I quit YouTube for more than a month
and I have no intention of coming back

The title of this post makes me sound like one of those YouTubers who do random self-help challenges just to make "content", but whatever. At least it isn't something like "30 Day No YouTube Challenge!? You Won't Believe the Results! [GONE WRONG]", et cetera, etc.

Funnily enough, I'm actually two weeks overdue. I passed the thirty day mark on May 4th, and while I had no intentions to go back after thirty days, I was meaning to write this post by that point. But I didn't. But now I am.

I'll be going over a few thoughts on the manner, the purposes of doing this in the first place, and also what is currently happening after this "challenge" so to speak.

The Purpose

YouTube has always been one of greatest time sinks for me, personally. And with this came a lot of complaining.

Ever since I started my journal, there were always entries where it was me complaining about my excessive media consumption through YouTube, and how I wasn't happy about it. I get caught in a whirlwind of entertainment and before I knew it, it plopped me out at dusk, with yours truly having accomplished nothing, and gained nothing.

Now repeat that for multiple years and it starts becoming apparent that this is not a small issue. I've stopped convincing myself that this excessive media consumption is OK, or "normal", like how other people seem to use the platform. If it is normal, then normal isn't for me.

This is not the first time I've tried limiting or downright barring myself from not watching YouTube. There were two previous attempts that lasted for around two weeks, and from those experiences I learned that for me, it always turns into a downward slope: it's not bad when it starts up again, but a few months down the road I'm en route to a miserable existence. Again.

Other people may find that they don't need to do this sort of "digital detox", and that's great. I'm on the end of the spectrum where too much external information and stimulus will mentally incapacitate me. I tend to start losing my sense of self, forgetting what I think and not what your local homegrown YouTuber whose business is to regurgitate information from books that they've read that I can just read myself thinks. It felt like my thinking was starting to become derived by what was trending instead of what was important.

'Zeno said this, Cleanthes that.' Let's have some difference between you and the books! How much longer are you going to be a pupil? From now on do some teaching as well. Why, after all, should I listen to what I can read for myself?

Letters from a Stoic, Letter XXXIII

It was important for me mentally to limit information streams, because I like thinking for my own self (who doesn't?) If I simply bypass this and merely become a mouthpiece for the things that I'm consuming, who am I really? Is what I believe really what I believe, or just something that someone said with conviction but no substance? In that case, I'm not digesting what I'm consuming, I'm just vomiting it out, leaving nothing for the body to actually internalize.

The Propagation of Suffering

I started getting into the habit of rereading old journal entries, just to see the patterns of my thoughts and experiences. While it was apparent to me that YouTube has been an issue for years now, what caught up to me while reading my old entries was this question: "how long am I going to keep doing this for, if it's making me this miserable?"

Stop whatever you're doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won't be able to do this anymore?

Meditations 10.29

It's when I realized that if it's been going for this long, when will it end? When is it going to stop? Tomorrow? Tomorrow will never come. If I don't stop myself now, then I'll be in a miserable place a few years from now, thinking "why didn't I stop then?", ad mortem. To shelve this thought for another day would be synonymous with propagating my own suffering, so I had to stop.

There were a startling amount of parallels to when I was quitting two games that I was deeply entrenched in. At some point I realized that if I don't stop right that instant, then who knows when I'll stop. The realization legitimately frightened me, to where it felt like I had no other choice but to stop, for my own sake.

The "Challenge"

It was rather weird, because there wasn't much of a lead up to me dropping YouTube. There wasn't any sort of adrenaline/excitement in trying to quit. After that previous realization of propagating my own suffering, it just ended up happening. Though I did stop using the platform at a favourable time: during final exams period, and the people who I consistently watched upload sparsely anyway (one of them being on hiatus for a few months), so there was nothing for me to really watch. Not to mention, I was simply fatigued and was rapidly losing interest in the people who I did watch.

Now, I had specific criteria as to what I can and can't do with YouTube. I didn't block it entirely, because that never worked for me; I'd just find some way to traverse the barriers I've set for myself. But I ensured that if I did use YouTube, it better be for something important. I can still derive some use out of it, if I'm strict with myself.

Essentially, I limited YouTube for one thing: educational use. That's it. If I needed some help with a concept for school, I can look up a video. Or if I'm diagnosing a problem and there's a video that holds a solution, then that's fine. But the main thing was that I had to have a reason as to why I wanted to look up a video. Merely consuming educational stuff for the sake of doing it doesn't count.

What I can't use YouTube for is practically everything else. Entertainment, edutainment, it's not happening. I sacrificed all of the channels who I used to watch because the value I was deriving from them was not even close to surpassing the negative impact the platform was having on me as a person.

I also had to turn off all recommendations, suggestions, and all of the garbage features that YouTube has in place to ensure that you're not escaping. There are some ways that you can do this, but I personally used the browser extension Distraction Free YouTube. I actually have used this extension for years, but I still couldn't kick the habit until now, so I had to take drastic measures and literally unplug myself from the platform, both on my PC and phone.

The Experience

As one may (or may not) expect, I did not transcend into the 4th Dimension, or open my chakras, nor did I die (which some overly tech-obsessed consumers seem to think when you abstain from technology for some reason, like it's equivalent to alcohol withdrawal). But things have certainly been different.

A lot of my day has been padded by... nothing. There were times that I just sat there, maybe thinking, maybe not. It felt weird eating without having something to gawk at. It felt weird to actually have some time to myself, without someone or something intruding upon my thoughts. Times which I would normally be caught up in some video were now spent in silence.

Also a strange thing that I noticed: no withdrawal symptoms. My previous attempts had some sort of withdrawal symptoms, mainly an urge to check what was going on with the people who I religiously watched. But since I completely severed myself even from those people, those symptoms didn't crop up this time around.

I think what worked in this particular attempt is that I had extremely clear criteria. In my first attempt, I blocked YouTube entirely, which wasn't feasible given my circumstances, so that failed. The second attempt had extremely vague requirements as to what was allowed and what wasn't, and as a result I ended up just falling into the habit by accident. This time, it was clear: only education. Everything else not allowed. The boundaries were clear and I knew what was inside and what was beyond.

Reading

A direct consequence of this whole challenge is that I've been reading a lot more. I've read 5 books since I quit, and I'm around a third of the way through a 1000+ page monstrosity, and I'm actually enjoying it.

Now, it sounds rather ironic considering that I had unloaded a bunch of talk regarding information consumption earlier in my post. But YouTube for me was a serious case of perpetual overindulgence. Is it bad? Only if you really make it to be, and for me, it was bad through and through. There was no coexisting with YouTube with regards to how I used it; it fed me information at a rate that basically put me in a stupor.

Reading naturally throttles your information intake, I find. Since the book progresses only when you are actively reading, it's hard to go overboard without losing comprehension or simply getting tired. With videos, you can just keep watching, and watching, and while the video is still playing your brain could be down by the train station heading towards the airport and you'd be none the wiser. And despite this, you'd think that you still learned something! and you hop onto the next video, for the same thing to happen again. This behaviour is ridiculous.

Not to mention, reading promotes going at your own pace. The pacing of videos are solely dictated by its creator, which may maintain the integrity of the video's structure, but it may not be good for the viewer's overall comprehension. Sure, you could pause the video to digest a particular thought, but with all sorts of senses being used, it's like pausing a song every time the singer completes a stanza so you can digest the lyrics; it's likely not going to happen.

There are also plenty of other ways using video where information can Trojan horse its way into your brain without necessarily having to appeal to reason. Fitting music, a speaker with conviction, flashy visuals, etc. But when you're reading a book? There's hardly any of that. Text is going to be under greater scrutiny because there's nothing standing in the way between the reader and dialogue. I personally hate flashy videos or similarly overproduced media, and videos that don't employ such things are getting increasingly scarce, as I'm clearly in a very small minority.

Of course, text isn't impervious to misinformation, as plenty of fake news articles are willing to prove. But there's certainly a reason why various modes of propaganda are delivered auditorily (like speeches) and visually (like political comics): they're more effective in rousing the emotions that bypass reason.

Procrastination

A thing which I've known for a long time but was further reinforced by this experience is that procrastination isn't tied to anything external. It always has been tied to you mentally.

While me not using YouTube alleviated some mental problems directly, it still didn't solve procrastination. Procrastination, in itself, can take form in anything. Even things that are considered "good" can be considered as procrastination, if that activity is done within the wrong context and is taking time away from the responsibilities that you should be attending to.

With YouTube no longer being a symptom of procrastination, it came out in other ways. As an example, me sitting there doing absolutely nothing is an actual symptom of procrastination that I've been experiencing now that I'm not using YouTube. It's pervasive, and there's really no roundabout way to go about it other than killing it at its source, which I personally have no solution to give as of yet.

The Aftermath

Has killing YouTube solved all of my problems? Well, like I concluded in my article on journaling: not necessarily. Not all of my problems, but most of them. And that's a start.

It felt like I could finally think. The chatter in my head feels less like an overpopulated party, and now is more of a small gathering of individuals. Still can get rowdy at times, but at the very least I could hear myself speak.

It hasn't been always good, though. I had talked about in my article on solitude that when I'm devoid of mental stimulus, a lot of the things that have been repressed start creeping back in. That has been happening to me a whole lot recently, and while it can be tempting at times to jam those back into the closet, it's probably better to get those sorted before they erupt in some distasteful fashion.

But overall, things haven't [GONE WRONG], and I certainly think that this is the right direction to be going in.

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