“I’m leaving Facebook.”
“I’m cleaning out my friends list.”
“Taking time off of Facebook; it’s consuming my life.”
The lamentations of the Facebook junkie. Whether it’s a grandma too busy posting chocolate chip cookie recipes to bake some for her own grandkids, or the college buddy who gets fired for spending all day at work updating his feed, we all know someone whose life has been altered because of their obsession with the king of social media.
It wasn’t always like this. In the early days, dropping in on Facebook for a few minutes before retiring for the evening was completely plausible; the average Facebook user in 2009 received 23 updates per month. As of 2014, that number has jumped to over 1,500. We are quickly becoming overwhelmed by the firehose of information pointed at us, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Facebook attempted to resolve this at the end of last year with the “Unfollow” button, allowing you to remain friends with that guy from high school without seeing his 30 daily reshares of “liek dis 4 1 up-prayer if u crye” chain mails or “This Will Change Your Life” clickbait headlines.
So, what’s the solution? For me, it was acknowledgment of the uncomfortable secret we are afraid to admit: I don’t really care what you like. That’s not to say I don’t care about you, as a person. However, if we’re friends on Facebook, there is a high likelihood that what we have in common is not our shared interests, but our shared history. We probably went to school together, or worked together, or played at grandma’s house together as kids, but our personal likes, interests, ethics, and morals may be so far apart that if it wasn’t for that shared history, we may very well not even like each other.
However, we do have that history, and it does mean something. Therefore, if you are the type of person who posts pictures of your kids, updates about your mom, stories about that hiking trip you took, or snippets of that poem you’ve been working on, I am happy to follow you on Facebook. I enjoy reading about you and keeping up with what’s going on in your life, but keep in mind that I, and many others like me, care about you as a person, not about the things that you find interesting. And that’s the other half of the uncomfortable secret, and also where the other social media sites come in: strangers on the Internet are far more interesting than people I’ve known my entire life.
The New Reality of Facebook
As an example, here are the top ten posts from my wife’s Facebook feed and my Google+ feed, edited for privacy (I use my wife’s Facebook and not my own because I’ve already pared mine down to just the people who consistently share stuff about their life, not reshare what someone else had to say):
Wife’s Facebook Feed
- Personal update
- Invitation to a fantasy league
- Reshare of news item in a different town
- Reshare of event (happening 5 states away)
- Happy Birthday
- Reshare of someone else’s meme photo regarding a subject my wife has zero interest in
- Reshare of someone else’s meme photo regarding Teacher Appreciation Week
- Personal update
- Reshare of a recipe that we’re never going to eat (we are largely paleo)
- Reshare of someone else’s meme photo of a Dachsund on stilts pretending to be a Doberman
My Google+ Feed
- National Geographic photo of the day
- Interview with a D&D illustrator
- Today in Geek history: Sith Day
- Reshare of a scientific illustration of ocean currents from NASA
- Kickstarter Alert: 3D printing game figurines
- Google Science Fair update
- Street Photography from Denmark
- Google shopping express news
- Autonomous drone system for aerial filming
- Reshare of a post about the health benefits of eating leeks.
That’s a 20% success rate for “interestingness” for my wife and 100% for me, all of which came from people I’ve never spoken with and will never meet in real life. Despite that, it’s not unrealistic for a 100+ comment conversation to take place among 20 different people who all find that same subject fascinating. This is the value of Google+ (and Pinterest, Tumbler, etc.). Self-selecting the groups you are a member of based on shared interests creates a much more fulfilling social media experience.
Sounds Good. What Can I Do?
Become part of the solution. Stop resharing every single meme with every friend in Facebook. If you are going to reshare something, learn to use groups. If you have 5 vegan friends and 365 non-vegan friends, create a vegan group and share that recipe with just that group.
Remove the offenders. You don’t have to unfriend people anymore. Simply unfollow them. They can still message you if you want to use Facebook as your extended contact list, but you will no longer have to see two dozen daily posts that should have been nipped in the bud by a quick visit to snopes.com.
Find people who you are interested in following. Join Pinterest and connect with other scrapbookers. Join a Google+ photo community and see fascinating photographs from around the world. Subscribe to /r/fitness on reddit and lose (or gain!) those pounds with the help of others in your situation. Follow those you look up to on Twitter and see who they follow. This is the golden age of information, when the sum knowledge of the species is at your fingertips, and you’re spending two hours a day looking at cats in boxes.
A few of my favorites to get you started, if your interests are similar to mine (geek culture, photography, health)
* – A warning for those people who are not familiar with Reddit. It touts itself as the “Front Page of the Internet”, which means that it has everything, including many subreddits (subgroups) with levels of depravity you have never imagined, including behavior of questionable legality. Seriously. If it’s on the Internet, it probably has a subreddit full of people you’d probably want to punch in the face or run away from screaming if you met them in real life. You have been warned.