The Great Facebook Unfollowing

Posted on 09/17/2017 in misc

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Over the past few months my morning routine when checking Facebook has been to scroll through the "On This Day" posts from previous years, and delete everything that is not a photo or remembrance of me doing something fun with friends or family. It turns out that I don't even remember most of the stuff I've added to Facebook. My initial motivation for this was to dramatically reduce the data about me in FB by eventually deleting most of my posts. Me not remembering most of what I've posted got me thinking about something Jason Kottke wrote a few months ago. He took a week off from social media, and nobody noticed.* He wondered if the way we interact on Facebook is essentially shallow and fleeting. I apparently have a very shallow relationship with myself, let alone the rest of you!

Then a thread at Hacker News consisted of a bunch of the people there recounting how much better life was since they deactivated Facebook, or took some other steps to minimize usage. I realize "I quit Facebook" is this year's "I quit cable TV", but it does seem like we get really addicted (without realizing it in most cases) to the tiny dopamine hit that results from the attention our posts on Facebook garner. I've certainly been mildly disappointed when I posted something that I thought was particularly witty, and it was mostly ignored.

Add to all that the wealth of research correlating social media usage to depression, the preponderance of fake news on Facebook, and the reality that even most of our friend's lives, as reflected on Facebook, are idealized versions of their lives and not true reflections. We all share the good stuff and bury the crap. People that overshare the crap in their lives get unfollowed or unfriended, because if we are being honest, we don't want to read all that anyway. So it's kind of a trap. Facebook trains us to present an idealized version ourself and our life, but seeing all those idealized lives makes us feel worse about our own life. Rinse and repeat, it's the circle of (online) life.

This stuff was sort of rolling around in my head last week, and resulted in a relatively spontaneous decision. I took about 10 minutes the evening of 9/15 and unfollowed every single person on Facebook, except for my wife and kids. I didn't have much of a plan beyond "see what happens." I don't know what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn't expecting the feeling of liberation I was experiencing only a few hours later. I was relaxing on the couch Friday evening watching the Red Sox, with my phone nearby. Knowing there was nothing on my Facebook wall to "deal with" was way more freeing than I ever would have guessed only a few hours previously.

One week later

My Facebook usage has been limited to sporadic participation in a couple of closed groups, and one happy birthday post to Michelle, which she made me do, because she thought it looked weird if her husband didn't wish her happy birthday on Facebook. She didn't appreciate my pointing out the irony that her request was kind of proving my point about Facebook. I like the closed groups because they stay 99% on topic. Plus I have notifications turned off, so I can interact with those groups on my terms. The only thing that shows up on my wall is when Michelle or the kids do something on Facebook, and they don't post often, so my wall has literally been the same 3 updates for days. I don't miss the barrage of updates on my Facebook wall at all. In fact, I kind of actively dislike them.

So where does that leave me? I do feel like life is better with much less Facebook. However, I'm not deleting my account. For one thing, Messenger is the IM client of choice for just about everybody in my world. However, that can be accessed at Messenger.com on the web, and via a Messenger client on my phone, without interacting with the main Facebook website. It's also pretty hard to get away from Facebook due to Events. I can still click over to a profile when I'm wondering how somebody is doing. I'll still post my blog posts on Facebook, and participate in any resulting conversation. I may even occasionally show up in the comments in something you post. But I think my days of feeding the Facebook beast daily are done. I've got my blog, my email newsletter, and Twitter. That seems like enough.

Facebook, for all it's language about connecting people, is actually a pretty poor way to stay connected. It's a rather impersonal medium. You exist as a fleeting update that may or may not even still be there if somebody refreshes a page. Facebook isn't optimized to help us connect. It's optimized to sell us stuff. Happy, content people typically consume less, and that would be bad for Facebook.

*Nobody noticed my 95% decrease in Facebook activity

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