“Addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences.” - Wikipedia
What is information addiction?
Information addiction (IA) is a condition caused by the irresponsible consumption of information, especially compulsively.
It's continuing to scroll through Facebook even though you've definitely seen everything. It's your fingers typing "reddit.com" by themselves when you open a new tab. It's closing Instagram and opening it again right away. It's picking up your phone every five minutes to check for notifications, the constant distraction of anticipating them, and the anxiety you feel when it's not with you. It's the urgency and elation with which you whip it to your face when you hear it chime. It's the "just-one-more" which glues you to YouTube or a bad series for three hours longer than the one video you planned. It's the obsessive need to be finished which kept you playing that Facebook game or shiny app until you'd found every plant, puppy or Pokémon. It's the dark narcissism or insecurity which keeps you checking the gradually-climbing likes on your latest post. It's the impossible-to-ignore itch to look at something interesting and shiny right now which thwarted your last few attempts to read a book. It's that month of soul-numbing grinding you took on "voluntarily" because you "wanted" the shoulderpads with eyeballs on them and 6 more ilvls. It's your twinned abject despair and morbid curiosity as you learn about the day's horrors - political, genocidal, whatever. It's your angst about the state of the world. It's frustration and anxiety and discontent and expectation and fear and just one more and it might be the reason you're so unsatisfied.
It's your magnificent, broad-shouldered soul weeping at its lot, chained to a rat running in circles.
It's kinda like food
The food-drug metaphor helps here. Eating is a reality of life, as is processing information. You can't avoid either, but they can wreck you if your relationship with them is bad.
Information is, in many ways, more dangerous than food. Choosing to eat requires effort - you have to walk to the kitchen, order food, or go shopping. Information's effortless. There's always a screen nearby.
Food also has an obvious, physical consequence: you feel immediately gross, and in the long run you become obese. Information leaves your mind a wreck, but that goes unnoticed more easily, or is even accepted in a society where it's the norm.
Food is difficult in that it's a physical requirement, which means you must face that demon several times a day. But we rely on information more and more, and we interact with information sources which are increasingly addictive and dangerous.
The ability to recognize when you're being dragged around by your baser instincts by weapons-grade behavioural conditioning is an increasingly important survival skill.
You don't devour another two cakes when you're full. Your diet goes beyond junk food. You can learn to consume information responsibly too.
The effects of information addiction
- It saps your time and energy, redirecting productive and creative potential.
- It fragments your attention, making you permanently distracted, robbing you of focus and making it harder to pursue the complex and the deep.
- It numbs your experience of life, making you care and feel less about your worldly interactions.
- It moulds you to behave on base impulse and to let go of measure, reflection and breadth of vision in your actions.
- Depending on the flavour you consume, it strengthens your cognitive flaws and biases. This might mean making you more convinced that brown or conservative or poor or Christian or cis-sexual people are monsters, or more of an impulse buyer, or more afraid to leave your comfort zones, or more convinced that the world is doomed and that everyone's out to get you, and so on.
- It contributes substantially to pessimism, depression, misanthropy, fatalism and nihilism.
Am I addicted to information?
Does what you've read so far strike close to home? If it does, you might. Keep reading. IA's deep experiential sensitivity cost can numb you to the point where you can't feel the impact of having it, because the ability to feel withers.
If this all sounds melodramatic, you could be in denial. Or you could be fine. It's not a black and white thing. Some people aren't hooked on information yet. Some maintain a healthy relationship with it. Some have fertile enough minds that they can use it a lot without too many costs. Think about what I've sketched here and spend some time reflecting quietly. Look for it in yourself.
Cause and effect
Most of the things which make you vulnerable to IA are made worse by an active addiction, so it's hard to separate cause and effect. This section discusses effects and situations which are co-morbid with IA.
Poor prospects, feeling trapped or helpless
If your life looks grim - if you're in a terrible financial situation, struggling to find employment, feeling generally bowed and incapable, or if something in your life is confining you - the escapism of IA is hugely appealing.
Trying to escape IA under the weight of life's lot will be harder than usual. But it's even more important to do. It will give you the clarity and agency to make and pursue plans to improve your situation.
A neglect of personal well-being (hygiene, sleep, food, exercise), housekeeping (cleaning, tidying, shopping) and healthy money-seeking can creep up as the tendrils of IA sink in. Why take care of things in the real world? The small, delayed positive payoff doesn't look very good next to one more razor-honed hit, right now, over and over.
Your mind is given over to a hundred little voices, clamouring for their favourite drug, and you lose your investment in yourself and your world. This is unfortunately a very cosy spiral.
It's like trying to give up smoking in a house with lighters and cigarettes scattered all over. It's an insane ask. Luckily, there are some practical interventions for this one which I discuss later. The main goal from this perspective is to make screens a smaller part of your life.
Sometimes you just want to veg. If your normal work-day is killer (or even "just" tiring), you're more likely to turn to IA when you get some downtime. It's just how it is. It's almost unfair to ask your brain to tackle an existential question as big as IA if it's already exhausted.
You need to be in a reasonable state of mind to deal with this stuff. This means carving out calm, rested you-time. Do what you can.
You also don't need to be absolutist about this stuff. While I encourage the pursuit of a good informational diet, an awareness of the nature of IA could inspire you to choose higher-quality TV, or a little less TV, or to mix in reading with TV occasionally.
If your job requires you to use sources of IA, things can get tricky. You can use it as an opportunity to learn to recognise its exploitative facets, but ongoing use will normalise it in your life.
You could try to find a different job, or a different role within the company, which minimises your exposure. You can also make an effort to compartmentalise - to make it clear to yourself that work-based IA is simply work, and to avoid bringing those habits home. Making your work-based IA interactions "methodical" (using Facebook's post scheduler to automate postings in advance, for example) can help to cement this division.
A lot of your friends are doing it, probably. It's difficult to abandon something such a huge chunk of society is pouring their cunning, art, dreams, hopes and feelings into.
This is honestly a hard one to tackle. You have to look practically at the pros and cons, remember that entirely-physical relationships are still a thing, and consider the fundamental breadth-depth trade-off in how we spend our time.
Tapering your use lets you benefit from less IA while gracefully winding down your connected presence, but there's a huge spike in effective benefit from quitting altogether.
Poor or absent human connection
Spending time with other human beings is incredibly core to our makeup. IA habits are likely to draw you away from time spent with friends, and a lack of people to spend time with is likely to push you towards IA.
Some IA sources give you (low-quality) human interaction on tap, which makes it appealing to try to plug the gap with them. More broadly, IA numbs and distracts to the point where a lack of connection is less painful.
Attention fragmentation is a creature which is born when you spend too long being interrupted by things, such as notifications.
Eventually you enter a state of permanent distraction, wherein big chunks of your mind constantly anticipate (in excitement or dread) the next interruption. Your limited reserve of simultaneous processing capacity is exhausted by these guests, which is how anxiety costs you your sanity.
It has a huge cost in happiness, your ability to think deeply and clearly, and makes you more likely to make low-quality decisions.
Experiential numbness is a little further out there, but if you've been nodding thus far I suspect you'll know what I'm talking about.
You have a finite reserve of high-quality mental energy each day. If you spend a significant proportion of your time "on" in a damaging, IA kind of way, you experience numbing as that reserve is depleted. If you keep over-spending it, you accretively lose the ability to replenish it well. This takes a long time to heal.
It's not the same as "brain fog" in which you feel frustratingly unable to function normally. In fact, you can probably "function" in the doing-a-menial-job sense better than usual when you have EN.
The cost is in wonder, joy, sorrow, vividness, spontaneity, and creativity. The world around you loses colour through no fault of its own. In the course of years spent with different compelling information faucets bleating for attention and shaping your mind to care about little more than the next hit, you lose the ability to appreciate the rest of the world with useful sensitivity.
It's a tricky one to try to describe because the damage is subtle and incremental - frog, boiling water. Most sufferers don't realise or care that they have it. Perhaps things get boring more quickly. Perhaps your motivation to do things moves towards "it's good to be doing something" or "more beans must be better than fewer beans" and further from the intrinsic awe of the thing. But, bottom-line, the sparkle goes out of the world quietly, and you adapt.
So I'll take my best shot: try to remember what the world was like when you were younger. Around seven to fourteen. Remember the soaring awe of learning new ideas or seeing incredible images. Remember the raw devastation of being upset. That's experiential sensitivity, and you have that capacity within you.
There is a decent case to be made that the world-dimming usually acknowledged as a normal part of getting older is EN, caused by things like having to do unsatisfying work, stress, anxiety, guilt, draining people, and IA.
The torrent of information is relentless. This produces different things in different people.
Some meet it "head-on", giving massive chunks of their time over to making sure they've consumed as much as possible, so they aren't left behind. This is a quick route to attention fragmentation and experiential numbness.
Some try to weather or deflect the tide, but may still harbour negative feelings about the stuff they're missing, or otherwise resent that they're making tradeoffs between being connected and remaining sane.
Whichever you are, having this incredible volume of information, and knowing that hidden in it is a constellation of tidbits which you care about - while also knowing that to consume them all would consume more time than you have available - is not a healthy experience.
Things are better than ever for the inhabitants of Spaceship Earth.
Our economies are becoming steadily more carbon-efficient. Our emissions policies have us on a course which ultimately stabilizes, even if it might suck for a while in the middle, and there's no reason we can't keep improving those policies.
The proportion of people living in absolute poverty continues to dramatically decline. While inequality continues to be a problem, things are improving. PPP-adjusted income is increasing across the board (animated) (see also).
Life expectancy has skyrocketed in the past 200 years (alternate vis). The equality of the distribution of that improved lifespan is also getting better. Child mortality is falling fast across the board. Healthcare intervention prevalence is improving dramatically.
Absolute global homicide rate is seeing a small, recent increase after 12 years of decline - and remember, this is in the context of global population growth.
Human rights protections continue to steadily improve across the board.
People are more literate than ever, and the ratio continues to improve. Fewer people get no education than ever, and primary school enrolment continues to improve. The years-of-schooling gender inequality gap has almost been closed. As a population, our projected levels of education look extremely positive. Learning outcomes have improved dramatically almost everywhere between 1985 and 2015.
(Charts via ourworldindata.org; sources are on the images.)
And yet we're gloomier than ever. Maybe reality doesn't match what we know we're capable of. Maybe our lives are beset with horrible stuff that we'd rather not deal with. Maybe there are still several massive systemic problems and fixing them is a really daunting task. I think all of these are true, but I don't buy them as sufficient to explain all the gloominess.
Humans have a calamity bias. We perk up when we hear stories of disaster. We're also more efficient at disseminating information than we've ever been. And so it has come to pass that when any atrocity anywhere in the world happens, most humans hear about it, and bear the psychological toll.
You can see how this scales. In a community of a few thousand, serious anti-social acts will be carried out by one or two individuals (and news of them will be shared) every few weeks or months, perhaps. In a community of billions, we get to hear about the tiny proportion of people doing really horrible stuff constantly, because in a population of billions, the anti-social contingent grows to thousands - and we forget how tiny they remain in the big picture.
There is an argument to be made for being informed. Human rights violations need light in order to be fixed, right? But a carousel of gore and horror and outrage has a cost, too. We're convincing our entire species that humanity is terrible, cruel and destructive. Misanthropy has never been cooler, or more prevalent. And we're sharing the kinds of psychic scars usually reserved for medical professionals and soldiers with every human being.
It's dishonest because it's a monstrously lopsided view of our species. We've done, and continue to do, utterly mind-boggling amounts of good. It outweighs the bad by so many orders of magnitude that I don't know how you'd go about visualising it. We just have this mad tendency to ignore the good and stare bleakly at the bad.
The real kicker is that pessimism leads to apathy and despair. Learning about how "doomed" the world is is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the ultimate effect of knowing about all that horrific stuff is that you feel like it's ubiquitous and inevitable, which makes you less likely to lend your hand to making things better.
Choosing not to consume news media which is presenting a biased view of the world (more doomed than it is) to your brain which parses information in a biased way (preferring doom) is not irresponsible. Contributing to the dystopian potential future of a planet full of apathetic, despairing humans is irresponsible.
I think there is a really important discussion to be had here about how to learn about the state of the world in a way which doesn't crush your spirit - and how to translate that awareness into useful action, instead of letting it fester as frustration or despair. I don't have the answers, but I think it's an important question to ask.
I did make a tool called White Mirror which lets you use the Internet without the doom, though.
Most of what I said about pessimism applies here. The million tiny cuts on your psyche take their toll.
When depression and IA occur together they are incredibly hard to dismantle. The grey apathy of depression makes the earnest soul-searching and self-reflection of IA recovery look like an incredible amount of work, and the industrial distractive power of modern IA is a welcome escape from the worst depression serves up.
The big fetters produce depression almost reliably in combination. If you suspect they might be the source of yours, it is worth your time to try to tackle your IA. Do it experimentally for a day, a week, or a month, and see how it affects your state of mind.
But I'm not going to pretend depression has a magic bullet. I hope you find your way out of the tangle. Be mindful about the information you consume, try to keep busy, talk to someone, get professional help, and explore the drugs available.
The using loop
If you're using, you keep using. It sounds simple but it's really worth thinking about.
After even a few minutes, but especially after half an hour or more, you often find yourself in a strange kind of fugue, happy to get completely lost in whatever IA you're consuming. It seems that, more than the faucet becoming more compelling, the world outside quietly ceases to exist and you follow the small loops of your new reality, perhaps soothed by its ease and simplicity in contrast to all the travails of the real world.
This is how "just one video" engulfs an entire afternoon.
This is the rat in the cage self-administering morphine while it starves.
Your flaws and biases
The flaws listed here exist in us all. Many of them are mutually co-morbid: they often occur with a similar or complementary flaw.
To claim that they are an inevitable and substantial part of being human is irrational pessimism. The potential for each flaw exists in all of us, but you get to choose the extent to which they express themselves in you, by curating your information diet and monitoring your state of mind.
Learn them and try to recognise where they affect your behaviour.
- Calamity bias. Danger makes us perk up. This bias alone explains the pessimism epidemic in a world where, by the numbers, things are better than ever: the media is involved in a race to the bottom for our attention span, and leaning on "everything is terrible" is one of their best weapons.
- Othering bias. In defining our affiliation by our similarity with others of our group, we also define those who exist outside it. Feeling irrational fear or contempt for these others is very easy to do. Power-hungry politicians and view-hungry media lean on this to make us compliant.
- +1 bias. Whether it's a like, retweet, favourite, upvote, 100 gold or 20 gems, a strange part of the mind likes to see good numbers go up. If you've ever played a clicker game, you know how deeply exploitable this rabbit-hole is. The social flavour leans on vanity and they all celebrate greed.
- Connection fondness. We're social creatures. It's a need. Disconnection sucks. This lust for connection is exploited by most social media platforms, and you could argue that they do provide something of value - but it's a pale, watered-down kind of connection, and it's a hook often used unethically.
- Fear of missing out. This is the angst that is felt when you miss out on being included in something social. It's related to connection fondness but hits a slightly sourer note. In sociophobes it can cause cyclical feelings of inadequacy, and in the image-obsessed it exacerbates their condition, compelling them to spend more energy on the social credit from being seen at the right places, as opposed to enjoying human connection.
- Validation bias. Sibling to the +1 bias and the connection bias, we like being told we're doing well. Social "like" mechanics strike at the heart of this, but congratulatory language of any kind hits it too. This is probably one of the major factors driving social media growth. It becomes costly as it transforms into an end unto itself, making us do precisely what nets us the most validation - creating the unrealistic personas which we inhabit, and which feed back into feelings of inadequacy.
- Familiarity bias. In some important ways, the world doesn't exist beyond the boundaries of the parts of it you inhabit. It's very easy to unknowingly build strange walled gardens. Habit, routine and familiarity represent a gradually increasing investment in the ways you interact with the world - and the cost of change rises with them. The people shaping your mind through apps and sites know this.
- Repetition & hyperexposure bias. Sibling to familiarity bias, this is a reminder that your conceptual homunculus takes on the shape of the information it's exposed to. Understanding this is a key refutation to the argument that good citizenship is consuming lots of news media: it does less to inform and inspire critical analysis, and more to condition and control. And since unpleasant events and people take up most of the airtime, unpleasantness will grow in you, too.
- Novelty bias. Something deep in the mind gets excited when it encounters difference, whether it's a bizarre image, a strange bit of news, a person who looks unusual or an idea which is particularly alien. Most bottomless bowls rely on this to keep you scrolling.
- Instancy bias. Self-destructive time-wasting tends to put you in a pissy, impatient state of mind. Having to wait for your IA fix raises the heckles. IA faucets which are very snappy hook you better, since this pain point is relieved.
- Recency bias. We have an impulse to prioritize how recently an event happened or an idea was formed, even over its relevance, quality, substance, or eventual social impact. Sources which promise up-to-the-second information exploit this.
- Relevance bias. Something you know you already care about is more likely to pique your interest. This might sound harmless, but systems built to "maximize relevance" will produce filter bubbles, which allows us to only hear about things from a tight circle of fields, people, and especially cultural values.
- Brevity bias. If something is bite-sized, the investment required to absorb it is lower. This is especially relevant in a bustling information economy with a lot of stuff. You can avoid the risk of investing a lot of time in something substantial but ultimately not worthwhile by preferring smaller bits.
- Ease & convenience bias. Sibling to the instancy and brevity biases, this is where the inability to get deep and intricate stems from. IA is often co-morbid with a strange kind of frenzied laziness which balks at things which require even minimal effort, as if effort minimization will improve one's quality of life. As a result, if something is a simple click or three it's going to be a more appealing choice.
- Variable reward scheme bias. The research is worth a read. This one's in there deep. Mammalian minds really get excited if there is minimal predictability or consistency in the rewards we get, maybe because it keeps our pattern-seeking engaged. This works whether those rewards are interesting articles, Zynga gems or dollars. It keeps us on-edge, keen, and invested.
- Anticipation bias. This is part of what makes the variable reward scheme work. This is the tingle after pushing the button or pulling the lever, knowing that you might get something out. This applies very broadly - for example, texting someone and waiting to see if they respond, or a right-swipe on Tinder and waiting to see if they match back.
- Completionist compulsion. Ever gotten two or three of a series of fifty figurines and experienced the bizarre desire to complete the set? Video game achievements, Japanese gacha machines and collectible card games all hook this to get you to keep spending, or at least clicking and scrolling. Just look at how exhaustive this list is.
- Endless idea nursing, AKA Brain crack. The scourge of creative people everywhere, this is that unpleasant conceptual purgatory from which creative impetus is eternally haemorrhaged. It's obsessing over the idea of how cool something would be while leaning on the safety net of never trying to actually do or make it, since it can only be perfect while it's not being manifested.
- Vividness bias. Sharp, punchy language, sharp peaks in the soundscape, dense and arresting music, highly contrasting colours, elaborate setpieces, emotionally wrought dialogue, and manic action sequences all have their place in creative works. Contrast is key to imbuing richness, and these things are on the strong end of the spectrum.
The cost here is in depth and substance. A fair argument can be constructed for pursuing both breadth and depth in learning about the world, but breadth-only exploration harms you. It's hard to weave complex or subtle perspectives with only small chunks of disconnected information. Long-form idea-weaving, as found in books, in showing you its carefully-constructed cathedrals of coherent thought, itself teaches you tools with which to think more intricately.
This ease often comes at a cost, like missing out on the understanding you'd develop doing it the hard way, agreeing to exploitative terms, or handing control of your world to the companies which run web services and clouds.
The time spent on the thoughts gives you a slight feeling of progress, while also making you feel bad about your inertia. This applies extremely broadly - for example, the eternal merry-go-round of getting excited about trying Pinterest or Instagram ideas but rarely doing so. Coined by Ze Frank.
Unfortunately, the vivid parts are the most naïvely compelling parts. What happens at the end of the race to the bottom of the brain-stem, as they are leaned on more and more? Media chases itself towards the edges of cognitive apprehension as it transitions from interesting patterns to seething noise, and you walk out of a modern blockbuster dazed at how little of the 15 minutes of plot you can remember through the 120 minutes of eye-watering quad-HD CGI action.
How is IA exploited?
This section covers patterns and flavours. Patterns are systemic templates for exploiting flaws. Flavours are thematic banners under which groups of complementary patterns, techniques and targeted weaknesses are used to induce compulsive behaviour.
These lists are not exhaustive. Please e-mail me if something's missing!
A Tristan Harris coining, this is possibly the most important pattern to understand. A bottomless bowl is something which keeps serving up stuff as you consume it. Think of Facebook's news feed: you can keep scrolling for as long as you like.
This is a brutal trap. Bowls generally serve up portions of varying satisfaction to you, so your variable reward bias is kept hot (in other words, you're kept constantly hunting for the most interesting, funny or horrific stuff.) The IA zombie state is utterly facilitated, since a gentle sweep down on your scroll wheel or a swipe or tap effortlessly waves in the next morsel.
The intersection of these two effects means that you can absently scroll or swipe for alarmingly long periods of time.
These feature most prominently in computer games. They promise you Cool Stuff based more or less on the single fact of how long you've been playing for. Progression usually comes in the flavour of power - more guns, bigger guns, abilities - or accolade, but it can vary.
This leans mostly on the +1 bias and the completionist compulsion. The cost is in making the experience of the game one of chasing an extrinsic reward. The enjoyability of the core gameplay loop is overshadowed by bean collection, which fundamentally colours the experience.
Instead of playing to creatively manipulate systems, achieve mastery or flow-state, or explore strange worlds, the player ends up invested in the size and completeness of their collection.
Free access to your notification tray is a goldmine. The most insidious apps will notify you constantly - not frequently enough to annoy you, but not infrequently enough for you to kill the app's brainworm. If it's really effective the notifications will hook you each time. This reinforces familiarity with a new app or program, and encourages investment.
These have a deep cost in attention fragmentation.
Variable reward schemes
This one is almost ubiquitous, and it boils down to taking an action and being shown or given something of uncertain value to you. You can find it in:
- Card game booster packs
- Gacha and slot machines
- Loot when killing monsters in games
- Any "feed" whose content changes, which includes Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and news sites
...and many places besides. Learning the pattern here is really important. Try to think broadly and generally about what forms this could take. The "taking an action" at the start is important too, as it hooks you into the push-button-receive-treat addiction loop.
"Share" for in-app cash
Prevalent in mobile games, this pattern asks you to trade your social capital with your friends for in-app currency.
Slowly refilling action points
Also big in mobile games, and often called "energy". This both limits how much you can do at once (compelling the impatient to spend money) while making doing well in the game reliant on opening the game every few hours (establishing familiarity and investment).
These are my reflections on the flavours of information out there. Your experience may be substantially different. It's really important that you do a lot of slow reflecting of your own, especially with the flavours which hook you the strongest.
You know what it is; you're probably familiar with it. The idea that spending lots of time on social media makes you feel like crap is pretty widely accepted at this point.
It exaggerates the calamity bias, because its content-surfacing algorithms mean that you only see the top one percent of "reaction-worthy" content. In this it does the same for several other biases, including othering, recency, brevity, and ease.
It's entirely built around a variable reward scheme, because you never know how good the next thing you scroll to is going to be.
It ruthlessly exploits our fondness for connection and validation, feeding us a pale imitation of time with people we care about, and in the same stroke it draws us to spend less time together in real life.
I found quitting a lot easier after I made a point of switching to phone calls for as many people as possible. At that point, you're looking at losing touch with a couple of stragglers, instead of most of your community.
The line between social media and news is pretty much gone at this point. I speak about human-curated news here.
News thrives on views. It's the only way for a news-sharing organisation to survive. Journalists and editors are well aware of our biases, and they know what to do to get clicks and views.
News leans really, really hard on the calamity bias, and presents us a skewed view of the world as a result (see my Pessimism rant above).
It's also increasingly involved in othering, as marketers discover that they can, for example, show the right stories about the left being terrible, and show the left stories about the right being terrible, and profit from both. Fight it. We're all human and we're all in this together.
The really powerful perspective shift here is getting an honest answer out of yourself to the question "do I really need to hear (and adopt) this person's version of what's going on in the world?" Connection is valid and valuable and important, but why hand away the lens?
Try learning about the lives of the people who live near you directly, by talking to them. Also try to avoid bias when you learn about distant parts of the world, through good stats, science, and encyclopaedic writing.
I think games are far and away the most addictive screen-based experience we've developed. They're deeply interactive, and they are portals into strange, vivid worlds. Escapism was never so interesting.
I spent a long time addicted to computer games. It was a difficult road. Gaming is only getting bigger, and I empathise deeply with parents trying to guide their brood through the jungle.
There is a trend towards games building their systems around continuously extracting money from the player (as opposed to providing enjoyable worlds and systems). There is also a trend toward extrinsic motivation (such as achievements) instead of intrinsic motivations (such as genuine satisfaction). These trends are diluting the valuable aspect of games, but they might be helpful in that they make games more obvious Skinner boxes, which makes escaping easier.
It's hard to generalise, but broadly, desktop gaming risks a "heavier" kind of addiction. The improved input scheme, the sitting upright on a seat, and the power of modern desktop PCs means that you can have experiences and visit worlds which are really immersive and high-fidelity.
When it comes to divesting of the real and inhabiting other worlds, the vividness and compulsion of desktop gaming can get close to that of books for a book-worm. And it has multiplayer. Heady stuff.
Consoles are much "lighter" than PCs. The experience is casual and relaxed; you're usually on a couch, the control device is small, and you can pick up or drop games very easily. This mitigates the risk of "heavy" addiction, but adds risk in the scrolling-through-feeds vein. Low-friction entry means you can fall into the hole all the more easily.
Apply the same principles as with any IA. Monitor your overall usage, and learn whether the games you choose exploit biases unhealthily.
Most people will never own a desktop or console; most people will own a cellphone. Ubiquity is mobile's superpower, and it's a pretty potent one.
Mobile games mostly land on the simple and light end of the spectrum. This lightness is somehow retained when it comes to spending money on them, so they're really good at wheedling you out of cash in little bits.
Their ubiquity also contributes to near-immortal brain-worms. If you are vaguely invested in a mobile game, even if it isn't satisfying at all - just a little compelling - it's easy to get into a loop of whipping out that game whenever you have "time to kill". This is the lowest-friction entry possible, and it makes extremely chronic use likely.
Videos may not be interactive, but this lets them tell more complex, author-directed stories, which can be more compelling. Not requiring input also means that their barrier to entry is lower. Once you've started watching, you can commit as much mental energy as you like - all the way down to "almost none" - and let the experience wash over you.
There's an astonishing variety of video content, and since it's generally imbued with a message you can be sure to find something that reinforces your views, beliefs or feelings, or is delivered in a tone which suits your frame of mind. This means that it has the potential to hit several biases.
Uniquely, video can show people doing stuff - loving, fighting, working, relaxing. Experiencing the lives of other people (real or fictional) vicariously can be really addictive, especially if you lack connection in your life, and there's no imagination-translation layer required (as with books).
Vendors like Netflix and YouTube work very hard on algorithms to show you exactly what you want. The danger is that they get good at this, so you trust their recommendations more and more, and you find your identity shifting towards whatever subtle systemic biases are built into those algorithms.
The aspect of choice in the on-demand format plus the lack of a per-unit-consumed cost also means that you have easy access to everything you find interesting in their archives, which is "bottomless" on an unprecedented scale. There's a little variable-reward here, and a whole lot of appealing, passively consumable crack.
TV looks strange and clunky in the age of streaming, but tools like DVR have brought it almost to parity. The main difference here is that there is still some human curation involved in what is shown in which time-slots, and that most sport broadcasting is still done through broadcast TV.
TV really encourages a very unintentional kind of investment, where your choice is reduced to "which of the things which are on right now do I want to watch?" For people who don't have alternatives, or who are inured to the veg-state of soaking in TV, this can lead to consuming un-nourishing or outright damaging stuff "because it's there".
It also includes quite a bit of...
Live video is appealing in a very specific way. This is the recency bias serviced as well as it is possible to. The thing you're watching happened just moments ago!
Sites like Twitch have added a tight viewer feedback loop to the experience, which serves a different set of biases and can also be really compelling.
VR is coming. No, really. The sensation of "presence" - of actually being there - which VR produces is completely impossible to communicate to someone who hasn't experienced it. Going from weird abstracted interfaces (remote, mouse, keyboard, controller) to gesturing around normally with your hands and looking around naturally with your eyes and head is a complete game-changer.
What this means is that if a screen is a pill, VR goggles are a needle. We are going to have screen-based experiences delivered more vividly, more convincingly, and more overwhelmingly. PC game addiction is going to look like a joke once VR game addiction gets established.
Right now it's awkward, technical, and clunky. We have until it gets slick to get good at managing information addiction.
I'm not going to poke the morality bear. I do want to make the point that porn provides an acute endorphin hit, on demand. This is completely analogous to a cigarette or a game of Candy Crush. Strip away any socially-derived guilt and a high-volume porn user is still damaging themselves, because you can only flood those receptors for so long until they lose sensitivity.
Modern messaging apps offer a new way of speaking to people: ongoing low-bandwidth, low-commitment discussions with 5, 10 or 50 people at the same time. This has an important effect.
You're switching your attention between these contexts quickly, and if you leave notifications on you're constantly dropping out of whatever real-life context you're in to enter them. This has the potential to induce massive, massive attention fragmentation because of the demands it places on our limited daily processing capacity.
Apart from that risk, I think one-on-one interactions with people you care about are valid and worthwhile. It's pretty easy to integrate chat into your life in a healthy way: moderation. And make sure your notifications are off!
Buying stuff can be really, really addictive. Remember how marketing works. They're out to convince you that you're missing out on something, or that you are in some way inadequate, and that their product will give you what you "need".
If you have disposable income and your impulse purchasing is only occasional, you're probably OK. But if money is tight, or if you buy stuff frequently (especially if it's to try to feel better), you need to tackle it.
- Never buy anything if there's time pressure attached. Always decline the pressure-attached offer, and give yourself time to reflect on whether it's something which would truly enrich your life. Cultivate "sorry, no" as your default answer.
- You probably don't need it. Get outside the excitement bubble and try to figure out how it'll impact your life on a realistic, practical, day-to-day basis.
- Spend a lot of time trying to understand your motivations. Why do you want the thing? Social approval? Completionism? If it's an insecurity of some kind, ask if feeding it is really what you want for yourself.
- If you're in the habit of browsing catalogues of any kind, consider getting out of it. You don't lust after stuff you don't have. Don't put yourself in the position of knowing it's out there in the first place.
- Understand value pegging. If something's sold at $100, 80% off, you might feel that you're saving $80 by spending $20 on it... but all you're doing is spending $20. Ignore the "original price" and the "markdown", and judge it based on what it is and its asking price.
I've highlighted the big ones here, but "screen-delivered information" is impossibly broad. The big picture is that you should try to think clearly about any extended screen time, and try to figure out whether it's good for you.
Drugs are social
It is a truism in drug circles that you have to lose your "drug friends" if you want to get clean. Unfortunately, there are some parallels with information. Do you have certain friends who you only (or mostly) play games with, or write on each other's Facebook walls, or watch series with, or text?
If you answered yes, it might be worth trying to find ways to steer those relationships towards interactions which lean less on information. In extreme cases, you might need to ask yourself whether the relationship is worth more than freedom from IA.
I'm hugely pro-book, but books are still information and it's still possible to have an unhealthy relationship with them. I think the big ones are:
- All the risks associated with racing to the bottom of the brain-stem apply, but to a milder degree. Some books are getting simpler, punchier, and shallower. You'll miss out if you don't read more widely than that puddle.
- Spending too much time in the dark, metaphorically speaking. Books are uniquely free as a medium to explore very, very dark corners of the human condition, and you will damage yourself if you don't moderate.
- Divesting of the real. If you're the kind of person who books really speak to, you can find yourself utterly absorbed by them on an existential scale. There's a lot more to the human experience and I think missing out on it is a shame.
The book caveats apply, but audio books are great. They are a calmer, more reflective kind of stimulus, and you get to rest your eyes. I suppose it's worth mentioning that I think a healthily calm mind values periods of silence (which one could lean on audio books to avoid).
Podcasts are interesting. Since they're designed for longer consumption sessions, the hosts generally get to tackle topics a little more substantially, but since they're often ad-hoc discussions, they can lack the depth of researched articles.
The choice of who you listen to is really important, because you will be closely exposed to their value system, and it will rub off on you.
I suppose listening with headphones in certain situations is a little anti-social, but that's something us introverts need sometimes.
Music is great.
How to fix IA
It's all you
It's tempting to throw experts at problems. This works for a lot of things, and I empathise with the desire to believe that a professional can solve every problem. Someone who has spent a lot of time practising empathy is probably good at it. Talking to a psychologist might be really valuable. They're trained to understand how addiction works. I also recommend talking to a close friend - they know you better and they're invested.
But ultimately, IA is difficult to solve and deeply personal. If you have it, you need to fix it. You're the only one with good enough access to how you think. You are very good at deceiving yourself but you're also the real authority in your head. Don't be afraid. You can do this.
Take it seriously
Using information is light, effortless, and casual. It's almost a nothing-action. The cost of entry into the rabbit hole is a gentle swipe or tap. What's five minutes on a news-feed, really?
So if you think your information habits are problematic, you need to figure out how to take seriously the cost of continuing with those habits in their current form. You need to attach this weight to every time you open that app or website.
What are you missing out on because you're pouring all your time into these holes? Time with your child or family? Learning to make the music or art which really touches your fellow humans? Time for your side hustle which will get you some real freedom from the daily grind? Time spent learning a skill, discipline, profession, or domain, for fun or profit or both?
Because it's not five minutes. It's five minutes, plus five minutes, plus five minutes, plus five minutes... you get the idea.
Find what IA is stealing from you, and take using information that seriously.
Your task is difficult, but simple. Become aware of your informational diet, develop and assert control over your consumptive habits, and hold yourself to a high standard.
Examine both quality and quantity. Reject information which exploits your biases, and control how much information you consume overall.
If your relationship with food is good, treat information which exploits your flaws the same as cheap takeaways. (If it's not, pick something else!) It's fun and easy and pleasant, but the only way to include it in a healthy diet is in moderation.
The really key step to take here is to start evaluating the quality of each information-chunk you engage with.
Taking in way too much overall is really what damages experiential sensitivity and causes attention fragmentation. Treat each day as if you have a finite budget of "brain on time", and then make intentional choices each time you interact with information. When you choose to engage, do it with your full and undivided attention.
In each interaction, ask: "Is this worth what it asks of my limited budget?"
Know your flaws; know their tools
You've done a lot of the work by reading the previous sections. Being aware of the mechanisms equips you psychologically to reject manipulation.
Your ongoing task is to look for those patterns, and appeals to those flaws, in every information faucet you interact with, and to avoid interacting with destructive faucets.
You also need to practice internal vigilance, as the best way to recognise IA is often by noticing irrationally emotional or impulsive behaviour in yourself and looking for its source.
It might be helpful to review the list of biases. Anything appealing to one or more of your biases is unhealthy. Obviously, this property exists on a continuum, and you're still allowed to have fun.
One of the most powerful tools in your arsenal, which is indispensable when you need to interact with an IA source, is intentionality. This is simply going in with a clear and specific objective. Tell yourself what it is - out loud, even - before you open the app or website.
- I need to find out when Moira's birthday party is.
- I want to see if there are any events planned in the next two months.
- I want to see what Sibu has posted in the last week.
- I want to look up a simple dress pattern.
- I want to find a gouache shading tutorial.
Make sure you keep your objective in mind the entire time you use the IA source. Once you've achieved it, put down the needle phone immediately.
This completely reframes the interaction from "lead me down a rabbit-hole" to "do something specific for me". It gives the power back to you. It will, over time, improve your sense of agency, making you less of a passive consumer and more of an active agent.
In general, if you open the app or site to have things shown to you (scroll through a feed), it's bad. Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and Pinterest are all guilty. If however you open the app with the clear intention to do something specific (calculate a sum, translate a phrase, learn a language, draw a picture) it's probably fine. This browse vs. search intentionality distinction is very useful. Try to examine your own motivations with each IA faucet you visit.
Develop impulse control
Impulse control is a strange skill. I know people who have no trouble dieting but are far-gone information addicts, and vice-versa. I think a lot of it comes down to how strongly the drug affects you.
Some people will be able to improve their usage from the perspective offered here. Others need something more direct.
The Addictive Voice model
My favourite tool in asserting impulse control is something called AVRT, or Addictive Voice Recognition Technique. I urge you to visit their website and complete the free course. It has zero woo.
Here are the main points:
- The part of you which wants to keep using (consuming information irresponsibly) is in some way separate from the "real" you - it's called the Addictive Voice, or AV
- You are the ultimate authority in your mind, and you have complete control over this destructive aspect of yourself
- To help understand what it is, explore thought experiments: listen to how it reacts to the internal assertion "I will never use again", compared to something like "I will use again as soon as I'm done reading this"
- Make a clear, conscious decision to never use again
- Listen for any internal monologue which would lead to using ever again, recognize it as the AV, and deny it
You are now immune to your addiction of choice.
AVRT was designed for simpler drugs, so fitting it to IA is tricky. You will probably need to consume information from dangerous faucets again.
You might need to learn to draw a subtler line in the sand, and to understand yourself well enough to notice when your information consumption moves from healthy to damaging.
If you do use IA sources which you can afford to stop using completely (that is to say, your income or social well-being doesn't rely on them), consider using AVRT to stop using them, one by one.
Decide what's OK
Before you can try to exercise impulse control, you need to decide specifically what that means. Vague feelings of guilt or anxiety are a complete waste of energy.
You need an exhaustive, specific plan.
Maybe you want to stop using unhealthy information right now. Maybe cold-turkey sounds a little harsh and you want to allow yourself two Insta binges each day, and to catch up with Facebook twice a week. Maybe you're mostly fine with how you use information, but you want to max out your social media time at one hour a day. Sounds good! Pick something that works for you, and then write it down.
I have found in my own IA treatment that hard time-blocks work really well for me. I pick short, specific periods during which I can use any IA source as much as I like, which helps me avoid the missing-out aspect. Outside those periods I don't touch them.
You may struggle at first to recognise certain behaviours as addiction-driven. Make sure that you remain alert, and add constraints to your plan as you discover the need for them.
A great way to discover whether something is good for you is how it makes you feel. It's a lot simpler and more direct than analysing it against the list of flaws, and it usually comes to the same conclusion. The essential point here is to reflect on how it makes you feel both while you're using it and after you've stopped using it. Is the rush worth the regret?
How are you doing? Consider keeping a log of every time you use a dangerous IA source so that you have a good idea of your own usage patterns. Be honest. Include your intentions going in (were you looking up a specific event, or just browsing?), how long you used it for, and how you felt before and after using it.
Is your behaviour in line with the plan you set out? Don't beat yourself up if you lapse, but figure out how to make sure that it doesn't happen again. You may need to tweak your plan if you keep lapsing: you may have curtailed your habits too aggressively. Gently tapering usage can be more effective than quitting altogether. Figure out what works best for you.
Keep tracking your behaviour, changing your behaviour and checking on your behaviour until you are where you want to be.
Be patient with yourself
Understand your position
You might be deep in the addiction at the moment. If the idea of only thirty minutes of screen time in a day sounds scary, alien or naïve, remember that your perspective is that of the using junkie: wildly skewed. Each day spent dismantling your IA will change that perspective.
Time is your ally
Changing a habit takes time. There's very little way around this. If you can understand the shape of your addiction and move away from it a little each day, your victory is already secure. It's just in the future.
Also, re-read resources (like this one) about IA occasionally until you're free. Our minds are really vulnerable to fond of repetition.
Don't give up
The basic human state is incompetence. If you've never done something before, you're more than likely to be terrible at it.
This is completely fine. Your superpower is the ability to adapt and grow. Greet failure with reflection - it's an opportunity to grow - and satisfaction that you're making progress.
Fail enough and you must succeed.
It's really tempting to lose yourself in a spiral of self-pity or self-loathing if you do badly, especially if you've had a bad run recently. Try to avoid the temptation. It'll just make you feel worse a month later when you haven't made any progress.
If you are struggling, please talk to a friend or a professional. There is no shame in it.
Phases of information health
These don't apply to everyone; they describe a broad, common arc. Don't panic if you don't follow it.
- The first phase is spent dragging yourself away from specific addictions, relapsing often, and dealing with guilt, shame, and so on.
- The second phase is spent moving between phases of calm, IA-free clarity and seemingly catastrophic relapse.
- The third phase involves reliable, strong aversion to IA sources.
- The fourth phase is when the disgust peters out into calm disinterest. You're free. :)
Make your tech human-friendly
This is easier to do if you're a techie. My aim is to develop simple, visual guides to using these.
The goal here is to make it hard for your addictions to get at your flaws via your tech, making quitting easier. None of these aids will solve IA for you. The idea is to allow your higher brain time to kick in before diving down a rabbit-hole.
- You can avoid the Internet making you scared, angry, upset or depressed by using White Mirror, which is a tool that helps counteract the disproportionate negativity and hate found on the Internet (especially on news sites and social media). It lets you hide stuff by keyword. It works on Firefox's mobile app, too.
- After you understand which sites exploit your IA, use tools like LeechBlock for Firefox or StayFocusd for Chrome to remove or limit your access to them. LeechBlock works on Firefox's mobile app, too.
- Experiment with browser and operating system profiles. A complete IA lockdown on a "work" or "creativity" user account and a less limited "play" profile is still a better setup than not locking anything down, because you must admit to yourself that you want to use by switching to the "play" profile, giving your brain a chance to kick in.
- Uninstall all phone apps which are sources of IA - especially bottomless bowls - or limit access to them using an app like Freedom or Offtime.
- Try Siempo on your Android phone. It allows you to batch notifications (group them together at intervals you choose), flag specific apps as damaging (it'll nudge you out of them after a few minutes), and access useful apps using branding-free "tool" icons. It is specifically designed to mitigate IA.
- Try the following. Install Firefox on your phone, and uninstall or hide the icons of every other browser. Then install LeechBlock for Firefox, and set it up so that you only have 5 minutes' access each 30 minutes. This lets you use your phone to look stuff up, retaining all the practical utility, but neuters its ability to lead you down an Internet hole.
- Permanently grayscale your phone. This hugely mitigates any exploitation of your vividness bias. You can do the same thing with your desktop computer if you're feeling brave.
- Become comfortable with message filtering. The e-mail and SMS filtering tools available to us are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
- It's more effective to filter a spammy newsletter than to click its unsubscribe link.
- Filtering can also handle semi-important messages, putting them into folders to deal with later. It's not just your inbox or the trash bin.
- You can add numbers to an auto-reject list on many modern phones.
- Disable as many desktop and phone notifications as possible - sounds, notification lights, and popups, and disable count badges on app icons. Check it manually, once or twice a day.
- If you have FOMO as a result, sit with it and try to unpack it. Try to convince yourself that your phone should serve you, and not the other way around.
- Make sure screens aren't prominent in spaces that you spend a lot of time in. A big TV in front of the couch and a giant PC monitor on your workdesk both invite information bingeing. Use a smaller screen off to the side or do away with it entirely if you can.
- If you read on your phone, switch to an e-Ink reader.
- When you must use a screen, be health-aware.
- Take frequent and substantial breaks spent moving around and looking at distant things.
- Use good lighting indoors. Natural light is best, if it's available. Pro-tip: halogen bulbs are both non-flickery and emissively similar to the Sun.
- Make sure you have decent ergonomics.
- Use a blue light screen filter after sunset (Flux, Twilight, or built-in on modern operating systems). Read about blue light, melatonin and the human circadian rhythm to understand why.
- It's still niche, but e-Ink is much, much easier on the eyes and mind than light-emitting screens. If you can afford them, DASUNG and ONYX sell e-Ink computer monitors, and the YotaPhone, Hisense A2, Light Phone 2, and DoCoMo Card Keitai phones incorporate e-Ink screens.
- The heroin peddlars themselves are beginning to recognise the impact of what they're doing. Some of these first-party tools might offer functionality which helps you reach your goals.
- Google is rolling out Digital Wellbeing, which includes functionality across Android, Gmail, YouTube, and more.
- Apple is rolling out Screen Time for iOS.
- Facebook (and Instagram) is rolling out "activity dashboards", which help you track your usage.
- If you decide to use reddit, consider setting up a multi-reddit with a very small scope (5-10 subs at most), avoiding drama, hostility, factionalism, and news. This removes the "bottomless" property, as the amount of new stuff being added is limited.
Check them out and see if you find them useful, but remember that these are made by corporations with strong investor obligations. Your obligation is to yourself. Google would probably like you to keep using YouTube every day, even if you cut down your usage, whereas a healthier goal might be to only use it on weekends.
Avoid bad habits
These will appeal to you in varying degrees. They're all invaluable.
Many of them are learning crutches - for example, keeping your phone far away from you isn't strictly necessary once you've moved past the urge to check it frequently.
- Avoid screens as much as you are able. Develop a blanket habit of looking for ways to do things off-screen before resorting to a screen, and pursue hobbies and leisure activities which are screen-free. Be conscious of all screen time and strive to minimise it. Apps can help here.
- Be careful with time-tracking, planning and GTD apps. It's easy to get obsessive about them, which is its own impulsive hole. Experiment with paper equivalents to screen tools: if you can make them work for you, that's a whole bunch less screen time.
- If your job requires a screen, lock down that computer so that it only does that one thing. Spend recreation time on something non-digital.
- Make your phone hard to get at. Travel with it in a bag. When seated, leave it far enough away that you must get up to interact with it.
- Don't touch your phone in company. If you have to, keep it brief. Respect the time and attention of the people in the room with you.
- Don't let your phone near your bed, ever. If you need it in your bedroom as an alarm clock, leave it on the far side of the room. Buy a traditional alarm clock.
- Don't look at a screen in the two hours before you go to bed.
Embrace good habits
I view these seemingly-unrelated-to-IA habits as non-negotiable in mitigating IA. I am dramatically less happy and clearheaded when I drop the ball on any one of them, and I look back on the depths of my IA, in which I ignored all of them, in mild wonder that I kept on plodding.
Get them right and your state of mind will amaze you. Seriously. Even if the benefits look dubious from where you're standing, consider simply committing to them for a week (a month is better) to get a fair impression of what the effects are.
- Exercise. Daily. It sucks at first, a lot, but it transforms into pure magic. It shifts the physical-virtual investment balance in your mind toward the former, it makes you feel good about yourself, it gives you energy, and it massively improves your mood. It's incredible. Even ten minutes of light cardio will make a huge difference, but shoot for twenty or thirty and ultimately mix in resistance training. If gyms and equipment put you off, look into calisthenics. All you need is your body.
- Eat healthily. Cook every day. Reduce starch and sugar intake, cut out refined sugars, and eat lots of veggies. This doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming. Explore the relevant communities around the 'net for more detailed information.
- Get enough quality sleep. For quantity, you need to be disciplined. Eight hours is a hard minimum, but nine is better. Quality is important, too. Sleeping at night is better. Interruptions, ambient light and sound, and an uncomfortable mattress all make your sleep poorer. Improve what you can.
- Dismantle sources of unnecessary or unhealthy stress. It might be an obligation you're procrastinating on, a person who really puts you on edge who you have to see a lot, a cruel boss, a job which is running you ragged, a decision or behaviour of your own that's making you feel uncomfortable, or fear from an unsafe commute or neighbourhood.
You need to sit down with each source of stress and think about how to mitigate it, and then come up with a clearly defined plan. Be ruthless. Your state of mind is worth it.
Fill your newly-free time
If you're bored and idle, you will slip back into IA easily. We humans love doing stuff. Do some cool stuff. Hell, make a habit of doing cool stuff.
- Choose slow, deep, and difficult over fast, shallow, and easy. The prime example is reading a book versus scrolling through Facebook. This template can be applied to a great diversity of things. You can gauge your path along the road to recovery very clearly by how difficult choosing slow, deep, and difficult is. You're free when it becomes your effortless preference.
- Keep lists of interesting project ideas. Return to them when you need something to do, pick something out and do it.
- Pursue a creative field. Write words, make music, learn a skill, draw or paint or develop your penmanship, learn programming.
- Get communal. Join a book-club, language-learning group, hiking group, writing group, theatre group, climbing gym, sports team, community volunteer group, local maker-space, or paper gaming group. Participate in thoughtful online communities with interesting people.
- Learn about the shape of your world. Read - there's so much great stuff, from the classics to hundreds of modern and near-modern genres. Learn formal high-school or university-level stuff to fill gaps - physics, history, maths, geography, sociology. Online learning resources are better than ever. Mash random on Wikipedia. Learn a language. Listen to great music. Delve into weird niches of specialization. Appreciate art.
- Go and have wonderful experiences. Dance at festivals, hike, camp, explore (you don't need plane tickets - explore locally!) and develop a sense of engagement with the world around you.
Beware the screen-reliant items I've recommended here. Make sure to always minimize screen time where possible. Ultimately, non-screen activities should make up the majority of your stuff-doing - moving towards that goal in small increments is how to get there.
If you participate in communities of any kind, keep the biases in mind and stay away from nastiness - online communities are particularly prone to collapsing into factionalism and hostility. You don't need it.
Also, I'm a nerd. Maybe your ideal healthy hobby-list has a lot more sports on it. Please substitute my suggestions vigorously if they don't look appealing.
Recovery is personal
People are extremely varied, as are the sources of IA in life. I've tried to cover a wide enough breadth of examples in this write-up to resonate with a lot of people, but you are the only one who knows yourself well enough to think properly about your situation.
Understand the patterns and use them to think clearly and broadly about your life - especially the facets which consume most of your time - and decide if any of your information-facing behaviour is unhealthy.
Outlook is everything
I'm straying into woo here. Secure your valuables. This tangent is included because you need to get excited about your future and about the things you can learn, achieve, make, help with, and master. The most insidious flavour of addiction is recognising it and accepting it with a shrug. You're worth more than running in tiny circles until you die. None of us are getting out of this alive. Stop taking everything so seriously and go and have fun - the satisfying kind.
Optimism is the single most potent empowering agent for the human mind. Nurturing its flame is a delicate art, but once it gets going it fuels you in ways which are difficult to explain to non-believers. The belief that positive outcomes can and do happen, and are worth striving towards, imbues the human experience with colour and possibility and magic. It also creates a positive feedback loop where those outcomes actually do happen more often, because you've included them in your worldview.
The other half of the equation is agency. If you believe that you can do something, you can. Do you have the power to influence the shape of your life and the world around you? If you don't believe you do, you need to bootstrap yourself into believing you do. Unless you are an illiterate, mute subsistence farmer, you have some agency, and it goes way further than you think. You need to explore the opportunities that that agency grants you.
Everything in moderation...
Going IA cold-turkey will make you a social pariah. Movies with friends are fantastic social glue. Many people only announce events on Facebook or WhatsApp. And a lot of honest human creativity goes into a lot of the monstrosities keening for our gaze.
This is a very individual thing, but generally, if you try to turn into a monk overnight, you will give up on giving it up quickly. Information is great and it can enrich your life immensely. I urge you to simply reflect on the quantity and quality of it you consume. Don't think in absolutes, and be kind to yourself.
I present a direction to travel in. You will know when you need to go further, when you need to pull back, and when you've found balance. Just make sure you're listening to you, and not the insatiable monkey on your back.
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written November 2017 published November 2018 updated November 2018