A few years ago, I unfollowed everybody on Facebook, and it turned out to be a fabulous decision. Our connections run by algorithms on social media are so damn shallow that eliminating the newsfeed made zero difference in how connected I felt with far-flung friends and family. I could still pop into your profiles and see what people were up to whenever I wanted. It turns out seeing your vacation photos a week after the vacation and not in real time while you are on vacation doesn’t ruin anything.
When we were all locked down last year in the initial COVID panic, I loosened up that policy quite a bit, as I didn’t really have anything else to do but scroll through my Facebook feed. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking it was time to do a mass unfollow again. I did it yesterday. I unfollowed everybody on Facebook and LinkedIn. I do a lot of work related networking on Twitter, so I’m probably leaving it alone, although I have been aggressively unfollowing people that retweet crap into my Twitter feed. And Instagram is just looking at pictures of friends out doing fun things, often with their pets, which is sort of what I tried to use FB for, so it’s safe for now too.
I don’t think our brains are really wired to keep up with the torrent of who had what for lunch, who had a positive COVID test this week, and all of that. The day-to-day minutia of life is not something we need to broadly share, and trying to consume all that data is bad for our brains. I’m convinced that social media is ruining our attention spans, and maybe our democracy too. Facebook can’t make money if you spend 25 minutes reading an in-depth article on something. They need you clicking 12 times and refreshing the page 5 times in that 25 minutes. However, reading an in-depth article is unquestionably better for your brain health.
The FB algorithm will probably ensure most of you never see this post, and nobody will notice the change anyway. It’s not like I posted to FB 10X a day and your newsfeed will suddenly feel empty without me. And I’ll still be on FB. The one thing I may share every few days is not the problem. The newsfeed is the issue. The algorithm deciding what I should see next is the concern. The constant context shifting from a friend with a positive COVID test to a concert review from another friend to a climate change article for a third person is the problem. My brain, and really I think all brains, isn’t built to function like that. Multitasking is a lie.
So I guess what I’m saying is that if you expect me to see something you post to Facebook, make sure you tag me in the post.