I won’t overwhelm you with the statistics about how much time we collectively spend on social media. Most of us are already aware, on some level, of two things: one, that we probably spend more time on it than we ought to; and two, that it’s not generally the most edifying or productive use of our time or attention.
But when it comes to actually making changes to our digital lifestyles, few of us have found effective ways to cut back short of eschewing the platforms entirely. Psychology and experience tell us that it’s often easier to break a habit by replacing it with a better one—and perhaps in an ideal world, the replacements for our social media addictions would be offline entirely, like taking a walk outside when you need a break from work or reading a real-life book.
But maybe it’s just a little bit easier if we begin by cultivating better digital habits: apps that we can turn to instead of our Facebook feed that, just maybe, are a better—or less addicting—use of our time. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
While I consider scrolling through status updates from distant acquaintances a waste of time, I often keep coming back to Facebook simply to find articles to read, both shared by friends and publications I follow. I’ll admit that there’s a little bit of FOMO involved—what if I miss the viral article everyone’s talking about simply because I’m avoiding Facebook?
Nuzzel solves this problem by creating a feed for you of links shared in your network (and that includes publications you follow). You can also link your Twitter account to it, which spares you the toxicity of the outrage du jour. Win-win.
02. The Kindle app
Maybe the Kindle app is a fairly obvious choice—don’t go on Facebook; read books!—but I want to add a caveat: read anything you want.
Sometimes I bully myself into reading only classic (or otherwise virtuous) literature. There’s nothing wrong with reading the books that have withstood the test of time, of course, but the problem is that I’m not often in the mood. When I turn to Instagram or Facebook, it’s usually because I’m tired and looking for somewhat mindless entertainment—and I’m not likely to pick up Anna Karenina with gusto.
So keep reading the books you think are edifying, but give yourself a break, too: find a few more accessible books (whether that’s young adult fiction or murder mysteries) to keep (literally) in your back pocket. Emerging from ten minutes of reading a book, any book, feels so much better than ten minutes of thumbing through Facebook.
Yes, I actually think Sudoku—or another brain puzzle, for that matter—is a better use of your time than scrolling through Facebook. Although there’s conflicting evidence over whether it actually improves cognitive abilities, there’s a definite end point when you finish a board, which is more than can be said for your social feeds.
Furthermore, we seem to have lost the ability as a culture to play—or at least, “fun” usually looks more like spending money at bars than curling up with a crossword puzzle. If you find Sudoku fun, that’s justification enough to put it on your phone. Especially if you find social media less “fun” than “envy-inducing” or “mind-numbing.”
Nextdoor is a social platform that connects you to your actual neighbors. Mostly it functions as a hyper-local Craigslist, but every now and again there are opportunities to connect in genuinely social ways, too—a quick scroll through my feed tells me that there’s going to be a lemonade stand at the park today, for example, and one of my neighbors is looking for a gym buddy. And often, I learn about local events like art shows or special guests at the library that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen.
Nextdoor also satisfies that need for novelty without sinking too much of your time. Because there are (probably) fewer people in your neighborhood who use the app than you have Facebook friends, there aren’t endless updates, and after only a couple minutes of scrolling you’ll have seen all there is to see.
If there were no redeeming qualities about social media, I’d be making the case for deleting it from our lives entirely. And on some days, the days when an argument rages in the comments section of an article, misinformation spreads like wildfire, or an acquaintance’s trumpeted success prompts a bout of envy, opting out feels like the only way forward.
Much of the time, however, staying connected to friends and family members, finding out about local events, and enjoying the occasional viral video seem worth it. But we must make sure we’re not paying too high a price with our time and attention.