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Musing about cutting back on Facebook

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Short version of this post: I'm cutting back on Facebook time, so if you want me to see something there, put my name on it (using their system for linking to a person's name).

Longer version:

Despite my attempts to skip or skim more FB posts, I'm still spending as much as a few hours a day reading FB. This is, obviously, not sustainable, not if I want to do anything else outside of work.

In the past, I've run into this problem in other systems: Usenet, LiveJournal, etc. I've usually ended up addressing it by just stopping. For example, when I realized (long ago) that I could spend more than 24 hours a day just reading the Usenet newsgroups I was interested in, I quit cold turkey. I missed it occasionally, and I went back to it for a while a couple years later, but ended up quitting again.

The other day I decided that the only way to keep my Facebook time manageable was to quit FB entirely. But then it occurred to me that I could probably cut down the amount of time I spend there considerably by managing my notifications list.

I started using FB notifications in the first place as a way to filter the vast number of posts. The core problem was that some people who I really wanted to hear from posted at times of day when I wasn't reading FB, so I never saw their posts. Notifications provided a way to get around that, without having to stay caught up on the entire stream. (Which would be pretty much impossible.) Then I added close friends regardless of their usual times-of-posting (putting someone on your Close Friends list automatically adds them to your notifications list, I think), and then I added others whose posts I particularly wanted to see. It's a work-in-progress; I keep noticing more people who I want to be on my notifications list.

So, fairly often, my FB reading lately has consisted entirely of going through my notifications list. In the browser, there's a dynamically generated dropdown for notifications, but its behavior is wonky (at least in Safari/Mac) when there's more than one screen-height of notifications, which is almost always true for me. So in the browser, my main FB interface these days is the notifications page. And in the iPhone and iPad FB apps, I spend a lot of time scrolling through the dropdown list; it doesn't keep track of where you are in the list, so I have to scroll back through 60 notifications, tap, read the item, then scroll back through 59 notifications, and so on. And the yellow-for-unread indicator goes away within a minute or two, probably the next time a new notification appears.

So it seems clear that substantially reducing the number of notifications would substantially reduce the time I spend on FB.

But that's easier said than done. Yesterday, I got about 100 notifications, and about a quarter of those were things I definitely would've wanted to be notified about. What I would really like is a way to set up filters on notifications—notifications for certain kinds of things from certain people, etc. For that matter, I still wish for an author-specified importance-rating system on posts; I started to do that myself recently (by putting stars at the beginning of each post), but haven't figured out entirely how I want it to work yet.

Yesterday, I was talking with Mary Anne, and she said I didn't have to read everything she posted. I haven't been reading everything she posts, but I have been reading the vast majority of it, and she posts a lot, and most of it is stuff I find interesting and/or entertaining. But she pointed out that most of the stuff that's actually about her and her family still goes in her journal. So this morning I turned off notifications from Mary Anne. Which makes me sad, but I think it'll free up some of my time. (About a quarter of yesterday's notifications were from her posts.)

I expect to turn off other notifications soon. I might even turn off all notifications, which would definitely cut down on my FB time, but would also mean I would miss a fair bit of important personal stuff from friends.

We'll see how it goes. I do still think FB is worthwhile and fun and interesting (and I still love the Like button); but there are other things I want to do too, and I'm not doing them lately.

So if you want to be sure I see something on FB, put my name on it. But I guess that's always true for anyone.

1 Comment

I very much feel your pain. In way I'm grateful that Facebook hides so much valuable content from my feed, because otherwise I'd probably never leave.

I can't quit cold turkey, because that would mean losing contact entirely with too many friends. My real-life friends always move away and into the internet; the internet is where my friends live. Right now that means Facebook.

But it's become such a hideous default for me to check Facebook first thing in the morning, first thing when I open my laptop, first thing when I get home at night. Logging out at the end helps, but only somewhat. I'm getting increasingly aggressive about using software like Anti-Social and Concentrate. None of them are perfect; I might have to hack my own solution. BUT I HAVEN'T GOT THE TIME.

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