Facebook is the Television of Social Media

I quit Facebook.

Okay, it’s mostly the election. It has made me realize that I’m exposing myself a lot to people and behaviors I do not want to model – even from people I consider quite decent people. I know from past experience that I will rise or sink to the behaviors around me, so, that was a no-brainer in Noël’s World. Perhaps if I were of stronger character, that would not make a difference. But I’m not. Since the human being I want to be is important to me, that’s one biggie.

The other reason is that I am finding that it is reducing my attention span and putting my attention in the wrong places. It’s a distraction from writing fiction. It’s a distraction from taking the time to build out ideas that would be useful.

I also think it was kind of like putting saccharine in a hummingbird feeder. I was getting the sweet taste I would get from my limited need for social interaction, but it wasn’t like I was actually maintaining real, live relationships. I was anxious and burnt out from all the crap online and as a byproduct didn’t want to hang out with people in real life. That’s not a good idea, either for me or people I am close to. While I can see online interaction being a boon to people who are shut-in or distant from people they want to interact with, I am not entirely sure the Facebook wall is good for that. It encourages some amazingly thin and shallow dialog that would be better served via other means of communication. As a member of alt.callahans back in the day, as well as having met many of my RL friends first online, I am not going to knock online communication as a way to connect, mind. There has been an explosion of community building that is truly excellent, and I’m glad it’s there.

I’m not even going to knock funny pictures of cats being forwarded and things like that. Sharing humor can be a good thing.

It’s that the format of Facebook doesn’t really encourage deliberate selection or what I can only call content creation. Yes, you can filter your feed down pretty heavily. But still, it’s a lot more about passive consumption even if it feels interactive. I lost my taste for passive consumption back when I was about twelve, had gotten a really bad report card and had been banned from the television for six weeks. While it wasn’t exactly my parents’ intent, it did break my fondness for being fed information without serious processing from me. (Never did fix my grades, but that’s another story entirely).

The algorithms that control your feed are influenced by your reaction and interaction with the material, but not entirely in ways that I could in any way call curation of that material. Hmmm… curating what you feed your brain. There’s a topic for another article. If you jump on it before I do, comment with the link to it, because I would like to read your thoughts on that! This goes back to passively sitting in front of the television for hours. You’re emotionally engaged. You’re reacting. But you’re not choosing very deliberately what you’re feeding your brain. If you’re at all concerned about the person you’re becoming, it’s worth a thought or two.

After being away only a few days, I do notice how interacting with Facebook has influenced my behavior. I often report silly conversations between my husband I and on my wall. It’s mildly funny and generally benign, so I can’t say it’s contributing to anything bad in the world. But, what’s the important thing – enjoying the conversation with my husband or reporting what was said and polishing it for humor’s sake? I mean, that starts to make it sound like so-called reality TV, doesn’t it? If you know me at all, you know I have Views about reality TV, and few of them printable. This morning, my husband said something funny in response to a comment, and I got the urge to polish and format it to put on Facebook. Then I felt pretty foolish.

I don’t even want to get into what the habit of paying attention in tiny slices has done to my writing. It’s going to take years for me to recover from that!

4 Replies to “Facebook is the Television of Social Media”

  1. There was a time when I performed stand-up comedy. Until I realized that I had started automatically assessing my normal life, looking for things to use in my act. Then I quit.

    I am experiencing the same things about Facebook that you are. I think your allusion to saccharine is more accurate than you might think. FB has been engineered from the ground-up to be as magnetic as possible, and more importantly, to do what AOL failed to do: to REPLACE the “Internet” with a commercial product that alllllmost acts like it, but is much more tightly monitored, controlled, and orchestrated.

    1. I was definitely finding my very limited desire for social contact satisfied by scanning the feed, so yeah, very much like feeding artificial sweetener to a hummingbird by filling up on what isn’t going to nourish. The problem is, that’s not what is really needed in terms of social interaction, you know? I know you’re considerably more gregarious than I am, but person to person communication is important even to the most introverted of us. While I don’t think that online connection is necessarily entirely a false connection, I think most Facebook interaction on feeds is no connection at all.

  2. While I certainly agree with your main points about Facebook, you haven’t made any mention of a benefit of it that keeps *me* returning to it (albeit with heavy blocking of stuff I don’t care about): groups. I am a member of a number of special-interest groups (mainly photography and astronomy-related), and the interaction I have with other members of those groups has mostly been wonderful and instructive. All of them are world-wide, so it isn’t practical for in-person get togethers with them; *this* is the way to connect and share with them, as FB is nearly universal in membership. Just a thought.

  3. That saccharine analogy really chimes with me too. I don’t even get much human pseudo-contact out of it except to use it as a chat program with a few friends, for which we haven’t established a substitute. Work usually uses up my peopling energy but I might try getting out of my house more (tonight even).

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