Last month, we had a challenge at work to change the habit of checking social networks as the first thing after waking up. I started well, but I knew I wasn’t going to last 21 days. So I decided to delete all social media apps from my phone and install them on a different device.
I had this idea a while ago when I was reading Deep Work by Cal Newport and managed to do a first experiment where I removed Facebook from my phone and only accessed it from my media device (an iPad Mini that has YouTube, Netflix, and similar apps that don’t live on my phone). The results were great, I reduced my time using Facebook to once a week or less, and I felt better and more focused. I, unfortunately, didn’t proceed to do the same with Instagram and Twitter because I didn’t want to use these on my iPad. Instagram doesn’t even offer an iPad app.
I was not going to let this excuse stop me this time though. So I took an old OnePlus 3 smartphone and decided to make it my only device to access social networks. There was just one problem, I’ve been de-Googling my life for a while now, and I didn’t want to get back into their ecosystem. It turns out that achieving this was not that complicated as I originally thought, thanks to LineageOS and the Aurora App Store.
All I had to do was look for my smartphone on the list of devices, download a build and follow the installation docs. It wasn’t all crystal clear, but I managed to figure it out after some online searching. Before rebooting, you also need to decide if you’re going to install Google Apps, but as I mentioned before, I’m avoiding Google like the plague, so this was a no-go for me.
I’m well aware that Instagram and Twitter are just as bad in the tracking department as Google is and that I should get rid of them too, but like a junkie cannot easily get unhooked, I also cannot just give up on my dopamine machine. I think eventually, this might be the case, especially since I started using Mastodon, but I’m not there yet.
Once my phone came to life, the next step was to install some apps. This normally trivial task requires a bit of effort without the Google Play Store. First, I downloaded F-Droid, an app store for FOSS apps only, and installed some basic apps like my password manager. However, FOSS means no Twitter or Instagram. Fortunately, I found out about the Aurora App Store, which allowed me to download apps directly from the Google Play Store without having the Google Services running. I’ve read some apps crash because they rely heavily on such services, but I haven’t encountered any issues so far.
The experience has been very positive. I still check my other phone in the mornings, but now it takes way less than before. I also notice that I use this new device less. I’m not sure if it’s because of its broken screen, or that it’s too big for my hands, or that I find Android apps a bit less appealing, probably all of the above. I’m also less likely to check this device because I don’t keep it with me all the time.
There are also a few by-products of this setup. First, the battery lasts much longer on my main device. Second, I feel less anxious about losing my main device because I have all apps already installed on my social networks device and would only need to log in to be able to turn it into my main device. And third, I’ve now proved that I don’t need to upgrade to a new device when my main device stops working. I’m currently running Lineage OS 18.1 which is based on Android 11 and feels super snappy. I can instead buy a used phone that has good support for Lineage OS, and reduce my e-waste footprint and tell manufacturers and Google to GFTS and their plan to keep us replacing devices. This also means I can hopefully keep avoiding using a smartphone with integrated face recognition.
Note: While minor upgrades were delivered OTA (over the air) and easy to apply. Major version upgrades, on the other hand, require following a process quite similar to the installation one.
If you’re trying to reduce your screen time, or completely remove your use of social networks, I’d recommend trying this experiment. You probably already have an old phone lying around so you don’t need to make a monetary investment.