Over the past few years, I’ve been trying lots of different things to kick my social media habit. I deleted my Facebook account a while back but I get some value out of Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn — enough to stick around on those platforms. So I’ve been putting some guardrails in place to keep my time on them down to a minimum.
I started by using Apple’s Screen Time limits to place a 15 minute per day restriction on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. But it’s easy enough to override that and give myself an extra 15 minutes or longer. That override process almost becomes unconscious, like riding a bike or driving my car. It’s only partially useful as a solution.
But there is one “hack” that’s helped me to get my social habit down to something that’s both manageable and acceptable. And that’s to introduce as much friction as possible by using the mobile web browser versions of each platform. It works for a few reasons:
- Forcing myself to open Safari, type in an address, then log in (I always make sure to sign out every time I’m done) adds enough friction to stop me in my tracks and make sure this is something I want to be doing right now.
- You can’t get push notifications for social networking sites you visit in your browser and then log out of, so you can’t get drawn back in except for on my own terms. Some sites may offer to send notifications, but I’d always ignore/deny them.
- Social media companies don’t put half as much time or effort into their mobile web browser experiences as they do their mobile apps. Frankly, they suck. Interactions are awkward, new features take a long time to show up (and even then, they often don’t work properly) and the whole experience feels less polished. To me, this is a bonus, because the whole thing feels less appealing.
Why make something deliberately worse? Well, like I said at the beginning, I still get value from these platforms. I love using Instagram to see what my friends are up to in their lives. And Twitter is great for discovering new stuff. But their apps are brilliant, and that’s the problem. They’re too convenient and too enjoyable and that’s how “just 15 minutes” on social media unconsciously turns into an hour.
This approach is based on James Clear’s habit forming and braking ideas from his excellent book, Atomic Habits. He says that you can form habits by making them obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying. The opposite is true for breaking habits; make them invisible, unattractive, difficult unsatisfying. And that’s exactly what I’m doing here.
If you’re the kind of person who compares social media platforms to the tobacco industry, I guess you could consider this the equivalent of forcing all cigarette brands to use plain packaging with huge health warnings on the front. Making something less appealing makes it much less likely to take over your life.
There are some downsides to this approach. Like I mentioned above, new features take a long time to show up (if at all), so if you want to check out Fleets or Spaces on Twitter, you’re out of luck. The experience of posting on the mobile browser versions of these platforms is more awkward. Especially on Instagram. But if you’re trying to cut down on your social media usage, that might not be a bad thing either.