And Letting It Get Less out of You
Facebook is incredible. Even just 10 years ago it would have been hard to think that there would be one go-to online identity service.
That instead of giving someone your number when you meet them, just exchanging names could be enough to stay in touch with them for years.
That you don’t lose touch with people when they move. That you could keep up with the lives of people living anywhere in the world. That you could share pictures with all your friends at the click of a button.
But all these benefits come at a cost. Since Facebook is a for-profit company and not a public service, their main goal is to make money. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s worth keeping in mind how it affects Facebook’s interaction with us, its users.
“If you’re not paying then you’re not the customer; you are the product being sold”
Setting aside issues of privacy and Facebook gathering and selling your information, Facebook makes money by literally charging advertisers for a piece of your attention. One of the main ways in which it does this is through the News Feed.
There are entire teams dedicated to optimising the News Feed to keep you scrolling. The more you scroll, the more adverts you see. The more adverts you see, the more money Facebook makes.
I recently read the book Deep Work by Cal Newport, in which he advocates deliberate use of social media. In fact, he goes so far as to recommend quitting social media altogether. While I think that’s overkill, his book led me to re-examine how I used Facebook and to come up with a few easy ways to get the most out of it.
Making Facebook your own
Keep what you like, get rid of the rest
By changing the way you access Facebook, you can make it what you want it to be.
Thinking about how I use Facebook, these are the things I value:
- One platform to message any of my friends
- Being invited to events and inviting others to events
- Seeing significant updates for certain close friends
These are the things I catch myself doing which I want to avoid:
- Mindlessly opening Facebook on my phone and scrolling through the News Feed any time I go a second without stimulation
- Seeing just the good bits of other people’s lives and wondering why I’m not on holiday, why I’m not running a marathon, or why I’m not moving in to a new house
- “Oh wow! That girl I met in Thailand in 2012 just dyed her hair! ”
To serve Facebook’s advertising goals, the above are addictive by design and so the best way to avoid them is probably to avoid the News Feed altogether.
It turns out that this isn’t too hard to do. I’m using a combination of tools I found through recommendations from friends (thanks Ed Moyse!), Google, and Quora:
Kill News Feed for Chrome
This extension gives you Facebook, minus the News Feed. Once installed, you can go to facebook.com and do absolutely anything you like — look up friends, message people, check your notifications, sign up to events. Except for scrolling through the News Feed.
Bookmark this on your phone. This shows just your notifications, for those times when you’re thinking “I wonder if anything has happened that I should know about” but don’t want to get dragged into anything irrelevant. I use this, together with Messenger, instead of the Facebook app on my phone.
While this might not work for everyone, I’ve found it to be really useful so far. However you feel about this exact solution, you might like to think about what‘s right for you rather than leaving it up to Facebook to decide. And if you come to any interesting conclusions, I’d love to hear about them!
Thanks for reading! If you love the News Feed and this all seems a bit odd to you, you might like this article on a few not-so-well-known ways to customise the News Feed.
If you liked what you read here, I’d highly recommend reading Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work.