I Uninstalled the Facebook App From My Phone for the 5th Time
In November 2019, I started watching a Dungeons and Dragons show called Critical Role. At that point, Critical Role had been going for 5 years.
It was a behemoth, with a back catalog totaling 840+ hours of content. To put that in context, the entirety of FRIENDS is 88 hours. Critical Role had 10x the runtime, and is still ongoing.
It took me 9 months, but on July 14th 2020 I caught up to the show. That day I had a horrible realization.
You see, to catch up to such a series, you have to A) love it, and B) watch it whenever you can. I had picked up the habit of turning on Critical Role whenever I had a moment to myself. It was a very quick series of thumb taps on my phone.
Folder on Homepage > YouTube > Top of my Recommendations
The problem was that this habit became automatic. The day I caught up, I did the same thing no less than 12 times, before realizing that I have no “next” episode to watch.
Not once, not twice, but 12 times. The thumb taps were a programmed instinct.
This past Friday, I was in a bad mood for unimportant reasons. In that particular mood, I uninstalled a few apps, including Facebook.
The Facebook app also had a shortcut on my home screen. As an experiment, I put a different app, YouTube Music, in its spot. Even 5 days later, I accidentally open YouTube Music expecting to see Facebook.
It feels the same as when I caught up to Critical Role. Each time, I come to the realization after I open it. The habit of opening Facebook is an ingrained habit.
And that’s a problem.
At this point, I don’t need to tell anybody about the dangers of the feed. If you haven’t been living under a rock, one’s been thrown at you with a note tied to it saying “social media=bad”.
I don’t do anything important on Facebook. I have no steady business to run or following to appease. When I go on Facebook, I scroll the feed watching content from my favorite pages and friends. It’s pure attention porn.
I don’t mind that as much. I don’t mind occasionally losing a few hours to a feed, like I do with “YouTube comas”. What I don’t appreciate is being programmed. Call me a naïve-optimist-unaware-of-the-power-of-corporations, but I still believe in some amount of freedom.
So why did I get programmed? And how can we fix it?
In his incredible book
Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about why habits work and how we form them. Habits are a four step process.
For a habit to stick, it needs a quality at each step:
- Cue — make it obvious
- Craving — make it attractive
- Response — make it easy
- Reward — make it satisfying
For my Facebook habit, the cue was having it in 1-tap away on my home screen — super obvious. The response was a single, easy tap. But what about the craving and the reward?
This is where most people stumble with kicking bad habits. It seems nobody talks about why we pick up bad habits in the first place. Instead, we insist on moralistic messaging:
- “Cigarettes are bad and no sane person would smoke them.”
- “Binge-eating is bad and you’re a glutton for doing it.”
- “You’re wasting so much time on video games / social media / online.”
This tactic does not work. Not only does it ignore the real craving and reward we get from these habits, but we antagonize people and push them away.
Simply put, these bad habits give us mental health escapes. Binge-eating, smoking, alcohol and other consumption-based habits are anxiety-driven. They help us stop feeling overwhelmed.
Video games and social media are also consumption-based habits. They help us stop thinking about other aspects of our life and become immersed in the story in front of us. It does not matter whether the story is complex and artistic like The Last of Us II or as mundane as a cat meme on Facebook.
The craving and reward for my Facebook habit was escapism. It was immersion. People like to complain about Facebook messing with their feeds, but believe it or not, that multibillion company knows what it is doing. They know how to keep you fixated on their app.
I’ve uninstalled Facebook several times before. But before, I refused to recognize the craving and the reward I was getting from it. Eventually, when my willpower faltered, I would end up reinstalling it.
This time around, I check Facebook 2–3 times a day on my laptop instead. That is also a quick, automated habit, but it is not nearly as attractive. The phone is an optimized experience, which is why I don’t sign into the mobile browser either. The laptop website scratches the itch, and I don’t scroll as much as I would on the phone.
I now look towards writing on Medium and a couple of other avenues to fill that gap and give me the same reward.
Have I saved hours of time? Have I become a productivity god? Have I escaped the matrix? No, no, and no. But I feel like I’ve made a good step in all those directions.