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How I Overcame YouTube Addiction

I don't use social media often, that's by design. I know if I start using it regularly, I will become addicted to it. So, imagine my surprise when on one Sunday afternoon I found out that I spent the entire day doing nothing but watching videos on YouTube.

The saddest thing is that I didn’t even remember what I was watching. It was just a clockwork for my brain at that point. Wake up, open YouTube, watch a video, continue watching videos.

I write this blog on another Sunday afternoon, almost three months after, to say that I watched YouTube for just 10 minutes this week to watch a work-related video that a colleague sent.

I’m a little proud of myself, to tell the truth.

This is a log of everything I did to overcome this addiction. If it helped me, it might help someone else too.

How and Why I Became Addicted

YouTube is a community where billions of people share their talents, interests and findings with you.

That’s the hook.

The real YouTube is a billion-dollar company where hundreds of researchers and designers manipulate an algorithm to deliver a low-quality video to you.

I thought about why I was addicted for a long time. It basically was three things,

  • Types of videos I watch
  • YouTube’s Algorithm
  • YouTube’s Story

Types of videos I watch

Gaming (30%)

This one was easy to justify for me, I like watching someone be good at something. Until I realized that this was a passive way of thinking about it.

I’m not raising my skill by watching this, so what’s the point? The only way I could get better at video games is to play it more, not by watching someone else play it.

Self Help (30%)

Biggest trap of them all. Productivity, Self Help, Motivational channels might seem to have a good agenda on the onset but they can’t profit if you actually improve yourself.

Most of the YouTubers in this category are good people at heart. But they know that 90% of the people watching them won’t improve anything in their life. They just like the feeling of improving themselves.

Every time you watch one of the self-help videos, your brain plays a trick on you. It makes you think that you are actually improving yourself but when in reality you are just actually watching a video that you will forget in 40 minutes.

You will come for more when that rush is over. And YouTube tells them to create more videos quickly for us to consume.

For quick reference these are the only things they will say to you from now until eternity:

  • Self Help YouTubers: Take care of yourself
  • Productivity YouTubers: Organize your life for deep work
  • Motivational YouTubers: Never stop the Hustle (This will lead to burnout by the way.)

Ironically most of these YouTubers recommend you to read a book.

Design and Development (20%)

I’m a professional web designer, so it’s important for me to keep up with the latest developments in my field. Of course, that’s what I told myself.

Things always change but YouTube is not a place to capture it. YouTube videos seem to be the fast-food sector of the industry. Fast to the point but not impactful and everlasting.

I’ve found that written content like

  • Blog Posts
  • Documentation
  • Best Practices
  • Newsletters
  • Case Studies

are often more informative and educational. They let you,

  • Read at your own pace
  • Accessible and Developer Friendly
  • Most of them are intended to be everlasting or updated frequently

One might argue developer tutorials are inherently good and I agree, but I usually get a better flow in my work from written tutorials.

Commentary Channels (10%)

These are mostly for entertainment, but as I distance myself from these more and more I find them to be passive entertainment.

Netflix has a collection of marvelously produced entertainment that will take my entire lifetime to watch. Why should I settle for this glut?

Pointless Internet Drama (10%)

This was the cone of shame for me, I liked reality TV, YouTubers fighting with each other and mostly pointless drama. I was thinking about why I like this, and then a quote someone said came to me,

Don’t live on someone else’s life.

I was projecting. I have a simple life with no problems. So, I liked watching other people have problems. I thought I was superior to them in some way and that made me feel good.

Of course, I was the idiot watching videos while they simply got paid and went home.

YouTube’s Algorithm

Whenever I open YouTube, it shows me a carefully chosen list of videos that interests me. It’s a combination of what I recently liked, latest videos from the creators I like, trending videos from my location, and cute animals.

It’s impossible not to click on any of these.

YouTube’s algorithm is very powerful at this point, probably the most sophisticated recommendation engine in the world. You simply can’t win it.

You can, however, not participate in its game. Some steps you can take:

  • Do not smash that like button on any videos.

    If you want to see a video again, download it to your drive. The YouTube video can be removed, blocked, or altered but you can always have what you want.

  • Do not hit that bell icon.

    Voluntarily having more notifications on your phone is the first step to becoming mindless and have other people dictate where you spend your time.

  • Pause Watched History and Search History.

    Again, download important videos. 98% of what you watch is not worth it and the other 2% can easily be searched again.

Clear watch history, remove previously liked videos, clear out your comments. Do not give any indication to YouTube on what you like.

I even ran a puppeteer (automated script) to remove all the videos from my recommendation but it just pops back up. The Not Interested option is not real.

Ultimately, be utilitarian on what you want.

If you want to learn How to Tie a Tie, search for it, learn it and close it. Don’t needlessly subscribe, like or engage in any way.

YouTube’s Story

A brand’s story is what you want other people to tell about your brand. YouTube’s story is,

YouTube is a community of people giving free information and entertainment.

  • YouTube is not a community.

    Individual creators may create a community. But YouTube is a company that wants nothing but profits.

  • YouTube is not free.

    Nothing Google does is free.

  • YouTube gives low-quality information and entertainment.

    Only 5% of its millions of videos are actually helpful. Don’t take that burden of sifting through all that to find something you might like.

How I Overcame YouTube

Here are some simple and actionable steps that I took over the months,

  1. Cancelling YouTube Premium

    If you get pissed off at the ads like I do, then it’s good. You will quit the video soon.

  2. Turn off notifications

    Taylor Swift’s new music video is not that important to notify you. No one should have the right to disturb you anytime they want.

  3. Reducing subscriptions

    Go through your subscription list and remove anyone who you don’t need in your life anymore. I followed this and removed almost 300 subscriptions and I don’t even remember what they were now.

  4. Uninstalling apps

    YouTube is available everywhere, it doesn’t need to be on your phone or tablet. You can always watch in your mobile browser for something urgent.

    Mobile apps have 30% higher engagement rate. We actively go back to an app more often than a website. That’s why everyone keeps pushing you to download their app. Don’t.

  5. Remove all subscriptions

    After some time, I naturally removed all my subscriptions, I found alternate sources to topics I was interested in. Books, Newsletters, Spotify, and Netflix was enough for me.

    Tip: Subscribe to a channel called Sub with no videos to reduce the recommendations in your subscriptions tab.

  6. Add alternate habits

    My viewing hours reduced exponentially at this point. Now I opened YouTube, searched for some good creators, watched their latest video, and closed the site.

    But to quit fully I knew I needed to replace YouTube time with something else. This can be a different thing for you and me. I started writing more often. The silence is great for creative thoughts and reflection.

Today, after all this, I realized that I’m not addicted to YouTube anymore. I should be careful to make sure I don’t go back to it slowly. But I have high hopes for the future.

And always remember,

Too much of anything can make you sick ~ Cheryl Cole