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YouTube Addiction

January 13, 2023 - thoughts

Hi, I'm a YouTube addict.

I know what you're thinking. That sounds like a joke. That you want a funny punchline to go with it. Me too.

First time I noticed

Truth is, though, I've had a problem for a while. I first noticed it back in 2011. Back then, I could feel it growing. I would spend something like 3 hours at night on weekdays and maybe around 10 hours total on the weekends on YouTube. I was mostly watching "let's plays". Long, winding playthroughs of video games with a friendly voice. Each series might, in total, be something like 40+ hours of content. Of which, the most prolific Let's Play-ers have dozens, if not hundreds, of series. From one creator, you'd find another, and another. Already, back in 2011 watching my little niche, it was more content than anyone one person would ever be able to watch in a lifetime.

I would nap watching a series, and wake up to that same familiar voice. Episode after episode, I watched myself go deeper into the rabbit hole.

At the time, I told my roommate that I thought I might have a problem. He thought the entire concept of being addicted to something like YouTube was laughable. How could someone be addicted to watching some videos on a website? Maybe some of you reading this are thinking the same.

Still, it felt like the right thing at the time to try to curb this growing habit. I bought a stack of books on things like meditation and self-help and read everything I could. It helped a little. Meditation helped me to see just how much stress I was taking on. At the time, my roommate and I were interning at Apple. The pressure was high to do well and get noticed.

I made a promise to myself as I got into self-help and meditation that I would stop using YouTube as a way to soothe this stress. That I could find other ways.

I remember when I slipped back into it. My favorite YouTube content creator - after not posting for over a year - had posted the start of a new series. By this point, I'd been off YouTube for almost a year. I was used to doing other things with my time. And yet, when they posted that video, and I got a notification, I didn't say no. Since then, I don't think I've ever taken more than a couple months break from it. When I slip back into it, it effortlessly returns to being part of my daily routine.

What do you mean by addicted?

Yesterday, I watched 572 minutes of YouTube. That's just over 9.5 hours. The day before it was 444 minutes. Just shy of 7.5 hours. The day before that was 510 minutes. 8.5 hours.

Sometimes it's background sound to whatever I'm doing. But if I'm honest, most of the time I'm just watching, going from video to video. Not doing anything else. At this point, I have so many interests I'll watch content for. Climbing videos, computing history, endless amounts of video game footage, music videos, concert footage, interviews, wordless videos of food being prepared in the morning in Japanese restaurants. Anything that could catch my eye, I'd watch. It's gotten to the point where I don't really enjoy the video as much as the numb hypnotic state from consuming that much content.

It's safe. It's always there.

But I noticed something recently. I've been struggling with my mental health during the summertime, a time I traditionally have fewer problems. I wasn't recharging like I should. I was waking up tired, napping during the day, and generally not feeling at all prepared when the day started.

I'd tried to dial back on my commitments to see if I could recover. Weeks later, and I'm still not recovering.

It didn't really hit me until today, when talking to a close friend, that it might be the amount of YouTube I'm watching. That's when I took my calculator and added it up.

A familiar story

I've heard this before. I had an alcoholic roommate years ago describe in detail what it was like for them to be an alcoholic. Why they would reach for it. When they'd reach for it. How they'd plan their life around it. Get the work done and use it to celebrate.

I feel like my use of YouTube has basically mirrored their alcoholism at this point. If anything, I spend more time in stupor than they did with alcohol.

The truth is, I don't know how long I've been this bad. I keep clearing my YouTube history. Ostensibly, it's so I can get better recommendations. But the truth is probably that I'm also trying to hide how bad it's gotten from myself.

My roommate, when they finally came out about their struggles, let us clean their bedroom. I just remember duffle bag after duffle bag of empty bottles. It took so long to clean out their room because there were so many. I couldn't fathom how anyone could drink so much. It had to be hundreds of bottles.

I don't know how long I've been averaging over 8 hours a day, but I'm afraid it's been a long time.

I remember telling myself years ago that as long as I was getting my work done it didn't really matter what I did.

I remember my roommate saying the same thing.


I always thought that it's easy to quit something. You just don't do it. So naive.

This isn't going to be easy. There are so many temptations to pull me back in that it'll be a challenge to try to put this behind me. I mean, I'm a YouTube content creator now approaching 10k subs - a respectable number for a small channel. So much educational content is on YouTube. So much of how I get my name out is via YouTube. So much of what I do is attached to YouTube for good and for bad.

It's really all of the above. It's true it has all these nice aspects. But for folks like me, who take it to an extreme, it very politely chews its way into your life and makes it far too tempting to sink deeper and deeper.

I don't want to lose the audience I'm building, but I also want to be healthy. I'm afraid for myself and where I'll be five years from now. Will I be worse than I am now if I don't take steps? Will I become more withdrawn, stop working altogether, and live on my savings until I run out?

I think about other things, too, like "How will I fill my days if I stop"? I honestly don't know. It's scary to think about having a hole and not being able to fill it with that comfortable "zoning out" feeling.

I'm sure some folks are thinking "what if you just limit yourself to 30 minutes a day?"

That's just it. If I could do that, I would have.

Admitting it

I don't know if I want to do a 12-step program or whatever. I honestly haven't really figured anything out at this point. But the first thing I wanted to do was come clean and talk about where I'm at. If you're someone reading this with similar patterns, you're not alone.

I also wanted to write this all down to make a record of where I am. Maybe I'll come back and read this later. Maybe I'll be able to say something like "I remember being hooked on YouTube for over 12 years. I'm glad I cleaned up."

Let's hope. Maybe then I'll think up a good punchline, too.