“Digital Detox” is a buzzphrase. It’s the idea that we need to put our smartphones and tablets away. It’s a novel idea, but it’s also not realistic. Everything we do now is digital, and nearly all of it is accessible on our phones. The idea of giving up our phones in 2019 is akin to the idea of giving up saying any words containing vowels — not a chance.
This created culture doesn’t negate the fact that we all could stand to spend a little less time on things that either 1) don’t matter or 2) completely zap our productivity. This is why Facebook — and the Facebook mobile app specifically — has become the number one distraction from actual progress in my life.
Does Facebook serve a purpose at all?
This is where things get personal. Many of us truly believe that “social networks” like Facebook are valid forms of community, and for some people that may indeed be true. I’m not here to speak in absolutes regarding the benefits of Facebook for everyone, but I can tell you that from my perspective Facebook is not authentic community. Instead of helping me make friends, it’s actually caused me to distance myself from real interactions with people who I truly know and care about. I started believing in their Facebook persona instead of seeking closeness with the actual person.
Does Facebook have any use for me? Yes, it actually does. But within context. I really enjoy a few of the Facebook groups I’m a part of. One is for dads, the other is for pro wrestling fans. These groups are great for discussing issues and getting the latest news, but it is not a tool for making genuine connections with people and certainly doesn’t deserve hours of my time each day.
In the proper context, I do believe Facebook has some value, so I’m not writing it off completely. It’s not Facebook’s fault that I used it as a substitute for actual human interaction. That’s on me. Therefore it’s also on me to course-correct my social life and get back on track.
Out of sight, out of mind.
I thought I’d do an experiment. Maybe I’d delete the Facebook app from my phone and then I wouldn’t have mobile access at all. But then I thought, “No…baby steps.” I decided to see what would happen if I simply removed it from the home screen.
Did it work?
Uh…yep. After about 3 days I realized I had not been on Facebook once since moving the app. Sure I logged some Facebook time on my laptop, but it wasn’t near the amount of time I used to waste mindlessly scrolling past updates from all the people I don’t even really know. As you can see, I still have several social networking apps on my home screen. So why didn’t I remove those as well, you ask?
Why keep the other social networks?
Not all social networks are created equal. They differ in content, overall layout, usability, and primary audience. What puts Facebook at the bottom of the quality list for me is the sheer fact that pretty much anything goes on Facebook. Text updates, shared links, photos, albums, videos, live videos, temporary stories, the list goes on. If you see it, you can share it on Facebook.
While this may seem like an asset to some, for me it feels incredibly cumbersome. It’s a grab bag of shared content. With one flick of my thumb, I get a politically divisive news article, a picture of someone’s dog, a live video of someone cooking pasta, an overused meme, and an ad for knockoff Air Pods. Sheesh. It gives me whiplash. “But Wil, you know you can hide people, right?” Uh, yeah, but if I were to set out to clean up my news feed it would become a full-time job for at least a month. Not worth it. Not when there are other options.
The social apps I still use are Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram. The reason is simple: it's MUCH easier to curate and control the content I see on each of those networks. What’s more, those networks are designed with more focus on a singular medium rather than being a hodge-podge of content.
Pinterest (my favorite of the 3) has perhaps the most intuitive smart feed out there. Carefully designed to show me content that it thinks I’ll appreciate. With Twitter, I keep my following list limited since I don’t have to follow a user for them to be able to follow me. And with Instagram, I’m also careful about who I follow, but the main draw is that I know exactly what I’m getting from my news feed — photos.
Do you feel free now?
Honestly, I kind of do. It’s funny, but I really do feel a new sense of clarity when it comes to the time I spend on my phone. My top 3 social networks seem more fruitful, I’m instinctively spending more of my phone time doing things that serve a purpose, and I feel more connected to the people I see in real life. This isn’t a universal recipe for mobile freedom, but it worked for me. Maybe it would work for you too.
Share your thoughts in the comments below, or connect with me on social media.