Primary vs. Secondary Content: A Strategy for Moderation

In a previous series on YouTube moderation, I grappled with how we can engage with the genuinely valuable and enjoyable content on YouTube and other social media/entertainment apps while still maintaining self-control. In this post, I’ll explore another strategy for approaching this dilemma: distinguishing between primary and secondary content.

I should probably find more descriptive terms (let me know if you have any ideas), but here’s how I’d define primary and secondary content:

  1. Primary Content is content that you are genuinely excited to consume. It is the best-quality, most helpful, and/or most engaging content you read, watch, or listen to.
  2. Secondary Content is content that you consume because (1) you’re overly fixated on a certain topic or (2) you’ve run out of primary content but feel an urge to fill your time with entertainment rather than silence.

I’ve observed that if I limit my consumption to primary content, I can experience the benefits of various entertainment mediums while still maintaining moderation. When I delve into secondary content, however, I’m far more likely to binge on that content and end up feeling miserable.

Secondary Content and Sports Fandom

Let me illustrate this through a humorous but very real struggle. I love the Sacramento Kings and the NBA in general. As the fan of a bad team, my two favorite times of year are the NBA draft (chance for the Kings to snag an exciting new prospect) and free agency (time for blockbuster trades and player movement across the league).

I know what qualifies as my sports primary content. These are the podcasts, Twitter threads, or YouTube videos that spark genuine excitement when they come across my feed. If I just consumed that content, my sports fandom would take up a significant but still reasonable amount of my time.

But my voracious appetite for Kings and NBA content usually doesn’t stop there. As an example of an over-fixation on a certain topic: when the Kings prized rookie, Keegan Murray, lit up the summer league, I didn’t just watch highlights or listen to a podcast or two. I stayed up late into the night, searching for any podcast, video, or article that remotely touched on his performance, even from sources I wouldn’t normally enjoy. The result was increasingly diminishing returns. What began as excitement for the Kings’ rookie, devolved into feeling silly for wasting so much time.

As an example of running out of primary content but preferring secondary content to silence: now is the dead time of the NBA season. No more draft, free agency, or summer league. After the deluge of content that was released during those periods, it has been difficult to adjust to the lack of news and content. Sometimes I’ll find myself searching out and mindlessly clicking on content I’m only mildly interested in, just to scratch that basketball itch.

Slaves to the Algorithm

If you think about it, the whole point of the “algorithm” for sites like YouTube, Netflix, and other apps is to rope you in and trap you with secondary content.

On YouTube, for example, your primary content comes from your subscriptions. Those are the creators that you’ve found valuable enough to subscribe to.

Your suggested video page picks up on topics that you’ve demonstrated interest in and recommends similar videos. Sometimes this results in finding new creators you enjoy (i.e. new primary content.) But just as often, the algorithm will recommend copycat creators or derivative content that is similar in topic but lower in quality.

This is how you can go down a rabbit hole and grow increasingly more miserable. Your fixation on a topic or desire to quench your boredom causes you to consume more and more from the algorithm, even as the content declines in quality.

In previous articles, I explored some practical strategies (see part 2 as well) for resisting the pull of the algorithm. One idea is to add any video that initially piques your interest to the “Watch Later” playlist. This creates an extra step for you to pause and evaluate if you really want to watch a particular video (primary content) or are just clicking impulsively (secondary content). Another strategy is to install DF YouTube to remove the suggested video page altogether.

Embracing Silence

“I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room”

Blaise Pascal

At my first job out of college, the work was menial enough that I could listen to audio content while I worked. This had its good moments (like listening to the entire Harry Potter series on Audible), but looking back, I realize that this freedom often made me feel unhappy and restless.

Why? The ability to listen to anything anytime caused me to develop a constant appetite for new content. Eventually, it became less about what I was listening to — it could even be a convicting sermon — and more about passing the time to get through the workday.

Our world of competing streaming services and constantly refreshing social media feeds promises a never-ending stream of primary content to entertain us. We buy into that promise and begin to crave that all our spare moments be filled with noise.

The result, however, is that we turn more and more to secondary content, which we watch just for the sake of watching. Like junk food, the more we binge on secondary content, the more addicted and unhealthy we become.

Embracing silence, in contrast, is like a muscle that grows the more we exercise it. Initially, we will feel uncomfortable. It will seem as if we are wasting our time or missing an opportunity to catch up on the flashiest new thing. In time, however, learning to enjoy silence will yield many fruitful benefits. To name a few:

  • Silence invites deeper reflection. Think of the difference between letting your mind wander during a walk or commute versus instinctively putting on a podcast.
  • Silence trains us so we can enjoy unhurried time in prayer, meditation, and study without growing bored or restless;
  • Silence allows us to focus on the present task at hand instead of always multi-tasking. An example would be simply enjoying a meal instead of reflexively watching a show.
  • Silence makes us feel we have more time. I find that when I take a break and simply rest without consuming anything, the break seems to last much longer than if I spent it scrolling on my phone.

Expanding Appetites

I ended the YouTube Moderation series with a reflection that strategies for moderation shouldn’t be our ultimate aim. I use the example of training wheels:

Training wheels assist beginners who are learning to ride a bike but are not yet skilled enough to balance on their own. Without training wheels, these individuals might teeter and fall, badly injuring themselves. I think the training wheel analogy is helpful. because it highlights the temporary nature of the various tactics I’ve proposed. These tactics are not ends in and of themselves, but help us as we go on to greater, more important pursuits.

In a similar vein, we shouldn’t be content to merely consume primary content and avoid secondary content. It does me little good, for example, if my only interest in life is basketball and the Sacramento Kings, no matter how disciplined I am in consuming primary sports-related content.

In addition to embracing silence, we should also seek to expand our appetites from content that merely entertains to content that informs and helps us grow. For me, I’ve been trying to push myself beyond my normal sports intake to seek out content on topics like fatherhood, personal finance, or health. These may not be as natural for me to listen to, but in the long run they will help me better lead and love my family.


Hopefully this discussion of primary and secondary content resonates and is helpful. Feel free to reach out and let me know what you think. Until next time!


Moving Forward with Moderation (6/6)

I will likely return to the topic of YouTube moderation in the future, but I’ll be wrapping up this series for now so I can explore other topics. It’s been a fun journey and helpful for my own relationship with YouTube. I hope it’s helped you as well!

Before I give some final thoughts, let’s quickly recap where we’ve been:

Here are three final thoughts on how we can move forward with YouTube moderation:

1. Be Wary of Excuses

Here’s a trap I’ll often fall into: (1) I’ll see my unhealthy relationship to YouTube and feel motivated to address it, and (2) I’ll plan various strategies and systems for combating my bad habits. This will work for a while, but eventually my heart will begin devising excuses. Here are a few common ones:

  • “It’s not that much of a struggle right now, so it’s unnecessarily strict to follow the rules you’ve set up. You can let down your guard and relax.”
  • “You created these strategies for a specific scenario (i.e. a normal work/school day) but today the scenario is different. X (fill in the blank) has happened, so the rules don’t apply.”
  • “You’ve had a rough day. You’re not in a good emotional, spiritual, or mental place right now. And you’re placing these restrictions on yourself on top of that? How tedious. Who cares about YouTube moderation when everything else stinks.”

In those moments, you will feel silly for sticking to your strategies, but I encourage you to stay the course. Don’t heed the excuses. Think back: maybe compromising won’t spiral into hours wasted, but how often has it in the past? Or, at the very least, how often has it led to you spending more time on the platform than you originally intended?

Yes, your strategies may feel tedious and restrictive at times, but sticking within these guard rails will ultimately grant a much more important kind of freedom — the freedom to use your time as you choose based on what you value most.

We must stick to our strategies before we can trust ourselves to be flexible with them. In time, we may no longer need these tactics, but we must be honest with ourselves whether we are truly at that point.

2. Toolboxes and Training Wheels

Recently, I was sharing with a friend about my toolbox posts for YouTube. He paused for a moment and proposed another applicable analogy: training wheels. Training wheels assist beginners who are learning to ride a bike but are not yet skilled enough to balance on their own. Without training wheels, these individuals might teeter and fall, badly injuring themselves.

I think the training wheel analogy is helpful. because it highlights the temporary nature of the various tactics I’ve proposed. These tactics are not ends in and of themselves, but help us as we go on to greater, more important pursuits.

This series is written for people who are trying to uproot and deprogram bad YouTube habits. These are difficult habits to break, and there are many pitfalls along the way. That is why it is helpful to think carefully about strategies for moderation.

However, there is a danger in thinking about moderation that we place too much emphasis on YouTube. Even as we try to avoid excess, we still view the platform as a necessary part of our day. We spend inordinate amounts of time and energy resisting the pull to watch, looking forward to when we can watch, or breathing a sigh of relief when we’re “allowed” to watch.

Instead, we should seek what Piper calls the expulsive power of a new affection. We should strive to grow in our desires to know God, to pursue holiness, to love and serve others, and to make the Gospel known, so that the fleeting pleasures of YouTube pale in comparison.

The ultimate goal is that we mature in our affections, so that YouTube naturally falls into its proper place. So we can watch YouTube for the genuine benefits it has to offer, but we are not always teetering on the brink of a binge.

Until we reach that point, we need various training wheels and guard rails. But that is not our ultimate endpoint. We aim for a day when we no longer need to think so actively about YouTube moderation, because our head, hearts, and hands are caught up in kingdom work.

3. Lean on Grace to Get Back Up Quickly

I hope that you’ve been encouraged by this series that you’re not alone in this struggle or silly for having such a hard time with something so seemingly trivial. I hope you’ve found some practical, actionable strategies to help you manage your YouTube usage.

Even as you proactively pursue YouTube moderation, there will be times you slip up and relapse. With that failure will come a temptation to fall back further into bad habits. You will feel discouraged. You will wonder why you can’t overcome something so simple. You will be tempted to berate yourself for being an undisciplined mess.

Don’t be discouraged! Remember that it’s never too late to turn around. Ask God for strength. Remember the endless riches you have in Christ. Remember that you are a child of God, and that will never, ever change. Think critically about why you lost this particular battle and if there are any lessons you can learn for the future. Then, start again and do the next right thing.

Thank you again everyone for reading and following along. Until next time!

All posts in the YouTube Moderation Series:

  1. In Search of YouTube Moderation
  2. Fighting the Pull of Infinity Pools
  3. The YouTube Moderation Toolbox, Part I
  4. The YouTube Moderation Toolbox, Part II
  5. The Value of Tactics and Toolboxes
  6. Moving Forward with Moderation

The Value of Tactics and Toolboxes (5/6)

In my previous two posts (Part I and Part II), I shared 6 practical ideas for YouTube moderation. At times, I felt sheepish writing those posts. Are these types of articles helpful, or am I devolving into publishing Internet clickbait? I imagined a few objections to the “toolbox” format — i.e. posts focusing on specific, actionable strategies:

  • Why devise all these complicated strategies? Why can’t you just stop watching YouTube? It’s not that hard.
  • You are recommending outward actions but ignoring the heart motives, which are what really matter.

Today, I want to reflect more on the benefit of “toolbox” posts:

1. Specifics rather than Generalities

There are countless think pieces (from both Christian and secular writers) bemoaning the negative effects of technology on our mental and spiritual health. However, while many of these articles make a thorough case for the challenges posed by technology, few of them delve into tactics to combat the pull of our devices.

This kind of specific, actionable advice is also absent from our pulpits, and rightly so! A pastor’s job is to exposit what God’s Word has to say. While a preacher may touch on technology usage in their application, a sermon is usually not the proper vehicle to delve into specific strategies for something like YouTube moderation.

At the same time, it’s helpful to talk tactics. If we don’t, we end up with struggling people who are weighed down by their unhealthy technology habits but feel ill-equipped to do anything about it. Technology can feel addictive and impossible to overcome, because of how deeply rooted it is in our lives. It’s easy to resign ourselves to the status quo.

So, while my two articles are far from exhaustive, my hope is that these posts and others like them can give readers a starting place to strategize about YouTube moderation and technology usage in general.

2. Encouraging Experimentation

I’ve written ad-nauseum about getting “in the lab” — i.e. embracing a mindset of experimentation. I don’t want you to blindly accept my ideas as magic bullets (they most certainly are not); instead, my hope is that, in hearing my explanations behind each tool, you would begin to think more critically about solutions to your own particular struggles with YouTube.

Over time, consistent experimentation cultivates a positive growth mindset. Instead of feeling depressed and discouraged by failures, we learn to (1) to assess patterns of failure, (2) develop specific, tailored strategies for those problems, (3) experiment, and (4) tinker and adjust accordingly.

All of my ideas in the toolbox posts arose from observing my own repeated failures and thinking about how I can address them. Some of my solutions may seem odd or idiosyncratic — they probably are! — but that is because they are targeting specific pitfalls in my own life.

3. Recovering Momentum after Failure

In the haze of failure, there are sometimes brief moments of clarity. You can see everything clearly — the emptiness of entertainment, and the superiority of Christ and obedience to him. You want to turn around and change your ways.

These moments of clarity are fragile and fleeting. It is important we capture them and turn them into momentum. Otherwise, we easily slip back into the bad habits we saw clearly just moments before. The pull of infinity pools is that powerful.

In those moments, it is important to re-focus our minds and hearts on Gospel truths. But it is also valuable to have specific, trusted systems and strategies you can fall back on. Instead of relying on willpower and hoping blindly for a better outcome, we can employ practical solutions to start rebuilding a sense of momentum.

Again, I hope these posts have been insightful for you. Until next time!

All posts in the YouTube Moderation series:

  1. In Search of YouTube Moderation
  2. Fighting the Pull of Infinity Pools
  3. The YouTube Moderation Toolbox, Part I
  4. The YouTube Moderation Toolbox, Part II
  5. The Value of Tactics and Toolboxes
  6. Moving Forward with Moderation

The YouTube Moderation Toolbox, Part II (4/6)

Happy New Year! Apologies for my recent writing hiatus, but the past month has been quite busy and exciting (perhaps I can delve in more in a future post). But I’m back and hoping to write more consistently in 2021.

In my last post, Part 1 of the YouTube Moderation Toolbox, I delved into some practical strategies for moderation. I wanted to brainstorm some specific, actionable, and possibly outside-the-box ideas that you may not have considered before. In this post, I’ll be adding a few more tools to our toolbox. Again, please experiment and employ what works for you!

4. Institute a Digital Sabbath/Fast

Practical strategy: Pick a day of the week to fast/rest from YouTube (I recommend Sunday). If possible, use a content blocking app such as Freedom to make accessing YouTube impossible.

Reasoning: YouTube promises us rest after long, stressful days and satisfaction with its never-ending supply of interesting, exciting content. But, of course, we know it fails to deliver either. Rather than refreshing or satiating our souls, YouTube binges leave us more tired and empty than when we started.

I like to think of the terms Digital Sabbath and Fast as two sides of the coin, even though they result in the same action — a day of the week without YouTube. A digital Sabbath can remind us that true rest is found in the Lord; while a digital fast can remind us that only God can satisfy our hungry souls.

Don’t think of this day as merely deprivation. Actively plan to do things that are truly restful and restorative to your soul. Spend extended, unhurried time with the Lord. Take time to reflect and take inventory of your heart. Spend time with friends and family. Pursue recreation and hobbies that may take more time and effort than the instant gratification of Internet entertainment but are ultimately more rewarding.

5. Utilize the Watch Later Playlist

Practical strategy: Don’t watch a YouTube Video until you’ve added it to the Watch Later Playlist. Place a time-limit to wait before you can watch the video in your Watch Later playlist.

Reasoning: Financial advisors will often advise you to leave something in your cart for 24 hours before making a purchase. The idea is that through waiting, we can avoid impulse buys.

What if we took that same logic and applied it to YouTube? If time is money, how can we avoid spending all our time on mindless YouTube watching? One way is to leave our YouTube videos in a virtual shopping cart, the Watch Later playlist, and wait a specified period of time before allowing ourselves to watch.

This strategy is similar to the YouTube log in the previous post. It adds an extra step between feeling the pull to click on a video and actually doing so. This allows for more awareness, instead of acting on impulse. I’ve found that when I place a video in my Watch Later playlist and return to it later, I often no longer have the urge to watch that video. And the videos I do watch, I do so with more intentionality.

6. Speed Up Your Videos

Practical Strategy: Watch your videos at 1.5-2x speed.

Reasoning: I’ll admit it, this seems like a bit of a goofy solution, but the practical benefits are clear: if you watch your videos at 2x speed, you can halve your YouTube watch time. That 12 minute vlog turns into 6 minutes; the 25 minute in-depth tech review becomes a more manageable 12.5 minutes. I first came across this idea from YouTuber, Ali Abdaal, who consumes everything from podcasts to anime at 2x speed. This is a simple, easy way to power through your subscriptions, provided it doesn’t lead you to consume more and more videos.


I hope you’ve found something practical to use from these six tools. For those of you reading, are there are any other strategies I didn’t mention that have worked for you? I know this list is far from exhaustive. I have a few more posts queued up on YouTube moderation, so keep an eye out for those.

Until next time!

All posts in the YouTube Moderation series:

  1. In Search of YouTube Moderation
  2. Fighting the Pull of Infinity Pools
  3. The YouTube Moderation Toolbox, Part I
  4. The YouTube Moderation Toolbox, Part II
  5. The Value of Tactics and Toolboxes
  6. Moving Forward with Moderation

The YouTube Moderation Toolbox, Part I (3/6)

In my last post, I explained how YouTube uses Infinity Pool features to draw users in and keep them on the app. Originally, I had planned to review Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism in this post. But, because book reviews require more time and research, I found myself losing momentum and procrastinating on this series. So, while I hope to return to Newport’s book in the future, I will skip over it for now.

Instead, I want to offer some practical strategies for YouTube moderation that have been helpful for me. Think of this post as more of a toolbox than a rigid list of rules. Please feel free to experiment, find what works for you, and discard the rest.

1. Use a YouTube Blocking App

In his book, Atomic Habits, author James Clear writes that the most self-controlled people are often the ones who need to use it the least. How? They engineer their environment to remove temptations before they arise. They make bad habits impractical by increasing “the friction until [they] don’t have the option to act”.

In my previous article, I covered the Distraction Free (DF) YouTube extension. This browser extension can remove features like suggested videos, auto-play, comments, and more. Users don’t have to summon their willpower to combat those distracting features; the extension takes care of them automatically.

DF YouTube is a helpful start, but I’ve found it helpful to pair that extension with a YouTube blocking app. My app of choice is called Freedom. It allows me to designate certain times of the day to block YouTube (and other distracting websites) and works across desktop and mobile devices. If I try to access YouTube, I’ll be greeted by the following message:

Figuring out a schedule that works for you requires experimentation. You’ll need to get in the lab and figure out which time periods you are most prone to lapses. If you do use Freedom, I recommend using “locked mode” which does not allow you to modify your blocklists once a Freedom session has started.

2. Keep a YouTube Log

Bad habits often function on an automatic, non-conscious level. This is why it’s so easy to fall into a YouTube rabbit hole before even realizing what’s happening. We’ve created well-worn cues from past failures, and the app’s infinity pool features are engineered to put our attention in a stranglehold.

In Atomic Habits, Clear emphasizes the importance of raising our level of awareness from a mindless habit to a more conscious level. “One of our greatest challenges in changing habits”, he writes, “is maintaining awareness of what we are actually doing.”

This is why keeping a YouTube log can be helpful — it encourage intention and helps you maintain awareness of what you are doing. Keeping a log provides a brief moment to pause and evaluate: do I really want to watch this video? Do I choose to watch this video? I’ve found that the simple act of pausing to write down a video I’m about to watch helps me to actively choose the content I consume, instead of mindlessly drifting between videos.

I keep my log pretty simple. I write down the name of the video, the length of the video, and whether I intentionally chose to watch it.

3. Find Pro-Active Accountability

Recently, I was talking with a friend with similar struggles managing his YouTube consumption. We decided to try having accountability for our YouTube/technology use. If we seek accountability for other besetting sins, then why wouldn’t we do the same for our devices, which often sap away so much of our time and energy?

Currently, we keep our accountability pretty simple. We’ll message each other a plan for the week which includes practical strategies (usually adjustments from the prior week) and the heart behind those strategies. We can check in during the week to update the other person, as necessary.

I can’t speak for my friend, but I’ve found this practice helpful so far. Why? A few reasons come to mind:

  • There is both a joy and weight of sharing struggles and resolutions with a friend, rather than doing it on my own.
  • It requires pro-active thinking. When I submit my plan for the upcoming week, I’m forced to evaluate what worked and what didn’t in the prior week and brainstorm possible solutions. This helps me recognize patterns of failure and prepares me as I approach the new week.
  • Sharing the heart behind our strategies helps me resist legalistic rule-keeping and reminds me of the point of productivity: love for God and others.

In the next post, we’ll continue with more practical strategies on YouTube moderation. Until then!

All posts in the YouTube Moderation series:

  1. In Search of YouTube Moderation
  2. Fighting the Pull of Infinity Pools
  3. The YouTube Moderation Toolbox, Part I
  4. The YouTube Moderation Toolbox, Part II
  5. The Value of Tactics and Toolboxes
  6. Moving Forward with Moderation