When Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram experienced a simultaneous outage on Monday, some of us breathed a sigh of relief.
Because while these apps help us to stay in touch with friends and family, they can also prevent us from ever feeling disconnected.
Recent research from USwitch found Brits spend more than half (51%) of their lives in front of a screen, with messaging apps and social media both major contributors.
For one sweet evening though, our feeds and worlds were quieter, without the lure of mindless scrolling or the ping of notifications.
If part of you not-so-secretly enjoyed the outage, it’s probably a sign you need to establish better balance with your phone, says Tanya Goodin, a digital detox expert and author of My Brain Has Too Many Tabs Open.
Here are six tips to get you started:
Turn off notifications
“Disable as many notifications as possible, that’s the first piece of advice I give to anyone, because of the way the attention economy works,” says Goodin. “Those engineers are very good at getting our attention and human willpower is notoriously poor, so we need to help ourselves.
In the same way that you might clean out your fridge when you’re trying to eat healthily, Goodin recommends turning off any notifications that are going to pull you back into social media when you’re trying to avoid it.
Keep a lid on group chats
The most common question Goodin gets asked is how to leave a Whatsapp group without offending the other members. The best way to do this is to strike early, she says.
“Very early on, the minute when someone sets up a new group, say ‘thanks very much for adding me, but I’ve got too many groups. Do you mind if I duck out now? Please send me a direct message if there’s something you think I need to know,’” she advises.
“It’s incredibly tricky to do the first few times you do it, but once you get into the habit of doing it, it’s a lot easier than trying to leave a group six months down the line.”
As well as being strict about new groups you’re sucked into, pay if forward by not adding people into new groups without their consent, she says.
Bad news though, Goodin says you can’t really leave the family Whatsapp. “Once you’ve joined a family Whatsapp group it’s a bit like being in the family, you’re in there for life.”
Set intentions around scroll time
Using our phones or social media isn’t inherently bad, but what is an issue, is that we use them far more than we intend to.
“We click into social media to check one thing and then we get sucked into an Instagram or TikTok black hole,” says Goodin. “The platforms are designed to make us stay on for far longer than we intend to, so we have to try and set an intention and say: ‘I’m only going to be on there for 20 minutes.’ Be really mindful of how much time you intend to spend there and get into the habit of putting it down and putting it away.”
Check in on how it’s making you feel
When you come away from social media, ask yourself if you enjoyed the experience or gained anything from it.
“I think it’s really important we monitor which accounts and which interactions actually make us feel good, or the times we come off and we feel bad about ourselves and it affects our self-esteem or it impacts our focus or concentration,” says Goodin.
“It’s a bit like eating again – we know when we’ve eaten too much of something and it doesn’t make us feel good.”
Have ‘no phone’ zones
As well as being mindful when using your phone, Goodin believes it can be useful to physically ring fence spaces where your phone doesn’t belong.
“It’s a lot easier for us to have very black and white rules than grey ideas of ‘I’m going to try a bit harder to cut down today,’” she says.
“Set some really clear physical boundaries. My favourite one is ‘don’t take your phone into the loo’. That’s one place where it’s not going to be a big loss if we leave our phones outside.”
Curate your feed
If social media isn’t a positive space for you, it’s time to change the people you’re following and engaging with.
“Make sure that you block, mute and use all of the tools at your disposal to not get into a toxic circle with accounts and with people on social media that really only make us feel bad,” says Goodin. “It’s about being really ruthless with your feed and doing that on a weekly basis.”