The End of The Endless Scroll

by Cameron Gould on Thu Jun 15 2023

Digital lifetrends2023Internetlearning in public

A picture of a phone consuming an arm.

Since 2020, my average screen time has probably been over 7 hours a day, and probably double that on weekends. The pandemic situation over the past few years formed bad habits that have stuck with me. It’s no thanks to platforms fully investing in short-form content, which is at the center of this blog entry.

I’ve been dealing with a lot of weird symptoms that, seemingly, many people have started to experience over the past few years. Brain fog, lack of energy, depersonalization, anxiety; where are these symptoms coming from? Do I have something wrong with my brain that I need to get checked?

The awesome answer is no, there is nothing wrong with my brain (at least nothing fatal). A quick doctor’s visit cleared that up for me. After dealing with these symptoms for years, I recently heard something that clicked really well. The other day while, ironically, scrolling through videos on TikTok, a video came up that pointed out what scrolling on social media is actually doing. Every time I swipe from one post to another, my brain has to adjust to a new context. The human brain is cool enough to be able to switch contexts pretty well, but too much can ultimately harm its ability to focus.

Mix that with the fact that I’m packing my brain with hundreds—if not thousands—of disconnected memories, each with its own context… It’s no wonder I’m feeling this way.

I use social media as a way to “take breaks” between stressful work sessions of intense focus. What I hadn’t realized was I was actually putting more stress on my brain by running through a handful of random topics. I have probably been doing more harm to my focus, my mental health, and my memory with this habit.

Part of the realization that came with this was my recent vacation. I spent 7 days in Florida with no work and, more importantly, very little screen time. I wasn’t watching TikToks every hour, wasn’t scrolling through Reddit, nor was I passively listening to music. I was enjoying my time and my surroundings, engaged with the world and people around me. There wasn’t a single moment where I was feeling any of those awkward symptoms the entire time. My mind was clear, comfortable, and relaxed.

Is it possible that the lack of work is a confounding factor here? Absolutely. But I honestly can say that for the most part, I genuinely enjoy the work that I do and do not feel deeply stressed about it. On occasion, there are stressful moments, but generally, I am doing what I’m passionate about and deepening my skills.

So I decided I’m going to clear my plate of all these social media “goodies” and redefine what it means to “take a break” or “wind down”. It’s not about scrolling through an app designed to deliver dopamine-producing short-form content in high volumes. It’s about the opposite: doing things that reduce brain activity to give the poor thing a rest.

The Internet is Important, Can You Just Walk Away?

One of the hurdles to always tackle is FOMO. The internet hosts a wealth of knowledge and important information, and social platforms optimize the delivery of relevant information right to me. Should I really give that up?

That’s the genius design of these platforms. They’re giving me something I think I need and keeping me hooked on things I think I want. But at the end of the day, these are also just a perception of wants and needs. Maybe I don’t need any of it, and maybe I want none of it. The only way to find out is to give it all up and see how things go.

Just today, I read a thread that ultimately helped me solidify this decision. It was a thread that asked if life before social media was really any “better” than with it. Some of the replies were folks saying the biggest problem with today was always being connected, and feeling obligated to be available due to social norms. The replies were even better, with several people stating that they just live as they did before, not answering anything if it isn’t an appropriate time.

Being connected is a decision and a commitment that you can disconnect from whenever you want. This is your life and your time, so you get to set the expectations for your own behavior by simply doing.

And do, I shall!

This isn’t a crystal-clear cutoff. There are still channels I’ll stay connected to, at least in moderation: platforms that help with personal and career growth, apps that are strictly communication but not oversaturated with entertainment consumption, and maybe an app or two I can use to engage in longer-form content such as YouTube. But as for the short-form content, my consensus is that it’s ultimately doing far more harm for me than good. I’ll be sure to give an update on how all of this is going for me in a month or two.