The smartest decision I’ve made so far in 2018 has been deleting every social-media app from my phone. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, even my little-used Discord app — they all got the boot. (Workplace chat app Slack remains for, well, work-related reasons, but you must have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change.)
As you get older, one of the ways life remunerates your increasing irrelevance is you gain a measure of self-knowledge. And I know my brain is, essentially, like a bird pecking at a mirror. Put something shiny in front of me, and I’ll go after it endlessly until you either put food in a dish near me or make me think it’s nighttime. Social-media apps simply became that shiny thing. Every time I stepped into an elevator, or got in line at a grocery store, or simply walked down the hallway at work, I instinctively went for the bottom right corner of my phone where my Twitter app lived, opening it up for the endless flow of information and feedback. I was addicted, full stop.
Which is part of the problem with social-media apps on smartphones. As an Old Millennial (the oldest, really — I was born in 1982, the generally accepted cutoff year for the millennial generation), my early days on social networks took place entirely on desktops. You’d come home from a college party and leave a tipsy testimonial on a crush’s Friendster page, carefully arrange your Top 8 on MySpace, or poke people on Facebook while playing online Boggle ripoffs. You’d find people to talk to, hook up with, and argue with — all the stuff we still use social media for — but you’d do it from a desktop or laptop computer. And unless you’re some nerd, you don’t use your laptop on the subway or in line at CVS.
But starting in 2007, the iPhone and its hundreds of imitators have changed that — and had changed my behavior in the process. I remember not really getting Twitter in 2007. Then I got my first smartphone, had a funny thought run through my head while waiting in line at the corner store, tweeted it, and got a few faves and follows, and was hooked. Facebook went from something I’d use mainly to goof off at work to something to scroll through on the bus or subway for things to read, look at, and just generally use to ignore the outside world. Instagram, the first social network designed explicitly for the smartphone, became an endless and addictive scroll of people leading much more attractive and entertaining lives than I do.
So earlier this month, I just got rid of all of them. I still use Twitter (or, more accurately, Tweetdeck) on my computer, and check in on Facebook when I use my laptop, but I use my laptop much more rarely and in much fewer places than my phone. When I use them, I tend to be be more intentional in my use — I’m running through lists on Twitter trying to get a sense of the current news cycle, or quickly making (or responding to) announcements about major and minor life events on Facebook.
It’s been nearly two weeks since I went went smartphone social-media-free, and so far I haven’t missed it. It’s also, frankly, changed my relationship to my phone. I used my phone a few times this past weekend to text friends and look up a recipe, but otherwise pretty much left it alone. The battery died on the thing nearly 24 hours ago, and I just haven’t bothered to recharge it. This would have been unthinkable even a few weeks ago.
Of course, like any person in recovery from an addiction, the urge to talk about it too soon — especially amid the endless hunt for content — is dangerous. Relapse could happen at any moment. I’ve thought about putting an old-school web browser bookmark to Twitter on my phone’s home screen a few times — what harm could it do? Except I know I’d be right back to where I was, feeling low-level malaise while scrolling through my Twitter feed. One day at a time.
This isn’t a solution for everyone. I know that for many, their social life revolves around these apps — not having access to Instagram or Twitter on the go would be the same as leaving the house without a phone at all. But if you find yourself grazing through social media with the same vacant appetite you might use to slowly work your way through a stack of Pringles — not enjoying it, not hating it, just sorta doing it — then give my solution a shot. You can always reinstall.