YouTube Diet

Over the years I’ve used January to take a break from social media. From memory it was Twitter that I took a rest from first. I’d felt irritated from constantly checking it. Finding myself reading through outbursts of venom, petty snipes, pithy points and taking a useless interest in anything that wondered its way into the timeline viewport. Come to think of it, this was the Trump era. A few years later I did the same with Instagram. I got lucky there and managed to avoid the platform for a while and eventually closed my account. I didn’t like what it became when the stories arrived, I soon left.

I never left Twitter but managed to curb the habit to a once in a while thing. Finally, when Space Karen took over I zeroed out the following and left it open for being able to access urls when needed. It’s a tool I have for when I actually need it. I’ve also made a work Instagram account so I can see what we post when it’s referenced in meetings. I was running a few scripts on Tampermonkey that allowed me to view Instagram in my work browser without an account, however it looks like the engineers at Facebook spend a lot of time on preventing these as every script seems to become useless within a few weeks.

Taking a break from social media in January seems to work well for me. What isn’t working well for me right now is YouTube shorts. The sneaky bastards have got me hooked to what I’d describe as the most toxic social product design mechanic I’ve ever knowingly been hooked on. I swerved TikTok so hard because its content felt so trashy when I saw others using it. I tried it out once for a few days and it was a pure assault, so many cringe families dancing around kitchen islands or American kids performing unfunny comedy bits. I later learned that you have to endure the trash for a while and then the magic computer script will finally hone in on what you actually like to watch. It still seemed irritating as hell though.

YouTube shorts arrived and were easy to avoid for a long time. Then, I guess, there was a perfect storm. Firstly, decent YouTubers started to make shorts, it was no longer just recycled TikTok’s. Secondly, shorts started appearing in every part of the product experience. Finally, I caved. Now I’m hooked on trash. The recipe for short form is so devilish:

  1. Fruit machine mechanic. Don’t give people back to back decent content, instead, pop some useless stuff in between so they keep on watching and flicking through trying to find the win.
  2. Make the content range wider. Don’t take data from subscriptions and views of long form, instead widen the range beyond what folks usually watch. So now you’re not only watching something that is low grade, but it’s also of zero interest to your standard viewing suggestions
  3. Finally, irritating wins. Now, perhaps content creators did this themselves and no platform designed this part – but irritating Ai voices, 100’s of cuts per video, lame captions, goofy sound effects, trashy music, narrating the bleeding obvious and hamming everything up for the camera is the bread and butter of most short form clips. It’s trash. Pure junk food.

However, every now and then there is that one clip that is smart, well filmed, subtle, clever and sometimes intriguing. On the most part though, we’re back to pith.

All that that’s left to do is hang up my YouTube hat for while. But, that is massive kick in the teeth because I love learning from long form video, I listen to a lot DJ sets, find tracks, research topics and value a lot of the YouTubers I’ve followed for years. So I’m not going to quit YouTube. Instead I need to approach this a bit differently and again, treat social media as I would a tool.

Here’s my plan for getting unhooked:

  1. Delete YouTube from my phone. That’s where the core of the problem is in the product experience.
  2. Manually download videos to watch on my phone. There’s going to be occasions that I want to unwind and learn something. Having a handful of videos to watch across a few topics will be of value.
  3. Subscriptions first, spend only a minute in the suggested. I’ve seen some folks write about forwarding the youtube homepage to the subscriptions so you don’t end up down the rabbit hole of suggested watching crap. On desktop, I believe I’m not too bad at cherry picking stuff that is of value and adding it to my watch later.
  4. Blog what I watch. I’ve been considering writing week notes again. I’m unsure if it works for me to publish them online like some folks do. Anyhow, I do like the idea of being more considered around content consumption – be it articles, films, tv shows, albums or YouTube videos. I read a blog post recently that said something along the lines of “what you consume in the week shapes your thinking”. Perhaps writing it up could help mould some thoughts.
  5. Considered queuing. This idea might just be organisation p0rn. But, it could help to set a queue up for a specific time later in the day or week. For example, I’m researching macOS apps at the moment and theres a few videos that make sense to group, watch, take notes and check-out recommendations from the videos. This way, its a more intentional approach, it considers purpose, time and value to the content.

I’ve paused my YouTube subscription. I’ve cleaned out unwanted videos from my watch later queue. I’ve got a clever little application to grab videos for me for offline. Let’s see what happens.

Treat services as tools.

Instagram → View only web account (e.g. for checking restaurant menus)

Twitter → View only web account (e.g. research a topic)

YouTube → View only, 3rd party downloader (e.g watch only your subscriptions)


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