← All Articles

On Digital Addiction

People who happen to visit my website or look me up online may have noticed that I have no social media presence: no Instagram, no Twitter, a Facebook account I use solely for the Marketplace feature. The only social media I somewhat engage in is Reddit where I browse and occasionally ask questions, and LinkedIn which I used when I was looking for jobs. My profile is still up there, though.

When I am asked “oh that’s great! Don’t you ever feel like going back?”, I am unsure about what to say at first. Of course I want to go back sometimes - the addiction to scrolling has me in a bind just like so many of us. But whenever I cave and make some random account and do go back - I am immediately exhausted. I have no idea what to look at, and do I really care about that Instagram model’s latest dinner? All the things I imagine I will look up on Instagram or Twitter, end up dissolving when I do go back to them - and I end up deleting those accounts again.

Instagram is easy that way, because I am curious only about a limited bunch of celebrities so I don’t really go back to it that often. Twitter on the other hand has been more insidious and difficult for me: since it’s more writing and I can follow people I’m really interested in (like professors, writers and colleagues), I descend into endless scrolling and end up wasting hours. It is complicated by the fact that owing to the type of accounts I follow, I do get a lot of valuable information from there. But my life also feels so much better when I don’t have Twitter, and I think throughout my life I will be forced to keep deciding between these depending on where I am in life. I often find myself returning to Twitter when I’m going through a bad or uncertain time, which is bad for my addiction habits. But for now I’m two months off from Twitter and feel blissful.

WhatsApp is something I must treat as a necessary evil: it is how I keep in touch with my family and friends, and isn’t something I can give up on. But WhatsApp has me scrolling even though all notifications are disabled - I simply open the app and am miffed when there is no text awaiting me, and feel a bulb of excitement (which I now know as a dopamine rush) go off within me when there are several. I am trying quite hard to keep usage to a minimum, but some habits are really difficult to kill: whenever my brain senses boredom is on the horizon, my fingers itch to hold my phone and scroll through my apps.

To train myself I remove the Reddit app and keep books in reach, and that absolutely works - I am speedreading books at a crazy pace and life without the dark corners of Reddit I visit is…pretty much the same, but sometimes I am lazy and it’s now the default to reach to my phone when so. When I initially forced myself to start reading more, reading felt like so much effort. Something I have been doing since I was a kid now felt like scaling mountains! I used to go through novels with a voracious appetite, and now it seemed a struggle to even finish a 250 page book in a couple weeks. I could see how the internet was getting to me, how easy access to social media and texting was priming my brain to constantly seek the path with more rewards (dopamine) and less effort (surely scrolling has less cognitive load than reading).

But I have been keeping at it. This past week I finished three novels and am reading like a monster currently, especially since I discovered the branch of the Seattle Public Library in my neighborhood. (Absolute gem by the way. My life is so much better for having found them.) I still scroll and waste lazy time on the internet but I can see the duration reducing. I tell myself I am making progress and it is okay for that progress to be non-linear, for some forward and backward steps and some roundabouts. Going to the library makes me realize there are so many books that I am just zooming through and writing about them furiously. Life feels lighter and happier. I sometimes can’t remember how it was to have active Facebook and Instagram accounts - I do remember being more emotionally high-strung back then, and how every time I go back to any social media my news consumption and analysis changes to tweet-sized hot takes. All in good time, I tell myself as I write this post while idly staring at WhatsApp Web.