How I reduced my social media addiction without going cold turkey

Mohamed Zohny
Jul 16, 2018 · 5 min read

It’s very difficult to use social media without getting tricked into wasting a lot of time.

After a long day of working on my laptop and phone, all I wanted was to avoid more screen time and just relax and enjoy the view of Geneva Lake.

But when I saw sail boats pass in front of the highest mountain in Europe, I just couldn’t resist.

With the intention of quickly sharing a picture and then returning to the view, I opened Instagram.

But opening Instagram is far easier than closing it.

Throughout the rest of that day, I kept constantly checking my post. Even when I was not using (the phone) I kept touching it with the tips of my fingers.

Heavy users touch their phone over 5,400 times per day on average according to a study by research firm Dscout.

If you haven’t already, by the time you’ve read this, you’ll probably have a strong urge to check your phone.

There are a lot of people advising to go cold turkey and simply quit social media.

But at a time where data and algorithms are changing the world, I don’t think quitting is the solution — especially if you work in social media or need to use it to support a business.

The irony is that, like everything else on the internet, articles advising you to quit social media are actually read and shared on social media.

My point is: use but don’t abuse or get abused by social media.

Here are the three steps I took to reduce my addiction, without quitting.

1. Awareness

It wasn’t until I saw a TED talk about the topic and began to research how addictive social networks can actually be that I became aware of the problem. This guide below from Wired is a great summary of the methods social networks use to keep you hooked to their apps.

Time Well Spent, a non-profit organization founded by former Google employee Tristan Harris. It is designed to raise awareness about the intentional mechanisms that make consumer technology addictive.

Becoming aware of the problem drove me to a willingness to change my phone habits.

2. Developing new social media habits

This is the stage where I learned these new tricks and habits to help me reduce my time on social media:

1. Turn off all social media notifications.

Although your social media notifications may feel urgent, they probably aren’t. However, you might choose to keep notifications on messaging apps that only notify you when real people want your attention — Whatsapp, for example.

2. Implement daily cut-off times for responding and posting on social media.

One of the ideas that I found really useful was daily cut-off time for social media. I keep track so I can see every day, how many hours of social media consumption (going through my feed) and creation(posting, reacting, responding) I actually spend.

Once you start keeping score, you can decide how much time you actually want to spend consuming content vs create.

3. Capture content now and post it later.

It’s okay -your friends will survive if they can’t see it until tomorrow. When I started giving myself daily cut-off times and stopped posting in real time, I managed to reduce my social media use.

I also observed that — having given myself more time to edit them — my posts were of better quality. I now enjoy one hour per day from 8:00 to 9:00 pm dedicated to:

  • editing my photos/videos
  • posting or scheduling a post
  • responding to comments and DMs
  • going through my feed and liking, sharing, and commenting on other people’s content

3. Maintenance

Once you have changed some of your habits and learned new tricks to reduce your social media use, you will need to continue working hard to prevent a relapse. This will require active monitoring of your social media use and staying alert to triggers and temptations.

These apps may help you to track your phone use and block certain apps for a set period of time:

Addiction to technology is an issue that brands like Apple and Instagram have started to address. Apple has announced several new features in iOS12 to help combat phone addiction, and Instagram is currently testing tools to help track time and usage of the app.

All of these tools and apps can be useful, but they also require your own initiative and discipline for you to reclaim control.

In his new book “ Homo Deus” , Yuval Noah Harari explains, the importance of having control on what to pay attention to and what to ignore: “In the twenty-first century, censorship works by flooding people with irrelevant information. […] In ancient times having power meant having access to data. Today having power means knowing what to ignore.”

Control your social media or be controlled by it, program or be programmed.

Share this article to help raise awareness of social media addiction and perhaps to help someone reduce their time wasted on social media.

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Mohamed Zohny

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Born and bred in Cairo, live in Geneva. Like technology, social media and kitesurfing.

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