Facebook, Reddit and YouTube are the three websites that became an endless source of distraction and procrastination for me. Whenever I was bored, my fingers would unconsciously type these URLs into my browser, or if I had something to do, I would take intermittent breaks to browse my favourite subreddits, scroll down the Facebook Newsfeed, or see what videos had been recommended to me on YouTube.
Despite enjoying seeing what others were up to on Facebook, downloading a wealth of information on Reddit, or watching an interesting podcast (or people falling over) on YouTube, overall, these were bad Internet habits. They took up a large portion of my day (which is easy when you’re underemployed).
After scrolling the Newsfeed, the constant comparisons I would make between myself and others left me feeling more isolated, envious and depressed after a while. Constantly clicking on different threads on Reddit seemed to hardwire my mind to only seek information in the form of instant gratification. My attention span was ruined, and I was unable and uninterested in reading books (I used to read so many books) or even full-length articles. And the same goes for YouTube. The constant need to be entertained left me fast-forwarding even very short videos, and tuning out when watching a documentary, interview or lecture.
I have tried cutting down on my usage, say, by giving myself a cut off time, but I quickly fell back into my old habits. I realised it was getting in the way of writing, interrupting my sleep and becoming a priority over actual, positive hobbies, such as drawing and learning Spanish. So, like kicking a drug, I went cold turkey. You may laugh when I say it’s only been 18 days, but compared to my previous habit of daily use, this has been a big change.
I have literally felt my mental health improve, as I’m no longer engaged in the social comparison of Facebook, which we too often forget presents a highlights reel of people’s lives. When I was travelling, I was guilty more than anyone, constantly posting photos showing how much of a great time I was having. When you see this kind of information, it skews our perception and we see other people’s lives as amazing, exciting and perfect.
I did try and communicate the less appealing sides of travel (i.e. becoming seriously ill or getting burnt out), and some people do use Facebook as a platform to complain, vent and argue, but overall we get a very narrow and unrealistic impression of people’s lives. It is used to create a brand (i.e. this is what the life of Sam is like) and this brand is then promoted.
I decided I want to leave this arena of social comparison, for the time being, at least. The only downside has been the lack of communication I have with my friends now. I’m sort of out of the loop, unaware of what my friends are getting up to, and making plans isn’t as simple. Maybe I’ll go back on Facebook at some point and block the Newsfeed on all my devices (there is a Newsfeed eradicator you can download, which replaces it with inspirational quotes instead!) Culling my ‘friends’ might also be necessary. But for the time being, I feel relieved to have disappeared from that world. I don’t think Facebook is the glue that holds friendships together, and at least when I see my friends or family, whatever they tell me will actually be news, not just an elaboration on what I already found out on Facebook.
With the free time I have without Facebook, Reddit and YouTube, I am much more interested (and able) to read books and lengthy articles again. Writing also comes easily. As I write this now, I have felt no itch to open up a new tab and see if I have any new Facebook notifications, or check the news posts on /r/travel, or watch some awkward prank on YouTube.
So long as the experiment is improving my lifestyle and mental health, I will keep at it, but I suppose if it ends up totally ruining my social life or keeping me uninformed, or bored, then perhaps I will use them again, but just less like an addict.