My social media posts on the most vexing of topics, the current state of politics in my state and country, are probably a giant flag about how totally torqued up I am about things. A day doesn’t go by that there isn’t some new insanity that is visited on non-Republicans and Independents by the Republicans and the completely inept coverage of these things in the mainstream media out of fear of being labeled “biased”. I can’t even blame the social media algorithms for this. I’m doing it to myself since my social media experience is all self-created and visited lists that are in reverse chronological order. I can feel the compulsion to check over and over to see what new fucked up thing has happened and how it isn’t covered at all, covered with the Republican framing, or at best bothesidesismed to death by the main stream media, to say nothing for the treatment in the right wing media silos. To what end though? I’m just driving myself crazy with this stuff. I’m beyond trying to stay informed. I’m essentially beating myself up out of compulsion, lack of reactive response control, and probably a subconscious craving for the dopamine hit. Combine that with the impending take over of Twitter by a sociopathic narcissistic megalomaniac, to go along with the one running Facebook, my hand is probably going to be pushed on radically changing my social media behaviors anyway. It is for all those reasons I’m going to try to do another digital detox.
I first wrote about this sort of attempt in this 2017 blog post. I have done other attempts in the last couple of years too which ironically I only documented on social media. The premise is simple, get rid of the compulsive behavior by dramatically pulling back on these quick fix perpetual information sources and then at most reintroduce them later. I attempted to do something like this most recently last month. It was part of a general mindfulness exercise which included eliminating all alcohol, social media, fast news sources, etc. for a month. I had zero problem going 30 days without alcohol. I failed on the other two within less than two weeks.
Just like other very trying news cycle times throughout my life I tend to get sucked into the flow in unproductive ways. I’ll waste countless hours in discussion forums and newsgroups (yes that long ago) following whatever got posted there and in the newspaper websites. I can feel the anxiety building but my impulse isn’t to turn away from it it is to dial it in even more. In the modern era that has metastasized by a general inability to disconnect thanks to social media. New information doesn’t come in on the scale of days or hours but minutes and seconds. Is any of it useful compared to slower news sources? No.
A total disconnection from current events is the height of privilege and I can’t morally do that. I toy with the idea frequently even in the open. I have written several times about how as things go I sort of fantasize what it’d be like to live a more monkish existence. I even wrote some short stories along those lines to indulge the fantasy even more. I could do that in reality too because I am in a privileged position that affords me that option. I think it would be the height of moral failing to follow through with that though. What I instead need to do is use some of the methods I’ve developed through previous digital detox trials and apply them today.
So, this is the plan for the next 30 days. First order of business is that I’m cutting off reading Twitter or Facebook feeds. Yeah, I relapsed back to using Facebook, sue me. That means I’ll miss out on a lot of very fun tech, historical cooking, and other banter but I haven’t been able to discipline myself against reading the current events lists so I need to just not use them at all. The fediverse has dramatically less content but could still be a minefield. I am going to use that as a posting portal into social media though. So I am allowing myself to write posts on my Friendica account and cross-posting to Facebook via AddToAny. I will further allow myself to react to comments on those direct posts only but only for one hour a day.
Second order of business is how to stay informed without going crazy with fast news cycles. I will give myself permission to read the local paper, in digital form of course, for up to 30 minutes in the evening immediately after dinner. Not when I first wake up. Not while I’m eating lunch. Not right before trying to go to sleep. The idea is to allow myself to stay informed even though I’m potentially going to get agitated by that news. I previously used Washington Post for that but that’s too DC centric. I’ll get plenty of national news coverage from my weekly news sources. The local paper actually covers local and state issues, which it is important for me to keep following. The second source that I’ll allow is one weekly news publication. The one I go back to is The Economist.
As to other information sources, I’m going to cull down my podcasts to only be non-news podcasts. Most of my podcasts publish weekly and are on non-news topics so that should be pretty easy. I’ll continue to allow instant messaging apps and email but will time box them if they start filling in the void that is left behind by my compulsive news/social media habits. I also have an RSS feed with a lot of blogs on it, almost none of them “news” news though. I’m going to allow myself time to visit tohse during that same evening window as the daily news as well. YouTube is another place I get a lot of content. Most of it is documentary style and the like about topics other than current events. Just like not wanting to fill the “fast media” void with instant messaging or email I’m not going to prohibit myself from watching YouTube but I want it to be in a deliberate way. If my consumption statrs getting out of where it normally is (during lunch breaks, in the evening before bed, etc.) then I’ll evaluate making a more specific policy.
So what type of media should I be consuming more of? I’d say things like books, movies, stuff that isn’t about getting a dopamine response. Really it is about more than just filling one form of consumption with another but also making room for creation as well, whether that be prose, journaling, programming, or activities like doing stuff outdoors, etc.
After the thirty days I can re-evaluate if I want to start adding some additional sources back in or if I need to cut back further. Alright, with that it’s time to throw my social media timeline access, uninstall the apps and begin this detox phase. Let’s see if I can do this!