I started to write a journal post about my successes throughout my media challenge, but it was simply not that interesting. While this post will be about how to make the internet more boring, the post itself should NOT be boring!
Therefore, I will briefly state that I was successful. I stayed off social media for 30 days and mostly stayed off news for that time. I allowed myself some very selective news along the way because I believe in the importance of an informed citizenry. Having said that and now approaching the internet with a clearer mind, I will discuss some strategies I am employing going forward.
Please note that, like so many things in my life, I assume that everyone else has these things figured out. When I talk to people about internet use, it bolsters that opinion. People fall into one of two camps: either they don’t use the internet frivolously anyway (except for Instagram, which many people cite as their socially acceptable guilty pleasure. I want to dig into that at some later time, why Instagram is seen as okay). OR they use the internet a lot and find enriching community there and are really comfortable with it.
Therefore like so many other things in my life, I assume that I am plunging along on my own and this struggle is mine alone. However, the stats back me up on this one, even if my anecdotal conversations don’t. And so I will write this up because it makes me feel less alone and I might reach others who also feel alone and help them to feel less alone.
Finally, I want to state loud and clear that I don’t think the Internet is bad. I have gained a lot from social media and from having quick access to the news. This is not a post about why it is all rubbish and why we should dump it. Instead, I have reached a point where I am no longer comfortable with my personal engagement with the platforms and want to change. I want some level of digital minimalism. I am offering these suggestions in case there are others who are feeling the same about all or parts of what I describe.
My habits are changing.
I am just saying no to flashy sites like Huffington Post and Buzzfeed. Instead, I am taking in news in a much more boring way. Currently I have subscriptions to Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Atlantic. They all have deeper reads and are far less click-bait than other sources.
Right now, I am grabbing articles throughout the week and placing their links in a Google Doc to spend a couple of hours with over the weekend. Not sure if this is the best way, but it is what I am trying.
In addition, once I open the article, I click to enable Reader View, so there is no visual clutter, ads, or sidebars to distract me from my reading.
I would love advice on how to curate the news. What has worked for you?
I have wiped out my Facebook newsfeed.
Controlling social media is a very important step in digital minimalism.
You know that thing that happens where you set your FB feed to “Most Recent” stories and it gives the warning that you are doing that and then it quietly reverts to “Top Stories” anyway? Apparently this may a feature not a bug. I can’t find a source, but I heard this comment in passing on a tech interview I was listening to recently.
The tech critic argued that FB does this because if we are looking through “Most Recent,” and we check it often, we quickly get to the point where we are caught up and are seeing the same things, which reminds us to close the tab and go do something else. So Facebook borrowed from gambling ideas and consistently changes the output so we never know what we will get.
In order to fight back against the constant stimuli of the newsfeed, I have turned it off, using News Feed Eradicator, which is a Firefox add on (also available for Chrome). There is now no newsfeed, just my notifications, a status update box, and an inspirational quote.
My plan is to go and visit the actual pages of my friends, one at a time. Catch up in a way that is similar to what we used to do. I have a few personal groups I am on that I will also check on periodically, for the more party atmosphere. 🙂
Perhaps you don’t want to go that extreme, but extensions are easy to turn off and on. So you could install it and just use it during the week and turn it off on the weekend.
Help the muscle memory forget
You know what was super helpful in my quest for digital minimalism? I removed all suggested sites from my new tab. On Safari, I closed out social media and news sites from the “Top Sites.” Now when I open a new tab, the clickable links are my email, calendar, google docs and sheets, my credit unions, blog, my grocery stores, library, and debt payoff account page.
On Firefox, which is becoming my main browser, I set up a page called Momentum. You can get it for Chrome as well. It is beautiful, the picture changes daily, there is a quote, a short to-do list, the current temperature, and my primary focus of the day. That is it. And you get to choose the name that it calls you, so that is nice.
For me, those clickable boxes that take me to the time-sucking websites were the biggest culprit, so this one simple hack has helped tremendously.
YouTube has been a definite problem. I had even largely stopped watching TV and movies because why watch something that takes 30-60 minutes when YouTube can give you something satisfying in 5 minutes? And then down the rabbit hole of suggested videos.
In my quest for digital minimalism, I have made a few changes to my browsing habits
- I don’t allow myself to mindlessly browse YouTube. If I have free time, I read. For background noise, I play our local classical station. If I want to listen to something engaging (I would often play YouTube while getting ready for work), I start listening to the Podcast I will stream on my way to work. While this may seem like a minor shift, it has been huge. I no longer view YouTube as a default space to browse.
- I have started using the Ecosia browser instead of Google (for the most part). It is the default search engine when I type into my address bar. I switched to them because they plant trees when I use them, and they are dedicated to privacy. But the unintended benefit is that when I search using them, the video results are not front and center. The videos are there, but further down and less grabbing. I will highlight the differences in the next section.
- I installed an add-on that removes suggestions and comments. YouTube is now a place I go to watch a video I know I want to watch. This makes it harder to find new things, but constantly finding new things was a problem for me. Did you know there is an average of 500 hours of new content uploaded to YouTube EVERY MINUTE?? I can’t keep up, nor do I want to. I am shifting my perspective so that I want to spend less time online, not more.
Here is an example of the differences in browsers
When I type “Christmas” into my Safari toolbar (which defaults to Google):
With the same search strategy in Firefox, which defaults to Ecosia:
The Ecosia browser does have YouTube selections, but you have to scroll down for them, and they are less exciting:
The videos come after some more encyclopedia entries, and the videos are more “how to” and somehow more muted.
When I visit YouTube, this is what the front page looks like:
I know that this is an extreme measure, but I need an extreme measure to break the habit. I may reevaluate some of these over time. But right now, I want drastic steps.
How I have improved my phone usage:
- I have removed all social media apps from my phone. Although I have never used Facebook on my phone except when traveling, I did have Reddit and Instagram on my there. No more.
- During the fast, I removed my news apps. I am not replacing them.
- No games on my phone. I am not a big gamer anyway, but I was falling into some word game time sucks. Done with that.
- I am turning it off during the work day and then turning it on at regular intervals to check messages.
- For right now, I only listen to live radio music either on a radio or on my computer. That way, I am not using my phone for music, so it is not so constantly with me.
One last thing
I am on my computer for nearly my entire work day. And I treat my work computer very differently than my personal computer. For instance, I never use social media on my work computer. While I might read a news story, I don’t sign into my news accounts. And I have not used my Chrome sign in at work.
Why is all of this significant? It keeps me focused on work when I am at work. No momentary jumps to my social media that end 20 minutes later. Since these apps are not on my phone either, my work day tends to be fairly productive, with little distraction from the online world.
I will keep you informed about my progress as time goes by, but these are some changing I am implementing to help me be more deliberate in my internet choices.