The Proverbial Facebook Diet

In my last post I explored the way Amish evaluate and selectively embrace technology. I’ve found a more mindful approach to technology beneficial in my technophilic life as well. One habit I’m cultivating in 2017 is to check Facebook once a day or less. I’m an unabashed fan of Facebook yet I all too often find myself impulsively retreating into social media reverie at the first moment of boredom. I further find myself turning to Facebook whenever I had a moment of downtime, as if the brief respite from busyness necessitated a preemptive glance into the lives of others.

My first attempt to reign in my impulsive usage was moving the app off of the home screen. I was going with the out-of-sight, out-of-mind strategy. In particular, I was combatting the pesky little red notification badge, constantly inviting me in like an overly friendly neighbor (yes, I know you can disable it; people are complicated). I found this initial strategy somewhat helpful but moving the app one swipe away didn’t quite eviscerate my daily usage so much as prevent further unchecked growth.

Facebook remains one swipe away but I now commit to checking it once a day at most. This type of strategy clearly doesn’t work for everyone but it fits my particular psychological proclivities. I now squash the little spontaneous urges to check Facebook with a mistaken notion that I’ll have a longer stretch of free time later in the day so as to get the most out of my “once a day” rule. Lo and behold this time never materializes or else I find some other use of my free time.

Resultantly, I feel generally more engaged and aware. The times I do use Facebook I am more deliberate about it envisioning what I want to post and what I want to get out of it. Ponderously, the random links and video that were like catnip during a Facebook escapade are far less appealing; perhaps an intuitive prioritizing under the new constraints. I’m finding that not just the total time spent has decreased but that the average session is shorter as well. Any remnant of FOMO is alleviated knowing that my wife will keep me up-to-date on the most important happenings.

Another personal example is around my three-year-old son’s use of television and iPad. Every parent is familiar with the benefits and perils of these technological wonders. The magical ability to keep your child captivated and quiet like nothing else can. On the flip side, the addictive nature is readily apparent as soon as you take them away. What’s more, the devilishly brilliant auto-play features in YouTube and Netflix make incessant viewing the default. While television and computers can certainly impart wonder, curiosity, and empathy, over indulgence leaves a certain psychological residue of listlessness.

As Kevin Kelly points out in What Technology Wants, technology is often a solution to problems created by other technology. Rather than see this as an “indictment of the system,” Kelly sees it as an essential element of progress itself. With our three-year-old son, we started setting a timer for his TV/iPad use. This worked better than bluntly cutting him off but still yielded mounting protest and frustration on his part.

A serendipitous “triple-click”of the home button on the iPad reminded me of the relatively new “guided access” feature. This feature sets a time limit after which the iPad disables itself. For our son, this worked well. It was no longer a power struggle of his parents taking away the iPad but rather an inherent limitation of the device. When time expires his frustration is short lived and not directed at us. Instead, he will remark with resigned acquiescence, “iPad doesn’t work.” He’ll try a few more swipes of the screen and then move on to something else.

With television he will eventually get bored and wander off but even then he expects the TV to be on in the background and gets upset when we turn it off. So far we’ve yet to devise an optimal strategy. We set a timer or try to monitor the number of episodes striving to turn off the tv before the Netflix auto-play kicks in. I couldn’t figure out how to turn this “feature” off on the Apple TV but I just Googled it and you can do it via the Netflix website (who ever goes there?).

Some televisions have sleep timers which may be useful depending how they are implemented. I’d read about someone who hooked up a Christmas lights timer to their router to help prevent themselves from staying up too late browsing or watching TV. Such a novel strategy wouldn’t help with smartphones of course, but perhaps could work for turning off the TV after a circumscribed time limit.

Those are a couple examples of how I’ve grappled with the (admittedly minor) adverse impacts of technology in my life. While I have a particular distaste for handwringing, I do find that experimentation, self-reflection, and open discourse with friends and family drive a more mindful approach to technology: an approach more closely aligned with your values and supportive of your goals.

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