If the first thing you do when you wake up is checking your phone, then your day most likely starts with a mindless scroll. Still lying in your bed, even before the thought of having breakfast comes to your mind, you feel the need to expose your relatively well-rested brain to a considerable amount of unrequired information.
While you scroll through your Twitter feed, your inner voice is probably telling you to stop: you can make better use of your time. There's no rational reason to keep scrolling, but you still indulge.
Whether we just woke up or we're waiting at the checkout line of a grocery store, mindless scrolling always seems the easiest way to scratch the itch of doing something. And unfortunately, the instant gratification we get from it is depriving us of the ability to just be.
Why we're seeking distractions
As humans, of course, we continuously seek distractions. We need them for several reasons: it can be to make our mind drift away from an unpleasant thought, to mitigate the distress of our daily routine, or to escape the weirdness of simple tasks like waiting in line. In this context, since we're most likely to experience tons of unpleasant moments during our life, scrolling our feed appears to be a short-term solution to a never-ending problem.
Instead, genuinely facing what annoys us from time to time would be much more rewarding in the long run, but it's pretty obvious that our brains are not designed to always choose what's best for us. To be honest, though, this was a problem even long before the digital era.
The only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries. — Blaise Pascal
Seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal had a point. Sometimes distractions are the only thing that can comfort us from our problems, and yet we can fall victim to them without even realizing it.
And that's what happens when we scroll through our feed without purpose: the initial excitement of a quick glance at our social media apps makes way to the frustration of being so reliant on it, or worse.
The pressure to always be on social media, in all likelihood, may increase our level of stress and fuel our anxiety. Also, it might be correlated with feelings of loneliness and depression.
How scrolling feeds hacks your brain
So, despite all of that, what's the reason our attention is so frequently drawn to scrolling? It's not just one, they're several. Many of them are well-documented phenomenons like FOMO (which make us crave information about what others are doing), or the self-evident fact that social media are intentionally designed to be addictive. But there's more, and it all comes to how our brain works.
Psychologist Larry Rosen and neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley analyze how our brains are affected by technology in a fascinating book titled The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World.
According to Rosen and Gazzaley, our everyday lives are constantly interrupted by technology-induced interferences in a way that troubles our prefrontal cortex activity.
We engage in interference-inducing behaviors because, from an evolutionary perspective, we are merely acting to satisfy our innate drive to seek information.
So, basically, we mindless scroll a feed because our brain believes that being well-informed represents a big evolutionary advantage. But as we already told, our brain is not designed to always choose what's best for us, and the pieces of information we binge on aren't as useful as it may think.
Some tricks to break your addiction
So we find ourselves in what we might call an evolutionary dilemma. What we're naturally drawn towards to is hurting us. Even if there's not a single solution that will magically make the problem disappear, there are some tricks that, gradually, will reduce this addiction and make you claim back your precious time.
Some of them are:
- Turn off all unnecessary notifications. Personally, I only kept Telegram, Things (a to-do) app and just a few more. No Instragram, no Twitter, for example. Your should open these apps when you want, not when they want.
- Kill muscle-memory and move apps around. The simple act of putting social media apps in a folder, instead of making them readily available on your screen, will break muscle-memory and make you open them less frequently. You'll find yourself tapping on their previous spots a lot.
- Make the display greyscale. I personally don't like this technique, but some people find it useful. Many phones have an accessibility feature to make the screen greayscale. This obviously makes it much more boring to look at, and will reduce your craving to scroll feeds.
The solution was always in front of us
Another way of disrupting your feeds addition might be to use an old, slow medium which proves to be still alive and well today: email.
Email newsletters are indeed a great way to get great, relevant content, without tricking into craving more and more, and spending hours scrolling it.
That's why we're building Mailbrew, a tool to create beautiful, automated newsletter from sources like Reddit, RSS Feeds and Twitter.
This means you can receive the most popular or recent content from Twitter accounts, subreddits and blogs daily or weekly, and completely unplug from feeds. We're currently in private beta, but you can request access here.
We're really fighting a war to reclaim our time and attention, and we hope to win some battles in 2020, and help many people do it too along the way.