A Twitter friend turned me onto an excellent blog post by Nathaniel Eliason of Zapier entitled, You Are What YouRead: Why Managing Your Inputs is a Cruicial Part of Productivity. It prompted me to revisit this unfinished blog post, tweak it, and post it, because I think Facebook is one of the biggest input problems in many peoples’ lives. I didn’t truly understand how much the Facebook addiction co-opted my time each day until I deleted my account. I thought about suspending it, but decided only deletion would give me the experience I was wanting – a true life-after-Facebook one. I still have a blog and a Twitter account. I’m still on Google +, for now, but it never gets much of my attention anyway.
And so here I am, a few months into my post-Facebook life and things feel a little slower, in a very good way. I’m noticing more and having better conversations as I resist glancing at my phone. I’m reading more, and thinking a little more seriously about what I actually do with each day. In one sense, it feels like I’ve escaped from the asylum. There is the occasional impulse to post something — a photo or link to an article that inspired or humored me. But I have my blog and Twitter for that. I have no desire to share things political, no need to respond to this or that diatribe. It’s amazing what a large percentage of that overall trend appears to live on Facebook, and being off the platform has reduced that clutter in my life by what feels like a good 80+%. The issues are all still out there, but all of the schoolyard pontificating has retreated to a very distant echo.
I had about 1200 friends on Facebook. Only three have said anything to me about leaving it. Many of the others don’t have my email address or phone number but they could easily find me with a quick search. After all, this blog is still here and is the first thing that comes up in a search of my name. I don’t assume the other 1197 Facebook friends don’t care about me. I just assume they have busy lives and the so-called Facebook connection is as big an illusion for them as it was for me. I think most of us assume Facebook is connecting us with a lot more people than we’d be connected with otherwise. But for the overwhelming majority of us, I think that is an illusion. Facebook uses that illusion to addict us to a platform for market research, advertising, and thought conditioning. I use those last two words because the Facebook impact on my mind and life reminded me of air conditioning. An AC system creates an indoor temperature cooler than the one naturally happening outside. In many ways it is an illusion of better, giving a far less healthy body of trapped indoor air. And it also sucks moisture out of everything, including us, as it works to accomplish its task. This is frighteningly clear in Las Vegas hotels which literally suck the moisture out of its occupants, since that is the only moisture present. In a way, I think Facebook does the same thing. It creates the illusion of community, of importance, and of trends. And it does so while sucking minutes, and hours, out of our lives.
Zuckerberg and company surely aren’t the only ones in this game. They are continuing the legacy of mass media, taking it to the next logical level as facilitated by the amazing, evolving construct that is the world wide web. We also know that Facebook is aging, and many in the demographic under 30 are turning to other platforms, like Instagram and Pinterest. But Facebook still dominates with an astonishing 71% of all internet users and over 50% in every age demographic. Almost one billion people log into Facebook every day, with average daily time spent per user, as reported by Facebook, at 21 minutes. That’s sounds low to me. But even that — 7665 minutes or 127.75 hours or 5.3 24-hour days per year — is a lot of time. Most people I know spend considerably more time than that. Of course, some people run, or certainly drive, businesses through and on Facebook. It has clearly been a positive for them. My post really isn’t about that. It’s about the way I feel that digital life, particularly Facebook, is trying to rewire us.
A recent Microsoft study of 2000 people, utilizing surveys and electroencephalograms (EEGs), concluded that our rapidly degrading average attention span is now around 8 seconds, one second less than that of a goldfish. Of course, goldfish don’t have cell phones, but many are close to a television, which has undoubtedly contributed to their own attention span decline. If they were on Facebook, I assume we’d at least be tied at 8-seconds and something else would hold the 9-second position. There’s some rich metaphorical territory with the whole goldfish thing about, possibly, the goldfish pondering life outside of the fishbowl, and people with Facebook, embracing life within it, but I doubt any of us have a long enough attention span to explore it. For the doubters, there’s a study by Carnegie Mellon University that concluded direct personal interaction on Facebook often results in feelings of increased well-being and sociability. But the study also concluded that passive consumption of Facebook content – and there’s a whole lot of that going on – does the opposite. I don’t think or desire for a second that we turn back the digital age. But I have concluded, for myself, that navigating it without great care for my life balance is similar to drinking gallons of sugar-filled soda at a fast-food joint simply because refills are free. Some people do that, but they’re bodies are not happy about it.
My life wasn’t happy with Facebook. For many it may simply be about checking yourself short of addiction. I tried and failed, so deletion was my logical choice. Suspension would have been too easy to undo. Deleting one’s Facebook account is no magic fix for all things ailing with one’s life balance. But for so many, it has become a soft version of living in The Matrix. In that landmark 1999 film, the character Morpheus speaks to a young hacker – there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about? One day my own consciousness answered, Facebook. Living without it feels like one important step in turning down the noise and finding out what’s going on right where I am.
If I ever return to Facebook it will be with a promotional account for my music, or writing, or something else that I want to market, and I’ll have someone administer it for me. Facebook personal page? Not happening.
POSTSCRIPT (Sept 16, 2016)
Well, I wanted to create a Facebook musician page and FB made me create a personal page in order to do that. Damnit!! But my musician page is the one where the action will be, so please “Like” my page if you’re a Facebooker.