Weve all been there - starting off using YouTube to figure out how to unblock a drain, but find ourselves 3 hours later watching "The ten most deadly animals in Australia" and wondering where the time went. It is no accident, and part of the design of YouTube to keep us engaged for longer. Lets first look briefly at the design of YouTube, and then how we can make some tweaks so YouTube doesnt chew up meaningless hours of our time.
Distraction by design
YouTube (along with most other major social media platforms), are competing for the finite resource of our attention - what is now know as the "attention economy". More users who are on their site longer means they can demand more from advertisers, and thus make more profit! Because we only have so many hours in the day, apps and websites are becoming more sophisticated in the ways in which they keep users on their sites.
YouTube and others now employ the "endless feed", meaning that there is a never ending stream of content making it harder for users to logoff as there is always something new to watch. If that wasn't isn't enough, users can easily refresh their page with a scroll of their thumb.
To keep users hooked for hours, YouTube has a very smart algorithm which recommends videos for the user to watch based on their watch history. Additionally, the user doesn't have to even select a video for themselves if the autoplay button is on (which it often is by default!).
All of this makes it pretty easy to stay watching YouTube for much longer periods of time than you intended. However, there are a few "hacks" that can take YouTube back to being a great and informative tool rather than a mindless time waster.
Hacks for using YouTube as a tool
There are many small hacks that users can employ to take the power back and keep YouTube as a tool
- Disable the app from your phone. This one might seem foreign to alot of people, but having YouTube on your phone is the easiest form of distraction. What I do is enable it on my phone if I need it, and then disable it afterwards. If this is to scary for you, then disabling notifications is another option. Disabling notifications will mean less distraction and less urge to go on and start watching videos.
- Turn off "autoplay". This is essential to cutting back on time on YouTube. Often before we even know it we are watching a different video and going down the YouTube rabbithole.
- Stay logged out of Google when watching YouTube. If you are not logged in to your Google account then you wont get as many relevant recommendations, and it will be easier to ignore the recommended feed. Alternatively, there is a setting which allows you to automatically delete the search history and video history. This means that again YouTube wont have the data to recommend relevant videos.
- Only follow a few people. I only follow about 3 channels on YouTube, and these are mainly for entertainment purposes. These people only post around once a week, so it gives me less reason to come back to YouTube regularly. I dont have notifications turned on so I check in every few days.
- Block recommended videos. There are a few addons I have seen recently which can block the recommended videos feed. I see this as a last resort if you cant help yourself or dont feel strong enough to resist this feed.
YouTube is a great tool and can be very helpful in a number of situations. However, as the attention economy ramps up so to the efforts to keep us engaged. A few small hacks can help us gain back lots of extra time that would be spent on mindless scrolling.