The End of my Facebook Hiatus

Facebook annoyed me, and after six years of using it, I was fed up. Using RescueTime, an app that tracks your mobile usage, I discovered that too much of the day was wasted by scrolling through my “Newsfeed”. That was my final excuse. In an attempt to rediscover why I used Facebook, I took a two week long hiatus.

Why did I even use the site? This question plagued me for almost two years. I told myself that it was the natural progression from MySpace – but there was something different about it. MySpace was a different ballgame with different players. You didn’t have your family in the outfield and there was nothing more than a small “status update”.

MySpace was oriented towards the younger crowd, not the family. It was for a niche group of kids that could be themselves and customize their profile. MySpace gained popularity from the blogging hype, and perhaps it’s best to look back at the origins of social media to take a look at why Facebook became the monster that it is today.

In the beginning… there was only information. Simple data meant to inform the internet surfers that blazed through the net. It was filled with media that you would expect to come from a library, with very little interest placed on entertainment. From this darkness the surfers separated useless from useful. Web logging was a way to link people to sites you found useful. It literally was a list of hyperlinks to various websites.

As the net formed, customization became possible. Instead of posting a list of links, now people could write their opinions about the sites they liked. This lead to blogging (web logging), where online users began documenting life and forming what we commonly think of as a blog.

The difficult with blogging, even still today, is connections between users. If you want to see what your favorite blogger is up to, the most convenient way is to type in their website. This is a hassle because bloggers don’t post every day and you may know a handful of bloggers. Typing in ten different URLs can be a pain and time consuming.

MySpace and other blogging sites wanted to change this by integrating users into one website. This way you could log on and see a handful of your friends without typing a dozen URLs. Even better, they created “statuses”, where individuals could post how they were feeling at any given moment.

Before this point, there was virtually no word limit placed on a post. You could write a single sentence or a novel if you pleased. However, some people didn’t like this because it was time consuming to read long posts. MySpace compromised by limiting users to less than 200 characters. This way you could post how you felt and others could quickly read over it.

Microblogging was born in this moment and this concept would become the basis for Twitter, where users can express themselves through 140 characters. For time and convenience, this was a huge step forward. Instead of typing in different blog URLS, waiting for your dial-up internet, reading through long boring posts – now you could go to one site and scroll quickly through how your friends were feeling.

Facebook borrowed this idea when it created the “Newfeed”, a combination of your friend’s statuses, likes, and activity on the site. MySpace eventually was overtaken by Facebook, due to the ease of use and simple profile design. You no longer had to slave away and create a unique profile; all you had to do was create a profile picture and post statuses.

This was the basis of Facebook when I joined back in 2008: you logged on the iconic blue and gray home screen and were greeted with all of your friend’s statuses. From this point, you could “like” what they wrote and comment on what they had to say. However, “liking” a post seemed to remove the need to write a response. Instead of commenting on a status, you could mindless agree with what they had to say by clicking “like”.

Pages were created at this time so you could show your approval for products and ideas that were displayed on the site. From “Coca-Cola” to “I hate it when I get texts from a person I don’t want to talk to”. Suddenly you were able to show friends funny things that you saw on Facebook.

Going back to blogging, you wrote from a blank screen. On Facebook, instead of writing your own posts, or commenting on other people’s posts, you could just “like” them. This significantly decreased communication between users. The pages were created to bring people together but it instead removed the need to interact with friends.

Memes were brought from sites like 4chan and imgur onto Facebook. Instead of writing statuses, people began to share funny images. While memes can connect users through humor, Facebook continued to decrease communication.

This bring us to today, and why I decided to leave Facebook. The internet that I grew to love was built on communication and interaction between friends. We wrote about our lives and openly commented on each other’s profiles. Instead of sharing funny videos, we discussed what we doing or what we liked. We didn’t “like” what Bob had to say, we wrote that we agreed with him.

To be fair, much of this interaction is still happening; many of my Facebook friends comment on each other’s pictures and posts. However, the structure which shows these posts had changed dramatically. In web logging days, you scrolled through the prime content (the links) and selected directly what you wanted. When blogging was popular, you typed in URLs or saw the posts via sites like Xanga (blogging medium). Back on MySpace, you saw how everyone was doing as they posted their status. Facebook is different.

Right now Facebook claims that the average teenage user has around 300 friends and is subject to 1300 posts every day. The average person doesn’t have enough time to view all of this content, so Facebook decided to prioritize what you see. However, the algorithm that determines the “best” content is based on a flawed system.

Veritasium is a YouTube who has briefly discussed the flaws with this algorithm. You can watch that video here.

In short, the way Facebook determines what content to show you is based on two things: money and interaction. “Like” pages can only have their content shown if they decide to pay the site money. If you have 1,000,000 followers, only 1,000 of them may see your content… unless you give Facebook money. The other way is through interaction; when your friends, or your friend’s friends, comment, like, or share a post.

Likes are by far the most powerful determinant in whether you see content or not. If your friends “like” a post, Facebook sees this and thinks that you may “like” it as well. That’s why you can scroll through your “Newsfeed” and see pictures of people you don’t know; because your friend liked that picture. Remember that likes are mindless and don’t require much involvement. One person can scroll through their “Newsfeed” for an hour and like 150 posts, if not more.

When you sign on Facebook, you’re met with a very large “Newsfeed”. This “Newsfeed” is comprised of: friend’s posts, friend’s liked pages, friend’s liked/commented posts and the occasional advertisement. Many of these posts that your friends like are images or video, which take up more space than text status posts. Therefore most of your “Newsfeed” is pictures and video.

This contrasts with MySpace’s homepage, which exclusively showed how your friends feel. When you logged on, you saw that Suzie was “feeling great to be home”. Because you couldn’t comment on statuses (in early MySpace), you post on her profile or message her. If she didn’t respond, you see that Jeff is “doing great and glad to be starting a new job”. So you message him. If he doesn’t reply, you get offline and do something else.

Facebook eliminated this interaction with the “like” system. You don’t have to message Jeff to talk about tell him congratulations on the new job, you can show your approval by “liking” his status. If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m circling on the how there’s less meaningful interaction on Facebook.

So what did I learn after two weeks away…

1. Facebook consumes more time than people believe.

When you’re waiting for the bus, it’s natural to grab your phone and see what your friends are up to. If you’re between class periods at school, you better believe that people are checking their phones. Any moment the boss isn’t looking at work, checking your “Newsfeed” or playing games like Clash of Clans, Game of War, or Mafia Wars.

What happens is you fill your spare moments with mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. The effect of this is that waste your free moments with useless information. It really doesn’t matter what Jeff is doing if you’re checking Facebook every five minutes. Even to the average user who logs on twice a day, image what you could be doing with your extra time!

At first I struggled with keeping my phone in my pocket. It became such a habit to constantly pull my phone out to look at Facebook and Instagram. Over time I realized that everyone else was constantly on their phone. At work I would go out with friends on their smoke break. I thought it would be a great way to talk and interact but I discovered everyone was always checking their Facebook – disregarding the people around them.

2. People are always on their phones

Before the two week, I knew that everyone was on their phones constantly. Afterwards I really became concerned with how much time people waste sitting on their phones. You don’t really notice it until you stop doing it yourself. It’s like you’re a smoker, you may not realize how much you smoke until you quit. Then you’ll be painfully aware of how often everyone else goes out for a smoke.

My concern stems from how exhausted people seem to be. Instead of taking a moment to breath and look around, people are filling their spare moments with Clash of Clans. Our human-to-human interaction is suffering.

3. Microblogging is terrible

Expressing yourself in 140 character is too shallow in my opinion. Most microblog posts lack depth or well thought out ideas. Their only use is a quick laugh or smile. I see them as a precursor for more interaction rather than their own entity.

When you have a full blog post, you have something to gain from reading it. You can understand how a person thinks or a concept that they’re talking about. Even from this post you’ve gained some understanding about the history of blogging. While it has taken much longer to read than a single sentence post on Facebook or Twitter, it is much more intellectually valuable.

While I don’t log on Facebook to gain knowledge, I don’t log on to hear what your cat is doing every five minutes. Microblogging has trained the population to constantly post useless information. When you take time to write a longer post, you give much more information. Microblogging has significantly reduced the amount of useful information online.

So am I done with Facebook…?

In short, no. It’s a great way to connect with friends that are traveling or live far away. However, I’m reducing the amount of time that I spend on it. I’m also reducing how much content that I “like” and increasing interaction.

While monopoly is not the correct word to describe Facebook, it still seems to fit it. There aren’t many other options that all of my friends are on. So I’m stuck if I want to continue interacting with them online.

In the future, I will look for other media to use. Blogging on this site has changed my life and my perspective on social media. Sites like Flickr cater to another another specialty in me, as well as YouTube. I will continue to use Facebook but I will focus more energy on creating for other sites.

How many notifications did you have…?

On my primary Facebook, 34 notifications and 5 messages. Most of the notifications were birthdays or posts by pages that I subscribe to. Immediately upon returning I got useless notifications that users “liked” my comments on other people’s posts. Again frustrating me. Too many useless notifications.

 

Anyways, this post has become long enough. I saw we call it night!

252/365

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