Updated: Nov 12, 2021
The Unplug Series: Part 3
The allures, the harms, and how to take control of our minds.
It is up to us to take control of our minds and our attention. And we're up against a lot. Think millions of dollars invested in teams of engineers and tech entrepreneurs whose sole objective is to keep you hooked to their product. Now that we know the harms, and we know how these companies are targeting our attention, it's time to learn how to take action for ourselves. We owe it to our future self, who certainly will not look back and think 'man, I really wish I spent more time on Instagram competing for validation from strangers.' Your future self, your relationships, your bank account, your mental health, your opportunities, they will all thank you for choosing real life instead of distractions. So, let's do this. Here are the four stages to creating a more mindful and healthy relationship with your social media accounts. This one is part technical tips, part personal advice.
1. Control Your Notifications
The first step to gaining control is setting boundaries for how much the apps can interrupt your day with notifications. Notifications appear in red because red is a trigger color that instantly draws our attention. Most of our notifications are generated by machines, not actual people. Meaning the alerts the app generates to tell you about peoples birthdays, near by events, likes on your photo, etc. These are not things you need to know on an hourly basis, if at all. The first step for protecting our minds is disabling 90% of the things we allow them to notify us about. Here is a list of things I recommend you turn off notifications for:
Likes. You will see all the likes of your new awesome photo when YOU decide to open the app. You don't need updates by the second on how many people spent .4 seconds to double tap your photo. It's non essential information.
Other peoples post & live stream notifications. Again, we're going to see them anyways, no need for constant reminders of what the thousands of people you follow are doing all day.
Follows. They'll still have followed you whether you check your phone every time or not.
Birthdays, announcements, events, marketplace, videos, and other non human things. In fact, you should change your notification settings to only alert you when a real human is trying to reach you through a message or comment.
All email notifications or reminders about social media. Facebook should not be allowed to email you to tell you you have a new notification about something irrelevant to you.
Here's a simple Instagram guide to all the notifications you get and how you can turn them off.
2. Control Your Newsfeed
The second step is controlling what we see when we do open up the app. This is one of the most important but most difficult steps for people because it involves making decisions that make us feel bad. It is our responsibility to construct a social media experience that is a benefit instead of a detriment to our happiness and goals. You are not obligated to follow people, or consume content that doesn't pass the test of positive value. In the name of social reciprocity, most people follow dozens of people they don't even like. In the name of maintaining an arbitrary metric of social value- 'followers', most people don't want to unfollow people they don't actually care about or who cause them negative emotion. In the name of staying relevant or cool, most people follow hundreds of celebrities, models, and influencers who cause the user to spend hours going through their photos, comparing themselves and feeling inadequate, uninteresting, and unattractive. How many times have you thought something along these lines?
'Oh my gosh, I could never look like Kim K, and everyone loves her, boys will never like me, I'm ugly'.
'Wow, I don't know how Kevin Hart manages to work so hard and do so well at every single thing he does, I'll never be that successful, I suck'.
'How in the world is this 21 year old already so successful and famous? I'm so far behind, I could never catch up to that, I should just give up.'
'All of my friends have boyfriends and look so happy and cute on Instagram (or are getting married and having kids), I feel so alone and left out and unwanted, I'll never find someone.'
'Everyone on instagram is always doing such fun and exciting things, they have such happy lives, I'm so boring, why would anyone care about me?'
These are every day thoughts that millions of people around the world have every minute on social media. Social comparison is a natural thing humans do, and social media turned it into a game, using our desire for status and attention against us to make money. They do not care if these thoughts spiral you into a dark hole of everything you are not and everything everyone else is (or seems to be). They don't care about the impacts on your mental health, your school work, your relationship, your future. It is up to YOU to care about that, and to make sure your social media behaviour reflects that care. If we are struggling to change our mindset when consuming the beaut