Thirty days without YouTube

Written on August 10, 2021 by Leo dos Santos.

Previously I have written a couple of posts about leaving social media due to increasing mental health burden and the fact that it was a pretty much useless time sink for me. That is not the case for everyone, people are different. But when I proudly told a few friends of mine that I had not yet quit watching YouTube, they had an unexpected reaction: “Nah, YouTube is still social media, you haven’t quit everything yet, bud”. I was caught off guard, since I did not really put YouTube in the same basket as Twitter or Facebook. In fact, I still do not, but I quit it anyway, and here is why.


I have a confession to make: I am a YouTube addict. I could spend hours serial-watching countless videos of edutainment, people playing videogames, random curiosities, and technology reviews. And I had two triggers that always led me to YT binging: feeling tired and trying to fall asleep. The latter habit, in particular, came about several years ago, back in 2013 I think. The problem is that, when I first started living abroad, I developed difficulty in falling asleep. And I found out that watching videos brought some sort of comfort, or a “mind shutdown” that I needed to put myself to slumber. A few years later, I developed another binging trigger: Eating by myself. And I think this is a very popular trigger among other people too.

For years I felt a bit embarrassed about binge-watching YT so much, mainly because for some reason I thought it was a pitiful situation. Who the hell depends on YouTube to fall asleep? Whenever there was no access to it, I would feel some sort of withdrawal effect, like taking a long time to fall asleep, mind racing when I laid in bed, and they would last a couple of hours in the worst nights. I also felt guilty because sometimes I would watch really juvenile or empty humor. But it turns out that all this binging was doing a lot more than just help me fall asleep or make me laugh, but this realization only came very recently.

See, thirty days ago I made a decision: I would spend an entire month without watching YouTube. I deleted all YT apps on my TV, game consoles, and portable devices. And instead of binging on useless streams of information, I would do other things. The beginning was, at the same time, easy but also difficult. It was partially easy because I actually have plenty of hobbies, like reading books, playing videogames, working out, writing a blog. In fact, my favorite way of falling asleep now is to read a novel. Currently, I am reading the books of The Witcher series, and I am absolutely loving it. The problem is that I usually fall asleep so quickly now, that I end up reading only a couple of pages when I go to bed. During the day, I also read a few pages of the novel, but I try to dedicate more time into non-fiction. Currently, my non-fiction of choice is Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano.

But finding things to do instead binging was not the hard part. In this day and age, we can always find things to do. The hardest aspect is that I suddenly felt surrounded by quiet. As it turns out, binging on YT was filling some sort of inner void. Whenever I felt uncomfortable with solitude, I immediately fell back to the white noise of YouTube, to listen to a familiar voice, hear people laughing, get new information (whether it was useful or not was far away from the point). The noise was filling the quiet. But now that I had turned off the noise machine, I had to deal with the discomfort of being totally by myself, with my own racing thoughts.

I found this feeling of uneasiness frightening but also fascinating. As I write this blog post, I am sitting in the balcony of a beach-front hotel in Crete, Greece, where I chose to spend part of my summer holidays by myself. I often enjoy traveling alone, mostly for the freedom. But for many people, the idea of a lonely trip is also frightening, partly because of the persistent solitude. If you are traveling alone, there is no easy way to find a comfortable background noise, you either need to seek it or get cosy with the quiet.

My thirty days without YouTube will coincide with the end of my summer vacation. That means that, whenever I go back to normal life again, I will be free to reinstall the YT apps and watch, or continue life with the noise machine turned off. But I will definitely not use YT as a sleeping pill anymore, since novels seem to be a much more effective tool at that. Now, I realize that a lot of people do have the same problem, and if you do, I would urge you to take a similar challenge as I did this summer. Uninstall all noise-machine apps from your devices, find other things to do, and explore being by yourself, with your own thoughts.