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The 2 Simple Tools to Replace Social Media with Reading

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

We’ve all done it.

I don’t normally like to talk about the bathroom, but let’s just be honest: whenever we head to the bathroom, we grab our phones. It’s automatic. It’s a habit. We will sit there, and we don’t want to just stare at the wall.

In the old days, we used to solve this problem by keeping some books in the bathroom. Maybe a magazine or two resting on the tank. Or some bits of sports trivia or whatever in a little hardcover book.

Anything to keep us from just staring blankly.

Now? We can do anything we want in the bathroom. We can knock out some emails, even work on writing a book or a blog post, or conduct a little research. It’s the definition of “multitasking”.

But what do we really do with that time? We browse Facebook. We scan through our Instagram feed. We scroll through Twitter.

I do it every day.

But last week, I made a monumental change to my routine – and I’ve had to weather the consequences.

I blocked Facebook and Twitter from my phone and computer

I haven’t had a Twitter account in years. As COVID-19 panic gripped the world, I started finding people on Twitter who were doing actual homework on the virus and its effects and treatment. Rather than being subjected to the same headlines repeatedly, I created a Twitter account just to build a little feed of those voices I deemed responsible.

It has been great, and a welcome respite from the doom-and-gloom reporting of the mainstream media.

But as COVID panic subsided, race riots kicked off. Suddenly, that feed full of facts and statistics and studies morphed into facts and statistics and studies about race relations and police conduct. And videos of riots and mobs tearing down monuments and destroying property.

Those auto-playing videos in the feed were now displaying images of innocent human beings being shot to death and beaten to a pulp.

Twitter was infesting my brain with violence, anger, and grief.

On the Facebook side, I was very active throughout the COVID panic. Most of this was by request: I received dozens of private messages from friends telling me to continue posting positive perspectives on COVID, because it was the only way they were getting through it.

Unfortunately, it was also causing more stress, as my disagreeing friends took to the comments sections of my posts to argue against what I was posting. I found myself preoccupied with other people’s opinions, frustrated at the arguments I was having.

When the conversation turned to race relations, these conversations only got worse and more polarized. And the COVID panic returned as race riots died down, kicking off a fresh wave of guilt-ridden posts.

I struggled with these frustrations. As lockdowns forced me to only interact with many of my friends and family through social media posts, my perspectives of them were getting skewed. Only our differences were being highlighted. It made me angry, sad, depressed, and frustrated.

As we could return to church on Sunday mornings, I felt a groundswell of love once again.

We started hanging out with friends and got together with our families. Being around people again showed me the warmth of humanity and I found myself once again feeling close to these people I care about.

But on social media, those divisions were the only highlight. My preachiness wasn’t changing anyone’s minds. Other people’s preachiness was only pissing me off.

About a week ago, I opened up Freedom and blocked Facebook and Twitter from my phone and laptop, 24 hours a day.

I could still post on my business Facebook Page through its Android app. And Instagram hasn’t been as much of a problem for me, so it stayed unblocked. But my personal Facebook feed and the people on Twitter just weren’t adding any value to my life – and it was actively distracting me from the surrounding good.

Kicking the habit with reading

It’s amazing how quickly you realize the number of times per day you pull out your phone just to open Facebook when you have Facebook blocked.

Standing in line at the store.

Waiting for help at the drive-thru.

A lull in conversation.

It’s bummed me out as I’ve noticed it. And being someone who recognizes the value of being bored, it saddened me to realize how much I don’t practice what I preach.

Leaving my phone in my pocket has been a habit that required a lot of focus from me. And it’s healing, gradually.

But what about the bathroom?

And yeah, I’m not just talking about the bathroom, but it’s an easy example to use. What about those downtimes when you’re alone and want to consume something? How do you avoid the junk food of social media when you’re drinking your morning coffee or eating a meal by yourself, or yes, when you’re sitting in the bathroom?

I decided I wanted to replace mindless scrolling with intentional, valuable reading instead. There are plenty of books that can really improve my life and mindset, and there are lots of articles and posts online that can do the same thing.

How do I make reading those as easy as reading Facebook posts?

For this, I used two apps.

App #1: Amazon Kindle

I’ve looked at alternatives, I really have. I might even go to an alternative at some point.

But for ease of use and universal access, the Kindle app just wins out.

I read books on my Kindle Paperwhite at night while I’m in bed. But during the day, I don’t want to carry it with me wherever I go. Because it syncs my progress, I can pull out my phone, open up my Kindle app, and jump to wherever I left off in my book.

I can read a page or two, close the app, and when I get to bed at night, it updates my progress to where I left off on my phone.

I cannot overstate the convenience of this. Think about how often you are opening your Facebook app. Now imagine you read one page of a book every time you opened your Facebook app. How many more pages a week would you knock out? How many more books per month or per year would you be able to read?

For this, I also like to read things easy to consume in chunks. I’m re-reading Manvotionals from Brett McKay, where I can get a few paragraphs of quality reading in at a time.

But what about the online content?

App #2: Pocket (and Feedly)

If I come across an article I want to read, I long-press it on my phone (or hit the “Pocket” button in the toolbar on my computer) and save it to my Pocket app.

Pocket will clean up the article, remove ads and sidebars and all the clutter, and preserve the content of the article – pictures and text.

When I have some downtime, I open up Pocket and see what I have to read in there. It’s a handy way to keep a digest of ongoing content that I want to read so I don’t lose it.

Plus, just like Kindle, it saves my progress. I can do a deep dive into long-form content that I don’t normally have time to read, like this old Art of Manliness post on the strenuous life.

(Note: I just began strength training and I know that AoM has a bunch of articles on it, so I was browsing the site and it inspired me to read some of its content again. That’s why both apps are focused on AoM stuff right now.)

Being able to read a few paragraphs at a time also keeps me from getting overwhelmed with the length of some of these articles – it changes the way I consume them.

Why not games?

Many people would replace social media with harmless games, even something as innocuous as Tetris.

And while there is value in puzzle games, crosswords, Sudoku, and whatever else, these things end up being just as addicting. Suddenly, my few minutes of downtime turns into half an hour, and I lose productivity.

That’s just me.

Besides, I want to use this as a time to expand my mind and strengthen my thinking. Quality reading does that for you.

I may not do this forever

Hey, I might wake up tomorrow and change my mind. I could unblock Facebook and start scrolling again.

But for now, the wounds are too fresh. I’m trying to heal myself. And as long as emotions are so high in this country (and I suspect they will be until after November’s presidential election), I will try to stick with this.

I think it’s important to protect my mental and emotional health, both for my business and for my family. By using these apps to read encouraging, thought-provoking, and life-improving content, I’m taking the time and energy to fill my well, rather than empty it.

What do you think?