Losing focus on whatever you were doing, and possibly alienating the people you're hanging out with — or missing details in the TV show you're "watching" or the sporting event you're attending — is the most frequent way I see social media addiction rearing its head in real life.
Feedless, (a free iOS download with in-app purchases,) is a new app to save you from the infinite scroll of the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram news feeds in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that can feel like quicksand, as your gaze is stuck on your smartphone.
How Feedless works
Feedless is an iOS content blocker (opens in new tab) that strips the news feeds out of social media. It removes Facebook's feed for free and charges $0.99 each per month for Twitter and Instagram (formerly $9.99 each per year).
After adding Feedless, your next step is to delete the apps for those social networking sites. Why? Well, privacy experts suggest you delete these apps from your phone because they can skim too much data from your account. But Feedless suggests it because the app works only on web-based versions of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And you'd delete the app from your phone for the same reason people who quit smoking cigarettes shouldn't keep a pack of smokes in a secret location: You're actually committed to making this setup work.
Feedless runs exactly as you'd expect, replacing your news feeds and timelines with empty screens.
For Facebook, you can manage friend requests, change settings, view notifications and use the search function to look up what specific friends are doing. Of course, you can still post content.
Twitter users can post new tweets, and see three tabs: Search with trending topics, Notifications, and Direct Messages. Instagram users can add to their Story, create new posts, tap Watch All to see every Story post from their friends and view notifications.
Why use Feedless
Feedless isn't just for those trying to break the habit. If you're like me, you've grown tired of how Twitter and Instagram have adjusted the timeline with too many algorithmic tweaks. Now that Instagram throws day- to week-old posts in my timeline, Valentine's Day isn't just a day, but a nearly monthlong event. For Twitter, you can make and view your Lists on the desktop, which Twitter doesn't tweak.
Personally, my favorite aspect of Feedless is the chance to avoid spoilers for pro wrestling events that are taped weeks before they air. I've tried to use every single kind of filter that Twitter and Tweetbot offer, but I've learned that you can't trust people to use hashtags and that Twitter doesn't care about my aversion to spoilers and will put them in its "In case you missed it" section.
Why not just delete the apps altogether and move on with my life? Because I value the stuff that Feedless leaves behind: Twitter's direct messages, and any notifications about responses and comments I've received.
Annoyingly, Instagram's direct messages don't work in its web client, so you have to leave those behind. I've changed my Instagram profile to read "I don't see Instagram DMs; email me instead."
Does it work?
After a week of using Feedless, I found myself using the search function to actively find out what was going on with the friends I thought I hadn't heard from in a while. Viewing individual profiles allows you to actually see events in order, and not feel like you're jumping back and forth in time.
While this was an active way to feel less narcissistic — social media's focus on your notifications is even more self-centered than ever — I still felt a little guilty, and started taking moments to scroll the feed on my desktop more often.
Nobody's really commented on my lack of interaction on Facebook yet, but when I told the social media team at Tom's Guide about this experiment, they had a strong reaction, staring at me with shock tinted with anger. But I have to say, I love Facebook without Facebook. The feed streamlines the data, but I feel like I've got greater control of what I see.