If it's free...

There is a saying: “If it’s free, then you’re the product.”

This is how I feel about social media. On the one hand, Twitter is an amazing way to stay connected with some of the most intelligent and ambitious people on the planet. It’s a direct feed into the brains of world leaders, executives, and artists who would be otherwise inaccessible.

On the other hand, these apps are a time sink. I often spend too much time on them and leave feeling worse than when I started. My data is being sold to advertisers, and I’m not in control of what I see.

It took me a long time to do something about this.

I use an app that asks me questions as part of my morning routine. It takes just a few minutes, but it’s a great way to keep in touch with recurring themes. Here are some of my entries from the last month:

After months of similar answers, I decided to make a change. I wanted the benefits of access to public figures and friends without the addictiveness of an algorithmic feed.

I started paying for social media.

The service is called Feedbin. It’s $5 / mo, or $50 / year. Feedbin uses RSS format, which transcribes information from social media, news organizations, and personal websites into a common format. This “feed” is then accessible through any RSS reader without ads or manipulation.

I use Feedbin to subscribe directly to people I want to follow and only receive notifications when they post. No more “so and so liked this” or “promoted posts” in my feed.

I’ve been using it for about a week and have been thoroughly enjoying the change. The other day I got to the end of my feed and stopped scrolling. It sounds small, but social media apps are explicitly designed to prevent this from happening. Since I’m paying for Feedbin, there is no incentive to keep me on the app.

Here’s what it looks like:

For this to work, I needed to sign out of social profiles on my laptop and phone. Feedbin is like a nicotine patch - it helps reduce cravings, but it’s not as good as the real thing. I found that having to log in was just enough friction to keep me from instinctively going back to the native apps. Plus, I’m paying for it, so I feel an obligation to make use of my money.

This is a small step in my journey to creating healthier digital experiences for myself. It’s still early, but I feel good about this change. If you’re interested in reducing your time on social media applications, I encourage you to give this a shot.

After all, how much is your time worth?