Train the algorithm

May 12, 2024

It is Sunday today so I decided to take a break from my screen-heavy routine. It rained yesterday night so the morning felt a lot cooler than the scorching heat I am used to in the month of May. The early morning breeze tempted me to go for a morning walk. Walks can be a great way to spend some time with yourself and contemplate on your life. I also could’ve this opportunity to have some time doing self-review. But I completely wasted this chance and spent most of my time staring at my smartphone and scrolling X (formerly Twitter).

I vividly remember another such incident that happened during the last year of college. It was March and I had just spent first few hours of my day scrolling through Facebook (it was still famous those days). An introspection on that incident prompted me to leave Facebook forever. I took several steps after that day to control my urge to use Facebook and it mostly worked. The decreasing popularity of Facebook among my generation definitely aligned perfectly with the task at hand and I was able to get rid of Facebook from my life.

Now, after almost six years, I have been battling yet another bout of social media addiction for last few months. Nowadays, I use primarily four social media apps - X, Instagram, Quora and WhatsApp. Below, I detail my usage patterns for these four apps and how I try to use these in a controlled manner.

Quora is the easiest one. Their content moderation policies and the subsequent boycott by prominent writers meant that the quality of the content available on the platform has greatly reduced. I benefitted the most from this. Now, I tend to open Quora once or twice a month at max.

WhatsApp is almost unavoidable for me. I have worked slowly over the years to reduce my usage of the app, to the disappointment of some people in my life. I rarely send messages to anyone and even rare is to get a message from someone. Now, if I receive a message, I am almost certain that the sender is in some emergency. WhatsApp’s recent changes (regarding business chats) has definitely increased daily notifications on my phone. Its unsubscribe functionality is mostly broken (looking at you, HDFC) so, I am not able to block some businesses. But I guess that is a nuance that I can live with, for now.

I started using Instagram more seriously during my courtship period, partly because my fiancée (now wife) was only active on Instagram. At that time, I was instantly glued to the Instagram’s reels functionality. It worked really well, showed me engaging reels. It somehow knew all my interests. I was spending 4-5 hours everyday just scrolling (or shall I say swiping?) through the reels. It even allowed me to save the reels for future, though saving reels mostly catered to my FOMO. Most of the saved reels remain untouched to this day. My usage of Instagram reached such a point that I started to experience several psychological and behavioural issues. I felt myself battling self-doubt, loathing and imposter syndrome. Seeing others’ artificial progress made me jealous. It gave me anxiety. The more I swiped, the less confident I felt about myself. The constant pressure to keep up with the latest trends made me scared and less aware about myself. The compulsion to announce to the world; birthdays, anniversaries and what not, the urge to upload that one photo out of the thousands, just to show the world that I am doing great in life. I am done with this manipulation, I am done with letting an algorithm control me. I am trying to eliminate Instagram from my daily life for a while now. Doing it suddenly would have probably resulted in Withdrawal Syndrome. So I decided to approach this issue in a stepwise manner. First step was to uninstall the Instagram app from my phone. I slowly forced myself to use the web version of Instagram. While the web version is functional, there are some hiccups here and there - stories take time to load, no doom-scrolling etc. These minor details definitely helped me to feel the irritation. Once the irritation kicked in, it was easy to stop using the web version also. Ultimately, I decided to take the final step of deactivation. It has been three days since I deactivated my account. I haven’t felt the urge to open the app even once. These are still early days and I need to keep a close eye on my behavioural patterns to avoid falling into the trap again.

My current go-to social media platform is X. X can be quite toxic if one is interested in certain topics - like politics. I tend to avoid these topics mostly. I use X primarily to gain knowledge about Tech, Indie-hacking, SaaS businesses and other similar topics. However, I am well aware about the potential pitfalls of using it more often so I consciously try to put limits on my usage of the web app as much as possible. Doom-scrolling is a definite no-no.

Having said this, I am not fully capable of cutting myself completely from the social media. We live in a world which is increasingly being controlled by the algorithm. The algorithm is constantly watching us, waiting to identify patterns in our behaviour. These algorithms are designed by some of the smartest people in the world who have spent years studying the human brain. It is difficult to beat them at their game.

In my opinion, it is okay to fall pray to the social media sometimes. But it is important to understand what you want and what you don’t. Tell the algorithm more of what you want. Spend some time understanding your interests and what values they bring. I find politics interesting, but it doesn’t add any real value to my skill set, so I try to not consume any political content on social media. Conversely, I work in tech, and I intend to get into solopreneurship, so I follow people doing great in these areas. Ruthlessly unfollow people who are posting frivolous content or content outside of your interest areas. Do this consistently and the algorithm will bend to your will.

If you are passionate about your goals and if you are willing to bite the bullet, nothing can distract you, not even the best algorithms in the world.