Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? Even when you were tired of it, even when thinking about it didn’t make you happy, it was still there. Maybe that made it harder to focus, like your brain was caught in a loop that you just wanted to escape from.
Social media is like a song that the smartest computers in the world are constantly making catchier. It can feel great to listen to, but it can also hijack our minds. It can pull some of us into loops of scrolling that last hours, even when we don’t want them to. Most importantly, by hijacking our attention it pulls our minds away from other things we could be focusing on—things that really matter.
When we pay attention to one thing, we’re not paying attention to something else.
If our free attention automatically moves to our social media, then we may miss when a friend needs us. We may miss a creative thought that could turn into something incredible. We may forget to follow through on the promises we make to ourselves. When we’re robbed of our attention, we lose the power to control our own destiny.
Our days, our weeks, our years, and ultimately our lives are made up of what we pay attention to, one moment at a time.
These stories are examples of experiences from young people who have shifted their use of social media. (You can find more at #MySocialTruth.)
While each of our experiences is different, these platforms are designed to compete for your attention and can hijack your behavior to accomplish their goals. Even if you feel that your time on social media is mostly well spent, it’s important to carefully consider the facts and take control of your usage in whatever way works best for you.
Here are a few important steps you can take right now to increase your well being and regain control.
There are lots of reasons to take control of your social media use. Before diving into exactly how you’ll make a change, it’s important to get clear about why you want to make a change.
These questions will help you think about the possibilities you want to open up by shifting your tech use. Your answers will be the foundation for what you do next.
Now look at your answers. Taking back control means that you get only the things you really need from social media and aren’t distracted by the things that you don’t. It means making time for what really matters to you.
Sometimes that means you log on to social media for a specific purpose, logging off right afterward. Sometimes it means you use social media less. And sometimes it means you replace social media with other ways of communicating that don’t try to hijack your attention.
Now that you have a sense of why you’d like to shift your social media use, it’s time to look at how you can make changes. Consider Adelina’s experiences:
Because social media is designed to keep you coming back, stories like Adelina’s are common. Even with the best intentions, we can have weak moments and get sucked back in. That’s why it’s important to set realistic, attainable goals. It’s also helpful to tackle goals with the help of friends or family—we’ll discuss that later in this guide.
For some, totally eliminating social media is an attainable goal. But for others, something more specific may be helpful. To set a goal that works for you, think about:
What’s important is that you’re setting a strong goal that works best for you.
Social media relies on our engagement with other people to be successful, and so its addictive tools are built on our need to connect. Even if you set a realistic, attainable goal, there are lots of ways that social media can pull you back in.
Working in a group with a shared goal is a great way to ensure everyone’s success. If you’re working with a group of people, you can cheer for each other and keep each other motivated.
You can also find replacement projects together. For instance, you can gather five friends to get off TikTok and text videos to one another instead. Or you can work with your family to institute a household rule like no phones after dinner.
Once you’ve set your goal, some simple changes can help you work toward it without the interference of persuasive techniques:
There are lots of tools to help you on your journey to healthier technology use. For more ideas and tips, check out the Center for Humane Technology’s Take Control page.
Another way to help you take control of your social media use is to keep a journal of how it’s going.
Once you’ve worked toward your goal for a while, take a step back to learn from your experience.
(If you’re working in a group, it may be helpful to answer these questions together.)
Taking control of your own habits is just the start of pushing for technology that respects our attention and our intentions. As long as hijacking our attention is profitable, companies will continue to find more powerful ways to do it.
Your personal experiences and the lessons you’ve learned are an important part of the movement for technology that serves the public good. If shifting your tech use has inspired you to take further action, you can: