Let’s face it: Facebook hasn’t been the same since the aunts, grandpas, and racist former classmates of the world co-opted it.
It seemed so benign, back in 2006, when I first signed up for it after a regional debate-club conference where the hip, well-dressed upperclassmen from Chicago’s Lincoln Park High School were talking it up. They described this new website as a way to connect with each other post-conference as well as to facilitate healthy, civil political debate among the tech-connected youth. (I know, simpler times.)
Flash forward to 2018, and, at best, it’s a platform for 60-second procrastination sessions and keeping tabs on your high-school nemeses to ensure you’re more successful than they are.
At worst, it’s a stage for the darkness of humanity to demonstrate its daily darkening. (Your Russian election interferences, your catfishing situations, your political memes, your spikes in social media-induced clinical depression, your stock photos with quasi-inspiring quotes superimposed on them, etc.).
Somewhere in between these extremes rests the chaotic neutral of our collective addiction to Facebook—those small, unregulated moments when we find ourselves mindlessly scrolling through posts as we wait for the bus or desperately checking for more “likes” or comments instead of winding down for bed.
Each day, multiple times a day, we actively, knowingly open an app and expose ourselves to meaningless, un-curated, unasked-for, and often inaccurate content—during breakfast, commutes, meetings, elevator rides, sad desk lunches, family dinners, date nights, bedtimes, and nights we can’t sleep. We are welcoming into our lives, every day, a constant barrage of nothingness, a sparkly clean version of life that isn’t real, nor one that’s even a version of the real. It’s an image of reality that bears only passing similarities to real life.
And yet Facebook is a world we can’t let go, a ball-and-chain we can’t escape even when we promise ourselves we’ll be more mindful or present.
In other words, I’m suffering from a textbook case of digital FOMO.
For me, the only apps that are really and truly useful, in a functional/utilitarian sense, are Events and Messenger. I’ve been waffling over deleting my account for ages, all because I’m so certain a Facebook-only event will come up or a mysterious stranger will try to contact me with a once-in-a-lifetime job offer, a confession of eternal love, or a can’t-miss opportunity to join a Tupperware-sales pyramid scheme.
But, as much of a gurgling cesspool of bathroom selfies and unsolicited sidebar ads for sinuplasty as it is, is it worth abandoning Facebook altogether?
On the one hand, yes, definitely. Full stop. Scorched earth. Nuclear option. Delete your account. If you can manage it both socially and emotionally, do it right now. Ask yourself a non-rhetorical question: what’s the worst that could happen? If your answer was anything to the effect of “I might miss a pop-up restaurant” or “I might miss a message from my tenth-grade crush contacting me to see if I’ll abandon my life and move to a remote mountain town to open a bed-and-breakfast with her,” delete your account because you are not going to miss much.
If “what-ifs” “I might miss-es” are your main motives for keeping Facebook, let it go, because with or without it, you’re going to miss things, and that’s ok. It’s inevitable, and if the tenth-grade love is real, it will find a way.
But on the other, more pragmatic hand, no. If your worst-case scenario is missing messages from actual friends/family abroad or potential professional contacts, or if you find genuine value in some of the life updates and other content you see in your News Feed, you don’t need to delete Facebook so much as make some modifications to it.
A few months ago, I began exploring how best to tame my News Feed in the interest of retaining my sanity and avoiding content overload. I just couldn’t handle people’s hottakes on political issues or look at yet another “guy checking out girl” meme. I ended up taking a few steps (listed below in order of extremity) to customize my view of Facebook so it’s less overwhelming and more tailored to my needs, which are mostly related to Messenger and Events (and, sure, the occasional dog, baby, or engagement pic).
- First, I deleted the Facebook app from my phone. It shocked me how much I didn’t miss it. I can still access the site through my phone’s browser app, but it takes a few more steps to get there. And although I’d argue the UX of the browser site is better than the app’s, the browser site’s lack of design polish, slightly different content/section organization, and confusing Most Recent vs. Top Stories content-filtering system helped train me not to try to access Facebook at all.
- I also took some somewhat extreme steps to lock down my profile. I adjusted my privacy and security settings to dictate who can tag me in photos or posts (spoiler: no one can) and who can see my profile/timeline updates (only certain friends). I also deleted old posts and photos that no longer reflect who I am/how I want to be seen (eg. unflattering shots where my hair looks dumb or there was a visible Solo cup). Use the ol’ “how would I feel if my grandmother saw this?” question as a jumping-off point when altering your settings.
- Next, I unfollowed people whose daily updates I was uninterested in, distracted by, overly bombarded with, or had invited me to a themed bar crawl. If you’re brutally honest with yourself, unfollowing all the people who post irrelevant or uninteresting content probably means unfollowing somewhere between 90–100% of your friends. But, more realistically, aim to unfollow 25–50% of your friends. A tall order in theory, sure, but when you actually go through your list and think about whose posts—whose babies, pets, vacations, parties, jokes and observations, life events, and political commentary—are truly meaningful to you, it’s easier than you’d think.
- Use Marie Kondo’s KonMari approach: whose posts spark joy in you? And whose posts frustrate or bore or annoy you? What clogs your newsfeed and what’s must-see content? (Note that unfollowing someone means you will remain friends with them, but you’ll stop seeing their posts in your feed. Your friends are not alerted when you do this, nor are they alerted if you choose to re-follow them at any point.)
- Finally, I went all out and installed the News Feed Eradicator Chrome extension. It guts the feed from my Facebook homepage view, which means I’m left with a sidebar of quick links, a post publisher, a sidebar of ads, and a v. inspirational daily quote.
The extension forces me to be intentional when seeking my friends’ updates (or other news feed content) because I have to search for the person and sift through his or her posts. The NFE effectively removes the addictive trigger of seeing new posts, which often drags you into an internet rabbit hole of some sort. The physical emptiness of the feed serves as a sort of jolt from Facebook complacency; it’s a stark reminder from Past You that Present You should consume less meaningless content and direct your very valuable free time toward higher-value content or other, non-Facebook pursuits.
It’s 2019 people, and it’s time to start applying our accumulated knowledge of the perils of instant gratification and the unrealities of social media to learn how to better control our own digital experiences. Facebook, Instagram, and their offshoots can certainly complement and even enhance daily life, but if you find yourself unable to stop scrolling and engage with the people and world around you—to stop seeking external validation from internet friends via “likes” and “hearts” and comments and such—it may be time to take active, concerted steps to modify your social-media experiences or delete them altogether.
More than anything, it’s time we take psychological and actual responsibility for ourselves and how we spend our time online, even if it means taking the time to customize an interface or full-on delete an app. You may miss out on some thinkpieces about Millennials or a few doggo-speak memes, but it’ll be in the interest of creating more meaningful interactions and experiences, both online and off.