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I’m cutting back on social media — here’s how you can too

This article was first featured in Yahoo Finance Tech, a weekly newsletter highlighting our original content on the industry. Get it sent directly to your inbox every Wednesday by 4 p.m. ET. Subscribe

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Here's why I'm limiting my social media usage

I’ve used social media ever since Tom became my best friend on MySpace. I scroll endlessly through Instagram (FB), hunt for news on Twitter (TWTR), and devour bite-size video clips on TikTok.

But I’ve finally reached my limit. I’m tired of sitting in bed at night staring at my screen, or keeping up with the latest gaming memes while waiting for my train. On average, I spend an hour and a half on Instagram daily, according to my iPhone’s Screen Time tracker. That’s roughly on a par with the average user in the U.S., who according to eMarketer, spent an hour and 37 minutes on social media platforms in 2021.

Perhaps like other Americans, I’m over feeling compelled to swipe up to unlock my phone and instinctively sliding over three screens to get to my social media apps. And I can’t take the crush of awful stories filling my feeds — whether its articles detailing animal abuse or images from war zones. Although I don’t want to ignore those incidents, I also don’t want it to be the only content I see for hours at a time.

I'm finally cutting back on social media. Here's hoping it lasts. (Image: Howley)
I'm finally cutting back on social media. Here's hoping it lasts. (Image: Howley)

No, I’m not quitting social media entirely. I’m just cutting back. After all, as experts point out, the platforms do provide some benefit — whether that’s discovering new and interesting social groups or finding new or long-lost friends.

And, as a journalist, I need a social media presence to do my job.

“Social media can be used in a huge range of ways that are relationship and personally important,” said Jeffrey Hall, associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas.

“I think that we have to keep those conversations at the forefront, because I think people want to only highlight the most negative effects that they have. And I think that that's a mistake because it's not an accurate representation of how a lot of people use social media,” he added.

That said, I’m tired of these apps ruling my life. So, I’m weaning myself off them. To do that I’m going to attempt to be more mindful about why I’m actually on social media in the first place, with the hope doing so can stop me from doom-scrolling my time away.

Finding what you’re looking for

My biggest gripe with my social media use is how often I’m online. Rather than reading a book or even playing video games with my wife, I find myself swiping through videos of people pulling staged pranks or posting videos of their trips to Machu Picchu.

I’ve sat down on the couch, or in my chair and picked up my phone briefly, only to realize 30-minutes later I’ve been looking at nothing in particular. Then there are moments when I’ve been scrolling through post after post, darkening my mood with every swipe.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And you don’t have to ditch social media entirely to get your viewing under control.

Rege-Jean Page looks at Elon Musk as they arrive at the In America: An Anthology of Fashion themed Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, New York, U.S., May 2, 2022. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Rege-Jean Page looks at Elon Musk as they arrive at the In America: An Anthology of Fashion themed Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, New York, U.S., May 2, 2022. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

“There are a few ways that we can really engage in more healthy social media use,” explained American Psychological Association chief science officer Mitchell Prinstein.

“One is a process that people refer to as mindful social media use, and I do it myself. The way that we approach it is we very briefly think about what are your goals for going on to a social media platform or using a screen.”

The idea, Prinstein explained, is to find a purpose for going on social media, and once you’ve completed that purpose, force yourself to sign off. This way you can still check in on friends, visit news sites, or see what your favorite influencer is doing without falling into the abyss.

Setting limits on scrolling

That tactic can curb doom scrolling, or the act of thumbing through your social media feed and feeling overwhelmed by an endless supply of horrible news stories. The pandemic and the glut of stories surrounding its impact was already hard to contend with. However, seeing that and only that on social media made it unbearable.

To better address doom scrolling, Prinstein suggests setting up time limits on the social media apps you use most.

Apple’s (AAPL) iOS and Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Android include built-in app timer features called Screen Time and Digital Wellbeing, respectively. So if you’re using TikTok too much, for instance, you can limit yourself to 15 minutes per day. You can override that limit, of course, but you ideally wouldn’t.

You can also simply delete apps you feel you use too often. But that doesn’t always work. I’ve deleted TikTok from my phone five times, because I felt like I was scrolling through it too much. It’s off my phone now, and I’m hoping to keep it that way.

I've set a 20-minute limit on my Instagram use. (Image: Instagram)
I've set a 20-minute limit on my Instagram use. (Image: Instagram)

As for my Instagram usage, I’ve set a 20-minute limit on how long I can use the app each day. The limit automatically resets at midnight.

I can’t exactly log out of Twitter because it’s an important part of my job. It’s where I can track breaking news and find sources. So I’m going to have to keep using that on a daily basis. On the flip side, I don’t use it in my personal time. And Facebook (FB)? Well, I just don’t use Facebook.

So why not ditch all social media? Because I like seeing what’s going on in the world in one place. I follow friends, get information on what’s going on in my area, and check out when movies and shows I’m excited for are coming out. And, of course, I like posting the occasional picture or two of my cats.

According to Prinstein, it’s all about moderation.

“Just the way that you might say, ‘I'm happy to have a couple of drinks when I go out on Friday nights, but I'm not going to do it at 10 a.m. every morning,’ I've prescribed times in my life when I'm allowing myself for a little bit of reckless pleasure.”

Now I just need to stick to my plan. I wonder if there’s a TikTok to show me how to do that?

By Daniel Howley, tech editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him @DanielHowley

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