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Living with the Algorithm – Side-stepping Social Media Addiction

Thursday 7 January 2021 - Filed under Default

It’s 4am and you haven’t slept. Tomorrow starts in three hours but you can’t stop scrolling. You’ve seen it all and yet you continue to reach for some last hint of novelty. Excited by a new thumbnail you tap. A repost. Disgusted you turn off a phone still propped up by the pillow next to you and consider what you’re doing with your life.

We’ve all been there. The static firmware of our brains is no match for an algorithm that gets better every day. Annoying popups have been replaced by A/B-tested nudges, toasts, subtle design choices and notifications about things we actually do care very much about. Days and months fly by.

To share a little secret with you, I’ve probably watched every 9/11 video captured that fateful day. No conspiracy stuff, just OC and there’s a lot of it but I was methodical and stressed. Using tech to cope with stress manifests itself in different ways and for me it’s YouTube and Candy Crush. Delicious! Now if I get the urge to play Candy Crush or watch that kind of video, I know it’s time to take a step back.

But step back to where? There are talks by people like Tristan Harris who used to work on behalf of the algorithm, books like Digital Minimalism, communities like r/nosurf. Then there are apps for tracking and limiting screen time. They apps are too good and we have to limit our time with them. What’s worked best is a synthesis of the above.

Photo by Blaz Photo on Unsplash

I made a list of Positive Things(tm). Digital Minimalism would call these high-quality leisure, things like exercise, reading books, voice conversations, making music, and coding. Then set a goal to spend some number of hours each day on them. It feels better to focus on the positive rather than fighting the algorithm and sometimes 30 mins of reading turns into an evening because the book’s really good. At the end of the day, when goals have been met you can scroll and tap in peace.

The cure for internet addiction isn’t cold turkey (it’s always funny when people post about quitting social media) or blocking apps but to prioritize health, mental and otherwise, and the activities that help maintain it.

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2021-01-07  »  David Sterry