Dan Dean / Project:

Disconnecting from Social Media

Social Media has become a toxic force in my life. It's taken up mental energy better spent on the people important to me. It's been a constant input stream of anger into my experience of the world. It's led me to feel like any effort is futile.

Since disconnecting from social media my general sense of calm has increased to levels I haven't experienced consistently in years. I no longer habitually grab for my phone, I feel less restless, and I'm not pulled into the loop of focusing on all that is wrong in the world throughout the entirety of every day.

Why Disconnecting is Difficult for Me

A challenge for me is that I work in software and the devices I use for work are also the devices which connect me to social media. Having quick access to all of these sites and applications makes it difficult for me break the habit of turning to them the moment my mind wanders.

In order to be successful I realized I needed to make returning to these things more difficult; I needed to give myself the opportunity to short circuit the impulse to return before my muscle memory and habits could complete the task of returning.

I know, this is super wierd, but it's true.

How I Disconnected

My Phone

Because I need my phone for work I knew this would be a challenge. Originally I thought I'd need to get a brand new flip phone. With this I could swap the SIM between the phones so after work my iPhone would be basically useless. I was moments from buying this when I started to wonder how difficult it would be to instead intentionally cripple my iPhone – that would be cheaper and less annoying than swapping SIM cards multiple times a day.

After a bit of searching I landed on something similar to this approach:

Delete every app with a stream (especially Slack, Facebook, and Twitter)

Every app with a stream wants me to look at that stream. They design their notifications to pull me back into that stream. Their business model is based around my eyeballs being on that stream. None of this is in my best interest. If an app has a stream it's working against me and doesn't belong on my device.

Disable email

Email is a TODO list which anybody can add items to. Like a stream, random brands abuse it for their own benefit. Because it's tied so closely to work it keeps me from shutting that down in the evening. It's horrible. And I have four different addresses, all with their own catagories of unimportant distractions.

Disable Safari

Safari is a gateway straight back into the web-based streams of the apps I just deleted. Disabling Safari helps make it more difficult to get back into those streams. If I really need Safari I can wait until I get back to my computer.

Disable Calendar

Calendars have too much noise from work in them. Work is for your computer, not your pocket.

My Laptop

Leave it in my Office

I work remote, so this was going to be a challenge. But I'm trying more and more to define a clear split between work and home. When I leave my laptop in my home office I'm less likely to pick it up and get sucked back into things which can wait until the next work day.

Block sites with Streams

Again, because I use this device for work, it's difficult to rely on willpower alone. To force myself to stick to this plan I installed SelfControl. It lets you enter in URLs for sites you don't want to be granted access to, and then set a timer (maximum is only 1 day, unfortunately). Once activated there's no way to gain access to the sites in your list until the timer runs out. The first thing I do when I start work is turn this on for the maximum duration and I'm locked out. And when my boredom muscle-memory kicks in and I start typing "twitt..." into Safari I get the calming "Safari Can't Open the Page" screen, and I happily go back to not piping steaming hot takes into my brain when I should be doing something actually productive. For me this list is as small as facebook.com, twitter.com, and mastodon.social. 🎉

The Result

Outside

The change was immediate, and the most annoying thing was the muscle-memory kicking in to pull me towards my devices for entertainment. But when I got to them... they were boring. They were amazingly, beautifully BORING. Open it up, tap around, nothing to do, put it away. Repeat that 10 times without thinking and it starts to lose it's charm.

Over the course of the week I noticed I was more engaged with the people in the physical space around me without having to put effort into it being present. I experienced a noticeable lack of ambient anxiety or frustration about the world around me.

If you haven't noticed me around on here lately, this is why, and it really is an amazing improvement to my experience of daily life. I don't plan on going back anytime soon.

Some Tweaks

After living like this for a while I've reverted a couple of the changes. First, I brought email back, but it's limited to a single email address which I use almost entirely with my family. Next I brought Calendar back, but it's limited to a single family calendar I share with my wife. The theme here is obvious: these utilities aren't destructive to my interests when they're limited in scope to my close family. An additional change was to turn off all app badges on my phone. I really don't need to know the number of missed calls or voicemails I have – I'll get to them eventually.

...and now to momentarily undo a few things so I can post this to social media (and then not check the responses).