It’s spring. The air is crisp and you are hopeful. You want to clear the brain fog clouding your vision of the future. Where to start? Perhaps the radiation-emitting device in your back pocket!
If you’re like me, you have a complicated relationship with your phone and the many features that come with it. You need it and social media to stay connected to the things and people important to you, but you often find yourself feeling brain-dead, unsatisfied, forever-yearning. You’re beginning to realize how much time and energy you waste engrossed in the endless scroll of algorithm-sorted posts, searching for fulfillment in text boxes and hyperlinks. Your solution to boredom is becoming boring itself.
But you want to see and hear and read everything there is to see and hear and read! How does one manage that little metal box and all that’s in it with efficiency? Well, here’s a place to begin. (You don’t need to delete anything. Yet.)
1. Evaluate just how accessible your various social media accounts need to be. For example: Facebook does provide me with news updates, interesting articles, knowledge of upcoming events, and the ability to organize with groups. But since it’s equally accessible from any other device, I don’t feel that I need it on my phone, where I am more likely to get lost in the depths of my sixth grade enemy’s college photo album than I am to organize a political rally. There’s always self-control, but apps of this ilk are literally designed for you to become lost in them. Deleting Facebook from my phone has saved space, battery life, and of course, my time. And in the event that I just need to find a picture I posted on my friend’s wall in 2012, I can access Facebook (and many other social media sites) from my mobile browser. (Since my first draft of this piece, we’ve been given all the more reason to delete Facebook, but this article will focus on mediation.)
Unfortunately, with mobile-first apps like Snapchat and Instagram, this logic is not applicable, and we will need to start deleting things, or at least unfollowing. I know—you want to stay connected. But…to news you can find somewhere else? To friends you already text with? Or to the possibility that you may spot someone suspicious in the background of your ex’s Snap story, vindicating you in your resentment of this person whose presence may no longer be serving your quality of life? This brings us to our next step in digital decluttering.
2. Think about which accounts you benefit from following, and unfollow the rest. Here are the questions I asked myself when evaluating my own following list.
1. For people you know IRL: When is the last time you have interacted with this person offline? Will you interact with this person offline in the near future? Is it vital for you to remain updated on this person’s life in the meantime? Try to answer these questions independently of social pressures or a feeling of obligation. If you haven’t interacted with this person in a considerable amount of time, and likely will not in the future, and do not need to stay updated, unfollow. If this person re-enters your life, you can simply re-follow.
2. For people you don’t know IRL, including celebrities: Do you admire this person’s talent and point-of-view? Do they inspire and motivate you? Do you want to know about their newest work and hear their latest joke? If so, these are all good reasons to keep following them! Should none of them apply: Are you following this celebrity because they’re rich and beautiful, and photos of them both satisfy and perpetuate your darkest desires? Or is it because they might one day be involved in a scandal, and you want to see it firsthand? If an account just feeds your FOMO and/or Schadenfreude, you may be better served in the long-term by maintaining a blissful ignorance of that person’s whereabouts.
3. And finally, for every and any type of account, the most important evaluation: Am I entertained or enlightened by this account’s content? Does it make me laugh? Does it tell me something I didn’t already know? Is it aesthetically pleasing? If you can’t answer yes to one of these questions, unfollow.
Do not feel guilty for unfollowing. Most people don’t keep track of their follower count, and those who do will eventually see their mistake in choosing to obsess over something that is not actually personal. You are not your Instagram, I am not my Instagram, and if one ever gets mistaken for the other, we will work it out outside of Instagram.
3. Clean your freakin’ inbox. Email is the adult world’s primary form of communication, and you will likely always need it for school, work, and Grandpa sending you photos from his last trip. A messy inbox makes all of those things seem more overwhelming than they should be. Set aside the time to open unread emails, mark spam, and unsubscribe from mailing lists. It’s tedious, but you will be pleasantly surprised as to how much stress is reduced by having an mail app notification bubble that reads fewer than 65. Consider creating a separate email address to be used only for online shopping, social media, and other such accounts, as well.
4. If you’re OK with how much you’re consuming but frightened at what it’s all doing to your attention span, start using reading mode and reading list functions for web browsing. I know reading mode sounds obvious, but there is a strong cumulative effect to no longer reading articles where a headline like “These 14 Child Stars Are Dead Now: WTF” is plopped into the middle of the text. Having a reading list will enable you to save stuff for later, instead of letting time fly by while you get sucked in to a bunch of stories all in a row. Then, the next time you want to read something on your phone, you’ll read something you already picked out, instead of scrolling Twitter for minutes on end. (This is why I’m also a fan of Youtube’s “Watch Later” feature.) Also, having to determine what is worth the effort of saving is an easy way to discern what is and isn’t worth your time. Consolidating all that content will help you to avoid click holes. You’ll become more conscientious of what leaves you feeling inspired or informed, and what leaves you feeling like, well, 14 child stars are now dead, WTF.
5. If you still find your minutes disappearing in mysterious ways, try an app dedicated to limiting your screen time. I myself use f.lux, which darkens the light of my devices with the time of day, nearly guaranteeing that I retreat from them at an earlier hour. Your optic nerves and sleep cycle will thank you!