My New New Year’s Resolution

If you're anything like me, you've dutifully set a few familiar resolutions over the past week. Eat healthier. Get to the gym more. Reduce the intake of sugar and booze.

This year I added a new mandate to the mix: Cut back on social media. In 2018 I want to spend my leisure time on more productive pursuits, like reading books, or finally cracking a new podcast or that growing pile of unread New Yorker magazines.

I don't think I'm alone. Over the holidays, I talked to many friends and relatives who have either deleted Facebook or Twitter from their smartphones, or have tried to find other ways to waste less time in the brain fog that can come with scrolling through endless social feeds.

In fact, declaring one's intent to limit social media use has become a peculiar new public ritual. "I've basically dropped off" Twitter, said Anderson Cooper on his New Year's Eve CNN broadcast. "It seems really toxic to me."

Internet analysts are even pondering the business impact of these resolutions. "2018 is going to be an interesting year for Facebook. I’m hearing a lot of people’s New Year's resolution is less (and often giving up Facebook)," tweeted Creative Strategies' Ben Bajarin.

I haven't deleted any social media apps. I still use them every day and rely on them for news and to keep up with friends. But I have taken them off my smartphone home screen, to make it a little less likely that I'll lazily dip into an app before bedtime and inadvertently vaporize an hour. 

A lot of folks are looking for other ways to impose self-restraint. My colleague Tom Giles has resolved to get away from what he calls "perpetual Twitter," where he's logged in all day, and instead will check it just periodically. He says he wants to "get away from the noise."

It's ironic: The internet has brought us an abundance of informational riches. And now we are desperately trying to figure out how to shield ourselves from them.

In fact I increasingly see tech companies split into two groups: those that take away our time, and those that save our time.

Amazon is the king of all time-savers, obviating that trip to the store and the minutes spent waiting in line at the checkout counter. Google is a tremendous time-saver, providing lightning quick access to information.

Other time-savers include Microsoft, with its workplace productivity software, and Apple, whose devices boot up quickly and get us to the tools we need.

The time-wasters, on the other hand, aren't necessarily bad, but they can be dangerous. Google's YouTube is a massive time sink hole (spending half an hour watching the trailers for the original Star Trek moviesnot a good use of time). Netflix is the other champion eater of time, but some of its shows are so darn good that it nevertheless feels nurturing (I binged The Crown over the holidays).

Even Facebook and Twitter, at their best, can save us time, giving us news and opinions we wouldn't otherwise encounter. It's just that too often, you have to wade through grandstanding, hand-wringing and vitriol.

"Twitter logs multiple votes for problems and I think everyone walks around and carries this weight all day," said the singer John Mayer on Cooper's CNN broadcast. Everyone who has felt a knot of anxiety from reading social media probably knows what he means.

So, for 2018, I resolve, I'm going to spend more time with the time-savers and less with the time-wasters.

Right after I lose 10 pounds.

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