia #addiction #attentionresistance #noisymusings

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.