Five easy ways to curb your social media addiction

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Chris Schulz

If Netflix's scary documentary The Social Dilemma has you questioning your use of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, you're not alone. Here's how you can wean yourself off addictive online platforms.

Have a regular digital detox

At the beginning of the year, Tina Moore turned her phone off, and left it off. “I went away for 10 days, no wi-fi, no cell signal,” says the Auckland-based social media manager, who felt her life had become too dependent on pings from her smartphone. “I felt so good, mentally, after that, I turned all my notifications off.” According to research, there’s a good reason for that. A 2019 Carnegie Mellon University study found participants reported increased concentration levels and less stress by simply turning off their notifications. Despite running 500 social media accounts, Moore agrees she’s more productive without notifications. She only checks her phone when she feels like it, and is happy with her decision. “It was kind of in control of me,” she says. “Now I’m more in control of it.”

Turn down the volume

Another way to stop your phone dictating your life is to turn down the volume, and turn off vibrations. Let’s face facts: a work mate’s rumbling phone on a meeting room desk is more annoying than the thing actually ringing properly. But there could be more benefits for smartphone users than that. Robert Rosenberger has studied what he calls “phantom vibration syndrome” and says the phenomenon, in which smartphone users suffer muscle spasms when they think their phone is ringing, is widespread. “As society becomes increasingly dependent on mobile devices, the phantom vibrate easily becomes a phenomenon of worry for users,” says the assistant professor of Philosophy in the School of Public Policy. Nobody wants to be seen twitching uncontrollably as they walk through the mall, so take this one seriously.

Greyscale all of your apps

This is an easy one to do in theory, but harder in practice. If you’ve recently purchased a new phone and want to make the most of its super high-def AMOLED display capabilities, making your screen black and white just seems stupid. But there’s a big reason that many apps are the colour blue, and those badge notifications are red: they’re designed like casino slot machines to keep you coming back for more. “Every time we go on the app, it’s like pulling the lever on a slot machine: we could ‘win’ likes from our friends,” writes Ramsay Lewis on “If not the culprits, the dots are at least accessories to most of the supposed crimes of addictive app design,” says John Herrman for The New York Times. You may not be losing all your money, and you may not even play slot machines. But it’s worth knowing that those apps you love are controlling your mind in exactly the same way.

The Social Dilemma

A scene from the surprise hit Netflix film The Social Dilemma. Photo/Netflix

It’s getting toxic out there

If The Social Dilemma manages to get one message across, it’s that social media is causing more division in our lives. All that political chaos in America? Social media is to blame. All that online harassment? Social media. The QAnon phenomenon? Social media. One of the most impressive terrifying facts revealed in the movie is that fake news spreads six times faster than real news on social media. You only have to visit Twitter for 10 minutes, check out Facebook’s top 10 lists, or dive into the comment threads on a controversial Instagram post to realise how overwhelmingly toxic social media has become. Do you really need to be diving into those apps for updates every 20 minutes? Do they really make your life better?

Think about quitting them completely

Whoa. This is a big move, and not something you want to do overnight. Think about it before you make your decision. But according to recent research, more and more people are quitting social media altogether. The Social Dilemma is certainly helping encourage social media users to take the plunge and go cold turkey. “I already feel much more productive, positive and focused,” wrote one Twitter user after viewing the movie. After all, Facebook will be fine. It has 2.7 billion active users. Instagram has more than a billion too. And more than 330 million people use Twitter. The sun is shining outside. What are you really going to miss out on?

  • The Social Dilemma is available to stream on Netflix.
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Chris Schulz

Chris Schulz has 20 years experience writing about New Zealand's technology and entertainment industries. He lives in Auckland.

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