Social Media/News Holiday Diet: Week 4 Results

Week 4: A healthy social media and news diet, or habit, or both?


                                   My Duolingo XP Results for Week 4…

Last week, I said I wanted to focus on consolidating my new habits and starting to write up a summary of what I’ve learned about changing this habit.  Here’s how Week 4 went:

The urge has stabilized as shown by my running tally of views and resisted urges:

T 12/13 = 3/4 (= 3 looks, 4 ‘resisted urges’)
W 12/14 = 3/2
Th 12/15 = 3/4
F 12/16 = 3/1
Sa 12/17 = 4/2
Su 12/18 = 3/1
M 12/19 = 2/1

The total number of views stayed about the same this week (21 vs. 23 last week) but the total number of times I resisted the urge to look dropped another 30 percent from 22 to 15. As a result, the total number of urges (both filled and resisted) dropped again to around five per day.

Weekend numbers were again good but not exceptional, because weekend days didn’t look that different from my weekday days, so I did not spend a lot of time during the weekend doing engaging activities which took me away from my computer and other devices.

The triggers are under control — Only one new trigger in Week 4, and I almost hesitate to call it that. I had an urge to check on a Facebook friend I hadn’t heard from for a while to see what was up (turned out that this person had deactivated their FB account for reasons I don’t know). To me, this is different from a reflexive trigger, and I’ll explain why in a moment.

I also found that the red dot message notification/counter on my iPhone Twitter icon was just as much a trigger as the one on my Facebook icon. That doesn’t seem like a new trigger to me, though, just the same one in a different place, so I’m not counting that one as a new trigger.

The biggest takeaway for me here is that my social media/news behavior is starting look like a food diet now, at least in terms of frequency. Being proactive and planning my consumption has made a big difference; I have learned to decide when I will look at social media or news. Urges have become thoughts now. I almost never access it now reflexively or thoughtlessly, and when I do, it’s been because of some useful purpose for which social media is secondary. For instance, I looked at Facebook once without thinking to access an FB Messenger conversation from a professional colleague about an article I’ll be writing.

For me, this highlights an important distinction between social media as addiction or time suck and social media as appliance. I had the same problem when I tried to enforce screen-free days a few years ago. It was difficult not because of some sort of media addiction, but because I relied on my phone’s other functions — watch, calendar, weather report, timer, alarm clock, et al. In other words, my phone is now an appliance, just like my refrigerator is, and I don’t try to have ‘refrigerator-free days’ where I turn the refrigerator off, so why should I turn off my phone and try to have a phone-free day? A total usage ban is silly; it makes a lot more sense to try to shape intelligent, thoughtful usage of appliances, including our smartphones, computers, and similar devices.  I suppose one could argue that I’m addicted to my refrigerator, for that matter to my water service or to reading. Highly dependent? Sure. But calling them addictions is stretching it.

Better, I think, to call them habits — “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” They’re hard to give up because we need them; we make them a “regular tendency or practice” because they are useful (e.g., the habit of using a refrigerator). There is an element of dependency which is worth acknowledging and maybe even playing with every now and then. But dependencies are not necessarily evils; they can involve being “influenced or determined by or subject to another“, but they can also refer to reliance and trust. So for me, I’ll call it both diet and habit.

What’s not working (yet)?

Since my social media/news holiday diet appears to be successful, it occurred to me to question myself for possible bias here. Am I painting too rosy a picture of my success? Am I deluding myself into thinking that I’m being more successful than I really am?  So I decided to consider the question, what’s not working (yet)?  Some thoughts:

Duration — I haven’t paid much attention to portion control, that is, how long I look at one time. This is not entirely bad; if I’m spending a lot of time doing healthy things, that’s like eating a lot of veggies to me, although I’m not sure that social media/news consumption has effective satiety triggers the way that filling up on veggies does.

Is three times a day every day too much?  What if the meal/diet metaphor really isn’t appropriate? What if it’s really a sign of habituated addiction?  I’ll consider this one over the next two weeks since the holiday season will give me more chances to look at social media/news less.

How’s the food diet going? And the language learning?

Food diet is OK, not great. I stayed about the same as last week, and so I am still not close to where I was in August.

Language learning is doing fine.  I amassed 790 “experience points” (XPs) on Duolingo in the past week, much lower than last week, but I did practice every day and kept my streak going (now 27 days and counting!). Progress looks slow in terms of level and fluency score — still level 11 in Spanish (53% “fluent”) and level 9 in French (45% “fluent”), but scores on my progress tests indicate gains in both languages. (More details on this below for anyone who’s interested.)

New examples of (less) healthy social media/news choices? Not so much. It turns out that I made a pretty good list after all, and making that list longer wasn’t important to me this week. Same with examples of less healthy social media/news choices.

In addition, the holidays have now snuck up on me, so I’ll probably wait another two weeks before my next posting. By then, I’ll have a good sense of whether this habit has truly taken hold or whether I need to do something else to make that happen.  In the meantime, Happy Holidays!

More on my Duolingo language progress: I learned that Duolingo’s fluency score scale only goes up to 50-60% , which explains why my progress on that measure seems to be slowing down: I’m reaching the maximum possible. They also have an interesting proficiency scale rubric which is helpful but not that accurate in my opinion. For instance, it rates my 45% French proficiency as “intermediate,” but I can’t do most of the things listed on their rubric. I’d say that my French is still at the beginner to elementary stage. Duolingo also has progress tests which to me give more accurate reflections of proficiency.  I’ve taken the Spanish test twice (once three weeks ago, once this past week) and progressed from 4.21 to 4.84 out of 5 (again, keeping in mind that 50-60% fluency is the ceiling on this assessment).  I also took a French test this week and got a 2.01 out of 5 (which puts me at more like at 20% fluency, and that sounds more accurate to me).


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