Explorer Ruby realised that she was spending way too much time staring at her screen. Determined to kick the habit for good, she’s journaled the highs and lows of her 3 week screen reduction revolution. Read this (probably on your screen – yes, we know it’s ironic) and then take a good hard look at yourself.
You’re scrolling the newsfeed in bed. Your alarm went off 15 minutes ago and you should definitely be halfway through a bowl of cereal by now. But you’re not. You’re 14 weeks deep in your ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend’s best friend’s Instagram feed.
You’re scrolling the newsfeed at your desk. You don’t know how long you’ve been on Facebook for, but you’re not taking anything in. You come to your senses, sit back, take a sip of water and pull out your phone. You open Facebook and start scrolling.
It’s midnight. You’re in the YouTube loop again. Soldiers returning home to their puppies. The 15 Best Golden Buzzer Moments on America’s Got Talent. Babies eating lemons.
‘This is getting out of control,’ you think. You squeeze your eyes tight and sink into your pillow. The glow from your screen is burned on the back of your eyelids. You peel them open, decide there’s no way you’ll be able to get to sleep, and open another app. Be-fucking-jewelled.
Time To Take Control
It’s the start of March, and I’ve decided to take control of my technology use and reduce it by 3 hours per day. According to my phone, I spend 5 hours and 44 minutes online. That’s not including the time spent on my laptop, which works out to be around 6 hours (3 hours of paid work, 1 for study, 2 for leisure). Overall, that’s 10 hours of technology per day. On average. Holy hell.
I’m going to begin by setting myself small, manageable goals each week. Technology is making me feel fat and lazy; the more I use it, the more disappointed I become with myself. I’ve tried cold turkey before, complete with a social media announcement, but I only lasted 10 days. Maybe this approach will work instead?
Here’s what happened:
Week 1 Problem: I Spend Too Much Time On Social Media
Solution: Put time restrictions on my most used phone apps.
Day 1: 20 minutes per app. That’s actually quite a lot of time, all I need really. I don’t have that many friends? I don’t like, talk to people. There aren’t 20 minutes worth of people in my area on Tinder. I’ve got this.
Day 3: To prevent myself from hitting time limits on my phone, I’ve been using social media on my laptop more. I have successfully deceived myself. Tonight I’m giving myself a new rule. No social media on my laptop. Laptop is for work and study. If you want to scroll, scroll on your phone.
Day 5: How have I been on Instagram for 20 minutes?! I haven’t even gotten out of bed yet??!? Ignore. Remind me again in 10 minutes. Ignore. Remind me again in 10 minutes…
Day 7: I’m feeling more aware of how quickly time passes, and my screen time has reduced quite significantly this week (by 44%!) to 3 hours and 2 minutes a day. I’ve started dropping my phone when the notification pops up and doing something else instead. Pulling out a book. Getting out of bed. Hiking up the escarpment. Sitting by a riverbed and trying to catch tadpoles in my palms. Sitting out on the balcony with my journal. Gardening. Even talking to my housemates. Okay, this constant reminder is good. I can get around it. It’s getting to the end of the day and my time limit reminder pops up, rather than in the morning.
Week 2 Problem: The Time I Do Spend On Technology Isn’t Always Meaningful
Solution: Am I learning something? Does this make me happy?
Day 8: Today I wrote down a list of what I actually find valuable about each social media platform I use. I like Facebook because of the communities I’m a part of. I like Instagram because I find adventure inspiration from the brands and people I follow. I tried to be very specific. What groups, pages, accounts, communities?
Day 11: Day 8 set me up nicely for day 11. What doesn’t spark joy? Jessica’s 85 status updates each day. Hide from timeline. What account makes me feel terrible about my body, or my lack of financial stability, or my life generally? Comparison is the thief of joy. Unfollow. Hide from Newsfeed and Stories.
Day 14: News consumption is important to me, but I spend a lot of time consuming news that isn’t beneficial, doesn’t teach me anything, isn’t fact checked or (somewhat) politically neutral. Today, I bought a subscription to The Monthly, unsubscribed from a bunch of emails and put The Conversation in my Bookmarks Bar.
Week 3 Problem: I Rely On The Internet To Validate My Adventurous Lifestyle
Solution: Reassess my intentions when posting.
Day 15: When you upload a photo of something, you give the person consuming your content a tiny, tinnnnyy snapshot into an entire day of activity. Almost immediately, they fill in the gaps that your photo doesn’t show. The laughter, the beers, the ocean temperature after a day of hiking. Often, the user hyper-romanticises the experience.
I know this, because I do the same thing. I romanticise people’s lives and assume they’re better than they probably are. As content creators we know we have the ability to manipulate and control our image to do the same. I scrolled through my feed, re-read old captions and thought about the ways I’ve done this in the past. The way I’ve used captions to flourish an experience that was, for the most part, aesthetically pleasing but emotionally average. Euuuugh, I’m a fraud.
Day 18: I went on a bushwalk today and I didn’t put it on my Instagram. I didn’t upload a story, and I won’t post a photo. It’s actually kind of weird. You get into the habit of posting about it, and seeking validation when you do. Arguably, more validation from little red hearts than a landscape of trees.
A friend read this line from Satre to me today: ‘For an occurrence to be an adventure, it is necessary and sufficient for one to recount it.’
Read that again.
If we do not tell our stories, do not share them with a collection of friends and almost-strangers and a bunch of bot accounts, was it really an adventure? Does the adventure lie in the retelling, or the activity itself?
Oh boy, these challenges make me philosophise too much. I didn’t retell this one. Trying to figure out whether it was an ‘adventure’ or just a casual walk in the bush. My head hurts.
Day 21: There’s nothing wrong with creating content. We all have elitist non-social media using friends who stick up their nose and say ‘I’m just here to enjoy the moment, I don’t need to capture it. You’re not enjoying this mountain with your face behind a screen, tutt tutt.’
Somehow, this elitism doesn’t appear when someone pulls out a sketchpad or a journal. Some so-called enjoyment-distracting activities are more ‘wholesome’ than others. What bullshit. You know how you appreciate a place. If that’s using technology and taking a bunch of photos, so be it.
This week I reflected a lot on social media as a content creator, not just a content consumer. I don’t spend a lot of time using technology to create content – I don’t edit my photos and I don’t upload videos (I’m just not savvy). But this reflection helped me understand my relationship with the platforms that I use a little better.
Week 4: 3 Extra Hours A Day, But Am I Missing Out?
Restricting social media use to my phone has drastically reduced my screen time, especially with the introduction of time limits. The time limits gamify the experience for me. I want to get to the end of the day without that trigger reminder notification. If it comes late at night, when I’m curled up in bed, the sense of accomplishment is surprisingly sweet.
This challenge has forced me to think more about my relationship with tech and how that affects my relationship with other things, like adventure. With 2 extra hours, there are hundreds of beautiful places I can see instead. With less reminders of what exists in the world of social media, there’s less pressure to contribute to the noise.
I’m committed to keeping my tech usage to 7 hours per day (including work!). I already feel lighter. I have more time. I realise how little the Scroll Hole gave me. There have only been benefits, so there’s no reason for me to crawl back into old habits.
Let us know if you take a similar challenge. What did you find most difficult? What did you learn about yourself?