The book I am currently reading was written by a guy who wrote the recipe book for social media companies to keep our attention. This recipe book was called “Hooked”, and is apparently a look under the hood of these incredibly addictive apps. In more recent times, this author has turned to the consumer side, writing a book called “Indistractible” which details how people might keep from being distracted by the apps which he played such an instrumental part in creating. Although I may sound quite cynical about how this book was written, I do believe it contains some great advice for people.
Social media is a tool of the 21st century which can be used for fantastic ends. It can also send people down a foggy spiral, wasting their lives on the infinite scroll. For a while, I got off social media entirely. I would highly recommend that people do this, at least for a little while. Understand what it was like before 2010. But if you are someone who wants to use the connectedness of the 21st century to your advantage, you can’t stay off it for long.
I believe a key concept is balancing between consuming and creating. If you are strictly a consumer of the content on these apps, you are more likely to go down meaningless rabbit holes. If you are a creator on these apps, your consumption is more likely to be meaningful – you are at least analysing how people make engaging posts, if not learning concepts to add to your own content. Of course, there is context and exceptions to this, but I do believe that creating your own content on these platforms is enormously beneficial.
In Nir Eyal’s book Indistractible, he runs through many strategies which allows people to set boundaries with their social media and smartphone use. Some of these are simply self-help concepts but wrapped in the social media context they become even more important. I will explore one of these concepts in particular which seems to serve as a backbone of controlling technology consumption: Scheduling your time.
They say that you can determine how much someone values their time by understanding the degree to which they schedule it. This scales all the way from someone who doesn’t even know what he is doing tomorrow, to a high-level businessperson who literally has his time scheduled to the second. Planning out your day has many benefits, not least are major improvements in focus. There is plenty of time wasted in the moment, deciding what it is you need to do, rather than simply doing the work because it is the next item on your schedule. When you sit down and plan, you make more considered decisions which are more likely to bring you to your end-goals, which you should also have defined.
If you meticulously plan out how you are spending your time, and stick to that schedule, your social media consumption will only follow your own schedule. If you want to only spend thirty minutes per day on social media, only schedule thirty minutes at a specific time. To make sure you don’t go over that time, make that thirty-minute block precede something that is very important to you. You are more likely to put your phone down at the right time if the next item on your schedule is an important meeting than if the next item is having dinner (depending on how seriously you take dinner).
The book I read prior to this one was Johann Hari’s Stolen Focus. Hari’s general message was that being distracted is not your fault, but instead the fault of the social media companies who created such algorithms that are made to be addictive. I completely agree with him, but I don’t believe that this way of looking at the problem is going to help anyone. There are plenty of directions from which to look at a problem, and what I like to do is find the direction which is most likely to provide a constructive outcome. Johann’s perspective doesn’t create a constructive outcome – he admits himself that he continually gets sucked back into the draw of the algorithm, wasting precious time. Nir’s perspective, however, seems to create a fantastic outcome – one where he prioritises time with his family, his friends, his work and himself. Nir paints a picture of a balanced life, where Johann paints a picture of helplessness. This doesn’t mean that Johann is wrong. I still believe that Johann is correct. But his perspective is unhelpful to the general social media user.
How should you prioritise your social media use? I would recommend sharing your work, whatever work that is, on social media, every day. And I should be practicing what I preach here, too. This will at least provide you with some benefit for the unavoidable distraction the tool causes. I would also recommend scheduling your time better. Create a boring routine that steers you in the right direction and commit to it. This is timeless advice, relevant long before, during, and long after social media.