Don’t Forget to Look Up

I was walking down the halls of my high school after class, looking through Instagram. I barely notice I’m approaching my physics professor, who casually says, “look up, it’s a beautiful world.” Although simple and potentially cliché, it was the first time I heard this quote and it resonated with me ever since. I’m in a constant battle to look up more, and more literally, to use my phone less.

For my Design for Behavior Change course at Stanford (CS 247B), I was assigned to pick a behavior I’d like to change, and observe it for two days. As my battle to look up continues, I’m focusing on social media usage.

Data gathering

I chose to gather data immediately when I realized I was on social media, but I also logged data retroactively because I forgot to during the moment.

To begin, I noted down every time I used social media on my Notes app, along with checking the exact minute count through iPhone Screen Time. Furthermore, I marked what I was doing at the time, and if I was doing something notable before or after.

Jan 8 (57 minutes on social media)

7:00–7:05: Instagram and Snapchat check when I wake up

7:50–8:00: scrolling through social media after getting ready

8:30–11:00: intermittent checking of social media as I do homework. Around 6 or 7 pickups for a total of about 20 minutes.

16:00–16:10: checking social media while eating a snack

18:50–18:55: arriving home and sitting in bed on Instagram

20:30–10:45: on Instagram; got distracted doing homework

23:40–23:50: social media laying in bed

Jan 9 (45 minutes on social media)

8:00–8:05: Instagram and Snapchat check when I wake up

8:30–8:35: social media after getting ready again

9:00–12:30: intermittent social media. Around 4 pickups for a total of 10 minutes.

23:10–23:40: long session on Instagram watching snowboard videos before bed.

From my logs and experience, I noticed my social media usage is strongly context-related, rather than emotional. I created a connection circle which relates different moments my day, visualizing how they connect with each other in checking social media.

Connection Circle

I also mapped a causal loop after more acutely realizing my itch to know if there’s any pings or new social media updates when I’m off my phone.

Causal Loop

Reflections

As mentioned above, I learned that my social media usage is strongly correlated with my daily actions and routines. I primarily use it when in bed, when distracted doing homework, and when eating meals alone. If I’m able to fill these moments with healthier habits, I have the opportunity to significantly lower my social media usage. Lastly, observing myself made me acutely aware to my “itch” to check my phone, and how it creates a causal loop.

I noticed that my logging methodology of noting my social media use immediately when I noticed it likely impacted my natural behaviors, as it ended my social media sessions earlier than they should have. Interestingly, though, my screen time was comparable to other days where I did not gather data, meaning I only noticed I was on social media at the very end of my sessions (there could be an interesting deeper reason here … it shows how I easily get lost in my phone).

Next time, I’d change my methodology to only log data a few times a day, rather than immediately. This will hopefully increase the integrity of the data, since I’ll be less likely to end sessions early, as mentioned above.

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