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Why Can’t I Stop Watching YouTube?

YouTube on Phone

How YouTube Keeps You Hooked

You’ve decided today’s your day to begin exercising, so you open YouTube to find a nice Pilates video. The results offer you a myriad of workouts from different trainers, but you aren’t sure which to choose. Then another video appears: “My ratings of all the popular YouTube pilates trainers.” This is your key to choosing the right workout! 

While watching the review, you see a healthy snack recipe in the Suggested Videos section. Intrigued, you click on it immediately and are met with more wellness content. You like an inspiring Short of someone’s two-year weight-loss journey. You scroll through Shorts, saving workout combos, dinner ideas, and more inspiration for your new healthy lifestyle. 

An hour goes by. It’s time to move on with your day, and you still haven’t unrolled your exercise mat. Oh well, maybe tomorrow. 

Have you ever been sucked down one of YouTube’s many rabbit holes? Why is it so easy to hop from video to video without a thought? Today we’re exploring the addictive mechanisms of YouTube that lead to compulsive use, and most importantly, how to form a healthier relationship with the platform. 

AutoPlaying Videos & Shorts

YouTube has videos of all lengths and themes to keep its users engaged for a few seconds or several hours. Since its beginning in 2005, YouTube boasts over 2.73 billion active users with 80 million visitors each month. With the launch of its short-form TikTokesque videos known as Shorts in 2021, YouTube offers addicting content that can be easily consumed during a short break or a full day off work. 

However, it’s difficult to take a break from YouTube, because no matter what you’re watching, the AutoPlay feature immediately queues up the next video or Short so you don’t have a chance to search for a new topic or log off. The algorithm even considers the order in which users may watch content to offer a streamlined viewing experience that smoothly transitions to the next video.

Recommended Video Suggestions

YouTube uses advanced machine learning and AI techniques to analyze your watch history, search queries, and video engagement to offer you a mix of familiar and new content that appears in the Recommended Videos column alongside the video you’re currently watching. Users upload 3.7 million videos to YouTube a day, so your Recommended Videos column will always have new suggestions for you.

The power of novelty hooks users through the concept of the Variable Reward, in which your brain releases dopamine when you discover interesting content, akin to the feeling of winning at a slot machine. As you constantly find new content, through Recommended Shorts or longer form Videos, the dopamine encourages you to stay for longer to see what may come next. 

Highly Accessible Content

YouTube offers accessible content in a variety of ways, such as closed-captioning in different languages, auto-generated or user-created subtitles, and customizable playback speed so more users can access never-ending content across abilities and languages.

YouTube’s platform constantly updates to add new features and utilizes feedback mechanisms so users can offer input on platform improvements. As a result, YouTube has a superbly user-friendly layout on both their website and their mobile app that makes viewing easy whether you’re at home or on the go. 

Furthermore, YouTube offers Premium Users the ability to download content for offline viewing, so whether you’re on a bus or a plane, you can still access mini-documentaries, fashion hauls, or political analysis. This can make it even more difficult to exit the platform. So how can you stop incessantly watching the next thing?

Take Back Control

Studies have found excessive use of platforms like YouTube on the internet leads to social isolation, anxiety, and depression. You’ve decided you no longer want to fall victim to YouTube’s distracting pull and actually stick to that workout! Here are a few ways to make it easier: 

  • Disable autoplay in your settings to keep you from automatically watching the next video.
  • Watch videos in full screen, so you can’t see the Recommended Videos list. You can make this an automatic action in your General Settings.
  • To temporarily disable Shorts on YouTube’s website, click on the three dots in the right hand corner of the Shorts section and select “Not Interested;” YouTube will then block the Shorts shelf for 30 days. 
  • To temporarily disable Shorts on the mobile app, select the three dots in the right hand corner of the individual videos suggested on your home page and select “Not Interested” until the videos are removed.
  • Allow YouTube to send you a notification to remind you to take a break or go to sleep at your preferred time intervals. However, these do not block you out of the app.
  • When the above suggestions aren’t enough, use online tools such as Freedom to fully block the app and website for an allotted time of your choice. Freedom also allows you to create blocklists so you can block multiple distracting sites and apps simultaneously.

Free Yourself From YouTube

YouTube’s glossy platform offers accessible, neverending content of all lengths that autoplay to the next recommended video, making it difficult to extract yourself from its pull. However, by invoking self-discipline through stricter settings and tools like Freedom, you’ll be able to find focus to complete your tasks at hand and longer term goals.

Written by author Lorena Bally