How much of your life have you given away through aimlessly scrolling your TikTok, Twitter, or Instagram feeds? Could you have instead allotted that time towards connecting with friends IRL or a long-term project aligned to your values?
The companies that created social media and mobile tech have benefited our lives in unprecedented ways. But even with the best intentions, they are under intense pressure to compete for our attention.
Attention = more eyeballs on ads = revenue = happy shareholders. In the quest for continuous profits and growth, there is a real human cost that is not captured on a company’s balance sheet.
I’ve always felt that this was short-sighted and wondered what would happen if product teams optimized for humanity as a core KPI. How would our products look different?
For example, one of WeChat’s core product principles is this: the user is your friend. This means designing products with sincere best intentions for the users. It means putting their interests above all others — even company stakeholders. (To be fair, they don’t have much competition but still..)
Allen Zhang, the “father of WeChat” recently voiced his product philosophy over a 4 hr speech:
“If WeChat was a person, it would be your best friend based on the amount of time you spend on it. So, how could we put an advertisement on the face of your best friend? Every time you see them, you would have to watch an advertisement before you could talk to them.”
Even with tremendous monetization potential given its 1 billion daily active users, WeChat only surfaces 2 ads/day in its social feed.
Furthermore he believes that the mission of technology should be solely to improve a user’s efficiency:
“People only have 24 hours in each day. The internet’s goal should not be to reduce our lives to spending all time outside of eating, drinking, sleeping, on our mobile phones. As a tool, WeChat must help users get the most useful information in the shortest possible time.”
To my knowledge, it’s not apparent that company’s like Facebook or Twitter will be adopting these “radical” product philosophies anytime soon - so the burden to prune ones digital consumption diet and limit its pervasiveness thus falls upon us, the consumer.
I am far from practicing these perfectly, but here are some tips I recommend:
- 😌Mindfulness / meditation - the antidote to impulses is creating space between desire and a sudden action.
- ⏳Realize that time is your most precious resource and identify the things you really value - when we are scrolling, we are literally giving away our lives to FB. Clarifying what we value provides the impetus for us to shift our behavior.
- 🔍Batch the checking of e-mail/social media - I try to check my e-mail/social media and send responses 2x a day for 1 hr - once in the morning, and once at night. This provides me peace of mind that I won’t miss anything and gives me time in between for uninterrupted flow.
- 🛑Stop using Instagram & prune your follows intensely - out of all social media channels, I get the least value out of Instagram. I enjoy batching updates from friends through catch-ups instead. Furthermore, go through your follow list and to each person ask yourself: “Do they spark joy (inspire me/give me positive energy?” If the answer is no, 👋 felicia.
- 📱Set-up your phone for productivity and flow by following this comprehensive guide - with this i’ve essentially removed all notifications and badging from my phone and I’m not looking back.
Furthermore, check out these tools that can help you reclaim your time. A whole new segment is forming with the goal of giving us psychological freedom. These include digital wellness trackers, mindfulness apps, and programmable attention tools. Here are a few on my radar:
- RescueTime - RescueTime automatically tracks the time you spend on websites and gives you the ability to block yourself from accessing them.
- Opal (in beta) - has a friendlier take on time restriction. It also monitors your screen-time but gently intervenes with a cute Opal cartoon.
- Flipd - gamifies getting into flow by enabling you to track your productive minutes and competing on community leaderboards.
- The Browser Company (in beta)- is building a better browser that can help us stay focused and organized, take work off our plates, and pull creativity forward.
- MyMind (in beta) - is a new web clipping extension that uses AI to organize bookmarks and keep content private / ad-free.
- @dk_the_human has also built some cool chrome extensions:
- 🙈 Hide Feed - Browser extension that replaces distracting feeds with beautiful images
- 🎯 Intention - Browser extension to build a habit of staying focused
As Sari from CYP put it: “Every new technology goes through a phase of euphoria, followed by disillusionment. As we step on the slope of enlightenment, we should ask ourselves - if we were to build the Internet from the ground up with an unwavering commitment to honor people’s time and attention, what would we build?” I believe it’s time to build, with humanity first.