[Personal Experiment] One Year without Junk Media

post by lsusr · 2019-12-14T08:26:05.318Z · score: 43 (18 votes) · LW · GW · 11 comments

I wrote in a previous post [LW · GW] how my life is better when I avoid certain kinds of media. It increases my happiness, lowers my stress and makes me smarter.

I should follow my own advice. I hereby commit myself to abstaining from junk media for one year.

There's a long list of rules, definitions and exceptions but the basic idea is I'll avoid videogames, news, Reddit, web surfing, Hot Network Questions and similar mindless media feeds. YouTube is special case. Music and dance videos are okay so I created a new YouTube account and trained the recommendation algorithm to recommend only these kinds of videos.

I've been abstaining from junk media for increasingly long periods of time. My record is around two months. Now's finally the time to pull the trigger and go a whole year.

New Years resolutions usually fail so instead I'm starting this resolution on the 317th anniversary of the 47 Ronin.

万歳!

11 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Pattern · 2019-12-14T18:54:30.285Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
Music and dance videos are okay so I created a new YouTube account and trained the recommendation algorithm to recommend only these kinds of videos.

This is a great idea.

There's a long list of rules, definitions and exceptions

I'm curious about this.

I've been abstaining from junk media for increasingly long periods of time. My record is around two months. Now's finally the time to pull the trigger and go a whole year.

Any advice about this for other people interested in doing the same thing? Anything you learned as you worked up to two months?

comment by lsusr · 2019-12-15T04:22:58.032Z · score: 19 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a long list of rules, definitions and exceptions.

Rules

  • Reddit is forbidden.
  • News is forbidden.
  • The Facebook news feed is forbidden but Facebook messenger is allowed.
  • Books, audiobooks, ebooks, podcasts, comic books, webcomics, etc. are allowed.
  • Reading my favorite bloggers is allowed. Web surfing is not.
  • Recorded university lectures and recorded conference talks are forbidden.
  • Music is allowed.
  • Being sick, travelling or being bored somewhere without books is not an excuse to go off this media diet. [Update March 2020: Being so sick my health is spiraling dangerously out of control is an excuse to go off this media diet.]
  • I am allowed to amend the rules if I write down the change and then wait a week without changing my mind.
  • Movies and television is allowed but only from certain websites.

Definitions

  • The SCP wiki is allowed because it has more in common withe a science fiction novel than a web forum.
  • Ambient media is fine. If a television is playing in a restaurant I can watch it.

Exceptions

  • Anything is allowed as long as I'm doing it socially. That is, I can play videogames and watch anime if it's with a friend.
  • Research is allowed. That is, I am allowed to use any media format in order to answer a well-defined question. For example, if I hear a news story referenced by something I'm allowed to look up what happened. I can watch a video on how to disassemble my computer if I have to disassemble my computer.
  • Anything created by a friend is allowed.
  • Any link or personal recommendation a friend gives me is allowed.
  • On Less Wrong, I can only read my own posts, those referenced in the comments, and those written by commenters. [Update January 20, 2020: I am letting myself read Less Wrong in general.]
  • Magic trick instructional videos are allowed. [Edit: Instructional dance videos in general are allowed too.]
  • Anything is allowed if it's in a foreign language without English subtitles.
  • Anything I create myself is allowed.
  • Being sick (non-emergency) is not an exception.

Any advice about this for other people interested in doing the same thing? Anything you learned as you worked up to two months?

I've got enough advice to write an entire post. Here are a few small tips.

  • First do no harm. If you rules make your life worse then change the rules. Rules that make your life worse are expensive, unsustainable and counterproductive.
  • It doesn't matter how complicated your rules and exceptions are as long as they're a strict gain and it's unambiguous to you what is and isn't allowed.
  • Start with just a few days and then work your way to longer and longer periods of time.
comment by rhaps0dy · 2019-12-15T16:20:56.056Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Great initiative! I'm curious what is the reasoning behind this:

Recorded university lectures and recorded conference talks are forbidden.

Do you find that you get no learning benefit from these things? If so this would explain why also you're not allowing didactic youtube channels (Kurzgesagt, 3blue1brown, CGP grey...)

comment by lsusr · 2019-12-15T19:57:56.213Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To nitpick, I wouldn't say I get "no" learning benefit from these things. The learning rate from university lectures and recorded conference talks is simply too slow to justify the time investment. As for didactic YouTube channels, I believe they help some (most?) people learn but for me the holistic negative effects of these channels outweigh the educational benefit I get from them. This is too bad because I find 3blue1brown and CGP grey to be both informative and entertaining.

comment by jmh · 2019-12-16T15:57:41.736Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Movies and television is allowed but only from certain websites."

Curious, would you share which sites are considered acceptable, or perhaps just what the common characteristic might be?

For completely different reasons than your I now basically consume movies and TV from 3 sites. One is Formula 1 and their allowing the streaming service was one of the reasons I finally dropped cable/FiOS TV.

comment by lsusr · 2019-12-16T23:30:38.174Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The difference has to do with archives vs. feeds. Websites built around archives are okay but websites designed around feeds are not. Basically, I want to allow websites that let me watch old shows like Firefly but not websites that push the newest television series. In other words, I want websites that let me look up shows I already want to watch but not websites that advertise new shows to me.

comment by Lanrian · 2019-12-18T09:45:18.710Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can sculpt a service like this out of pretty much any service that keeps its old shows around. For example, you can use ublock origin to remove all side-bar video-suggestions from youtube (and also remove comments, if you want). Then you can just forbid yourself from going to the home page (or automatically block it with something like leechblock), and only ever access videos by doing search directly. If you have a way of adding any search engine to your browser (which I recommend getting; I think there are easy ways to do this in most browsers, though I use vimium), you can add youtube.com/results?search_query= or netflix.com/search?q= or whatever you want to it.

comment by lsusr · 2019-12-18T17:24:29.608Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did a cursory search for tools like this but didn't find anything. Instead I've been using crude, less specific methods like editing my /etc/hosts file. I didn't know about leechblock and ublock origin. These could be useful.

comment by crabman · 2019-12-15T16:36:06.094Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What about videogames?

comment by PunchTheBag · 2019-12-18T09:07:01.304Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's really counterintuitive, in your previous post there is an implication that the harder thing is to do, the smarter it makes you, and therefore more preferred it is. It seems as a stronger claim then mere "being locked in attention trap of facebook feed/videogames is bad".

But obviously (for me) it's better to make some content easier to comprehend, not harder, how making it easier can make a content worse? Like, I did a couple of things to increase my ability to gather/generate information (learned English, studied fast typing, use automatic grammar check), do you think those have a negative side effect?

Can you please elaborate what specific criteria you use to decide did some specific content makes you dumber or smarter? It's quite difficult to trace the exact imipact of one blog post to your life.

comment by lsusr · 2019-12-18T17:34:39.296Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think there's a sweet spot for difficulty. Too easy and you're not exercising your mind. Too hard and you're not learning because everything is incomprehensible.

Like, I did a couple of things to increase my ability to gather/generate information (learned English, studied fast typing, use automatic grammar check), do you think those have a negative side effect?

You mention learning English so I think I'm in the same boat as you here. I'm a native English speaker so for me the rules here apply only to English. When I'm improving my Chinese, anything that makes things easier to comprehend helps (except translations). I don't place any restrictions on Chinese media except that it doesn't use English anywhere.

By "fast typing" do you mean typing practice videogames? These also helped me learn to touch type. I don't find any problem with using an automatic spellchecker either. I don't see any negative side effects for these tools listed here.

Can you please elaborate what specific criteria you use to decide did some specific content makes you dumber or smarter?

I don't have specific criteria, nor a single overarching theory (yet). I figured out the effects of different mediums through trial and error. I'd cut certain things from my life for a while (usually at least a week) and then afterward I'd review how much I've been learning. I did this over-and-over again until I got a feel for the medium-term impacts of different mediums. The specific criteria I use is simply "observed effect".

If you mean "how do I observe whether a behavior pattern is making me smarter or dumber?" then I can't answer any better than "subjectively". I'd review I'd learned and how my overall behavior changed. If the observable effect was large enough of an improvement I'd consider removing certain kinds of media.