I spend too much time on social media, and I’m not alone. The average adult spends between two and three hours on the platforms every day. Teenagers spend between five and seven hours a day scrolling through their phones or laptops.
Before this month, I estimated my usage at well below those benchmarks. I only use Facebook, and I thought I only spent between 30-45 minutes a day using it. Given the above statistics, however, I suspected I was underestimating how much time I wasted. In a quest for productivity, I decided to limit my Facebook use to Fridays. Here’s what I learned.
I’ve heard Twitter described as “a virtual insane asylum.” My brief experience with the platform confirms that. When I stopped using Twitter, my mental health improved dramatically. I hoped to see further improvements when I restricted my Facebook use, but what I found surprised me.
I considered myself a light-moderate Facebook user, but I was shocked how instinctual it was for me log in. I automatically clicked the bookmark and scrambled to close the tab before the page loaded. My first Facebook-free week, I became frustrated with my restrictions, and fighting the temptation took significant effort. When Friday finally rolled around, I spent over an hour scrolling through everything I’d missed, and my husband reports I was more easily upset by people’s inflammatory posts.
As the month went on, Facebook gradually lost its grip on my psyche. I no longer logged in by instinct, and I didn’t feel the compulsion to share every mildly interesting article I read. On Fridays, I usually decided it wasn’t worth my time to catch up on everything I’d missed. I enjoyed feeling back in control of my own head, but they were some downsides.
I belong to several hobby groups on Facebook, and I missed being able to ask for tips whenever I wanted. I also missed a couple social events because I hadn’t seen the posts in time. My nieces’ birthday (all three of them share the same date) came, and I confess I snuck some late-Thursday looks at their pictures (Thursday night rounds up to Friday, right?). The ultimate purpose of social media is social connection, and I missed that aspect of Facebook.
I expected restricting Facebook would open a vast swath of new productive time, but it didn’t. As it turns out, I only use Facebook when I’m braindead and need a break. Instead of using Facebook, I started watching YouTube or taking naps. Scrolling through my newsfeed only took about ten minutes, but my replacement behaviors wasted far more time. I ended up being less productive when I restricted my Facebook use.
I ended up being less productive when I restricted my Facebook use.
One of the biggest surprises was how aggressively Facebook pursued me after I stopped using it daily. They started sending me emails every time someone messaged me, even though I eliminated email notifications in the settings. The same occurred with in-app notifications. I set Facebook to notify me only if someone replies to something I’ve posted, if I’m not posting anything, I shouldn’t receive any notifications. As soon as I restricted my use to Fridays, however, they started notifying me about everything. Every time someone posted in a group or added a picture, the little bell would increase like the line at the DMV. Fridays inundated me with notifications I hadn’t asked for.
In short, Facebook behaved like an ex-boyfriend who wouldn’t stop texting me asking to get back together.
Facebook behaved like an ex-boyfriend who wouldn’t stop texting me asking to get back together.
This shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, Facebook monetizes its users’ attention. If you’re not attending, they’re not making money. Encouraging people to re-engage when their behavior changes is good business. I knew that before this month, but to experience it personally left a sour taste in my mouth. I thought I was restricting my use of Facebook, but I was really restricting Facebook’s use of me, and they were not happy about it.
I thought I was restricting my use of Facebook, but I was really restricting Facebook’s use of me
My month-long restriction of Facebook led me to the following conclusions:
- Checking Facebook was an unhealthy instinct even for me, a light-moderate user with less than 100 friends.
- Facebook is a waste of time.
- When denied access to Facebook, I will waste even more time in other ways.
- Though restricting Facebook led to some improvements in my mental health, I missed the positive aspects of virtual connection.
- Facebook has motives of its own. It doesn’t concern itself with my wellbeing, but it aggressively pursues what’s best for its bottom line.
I thought at the end of this month I would have discovered such vast improvements in mental health and productivity that I would quit Facebook like I did Twitter. My actual conclusions are more mixed. Limiting social media definitely benefitted me, but I think there is room for a healthy balance. What that balance looks like, I’m not sure, but this experiment gave me helpful insights in determining a way forward.