Why screen time routines don’t work

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Amy Van Es

It’s like the fad diet of this decade: how to properly use your phone, according to a bunch of people who saw a marketing opportunity and took it. Have you noticed these books pop up? Books full of techniques to get in control of your social media habits? The 3-day phone detox, applying minimalism to technology, or I don’t know, “How to Lose Your Phone in 10 Days”.

Listen, if one of those worked for you, that’s great! But if it didn’t and you ended up right back in your old scrolling habits, don’t feel discouraged. Everybody builds habits differently, and you need to find a system that works for you. And you’re the best person for that job— even without a publishing deal.

So how do you get started? Well, it’s important to understand why social media pulls us in to begin with.

Social media plays on our emotions in the same way as gambling. You open an app, look at your feed, and you get to see if there’s a little reward for you. The reward comes in the form of content that makes you feel either really happy or sad or mad; some kind of inflated emotion that gives you a little rush. Sometimes there is, and other times there’s nothing. And it’s that gamble— that unknown— that keeps you coming back for more until you feel like your emotional cup is filled. Which is never… because humans always crave more. (There’s also the whole issue of social media companies capitalizing on the attention economy, but that’s another blog post for another time. The point is: we can’t get enough of this stuff for reasons that are deeper than our own vanity.)

What we’d like you to remember is that technology is supposed to work for you, not the other way around. It’s supposed to be a tool to help make your life easier and better. So, you need to decide what’s actually providing real benefit to you. You shouldn’t keep using apps if they’re wasting your time in the same way you wouldn’t use a mug if it were leaking coffee.

In our latest course, “The (realistic) digital detox” we talk about sustainable tech use. Building habits so that you don’t even burn out in the first place. Take the power back, friends. But do it on your own terms— it’s more likely to stick that way.

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