A quest to tame technology-driven interruptions and distractions in my daily life.

Archive for July, 2011

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Facebook. The final frontier?

I got rid of my laptop. I neutered my smartphone. I banished work email to 9-6 on workdays and all things digital away from sleep times. The effect has been very positive, but there is still one big distraction I have yet to curb: Facebook.

I joined the ubiquitous social network about 3 years ago as a way to explore other avenues of business development. I soon realized that this is not what personal profiles were meant for. Combined with my iPhone and a new baby, I soon became addicted to the new thing to check and update—which gave me a seemingly endless stream of yummies in the form of comments and friend requests, each of which buzzed in my pocket as if to say, “we like you!”

It is no secret that Facebook has taken over. It is now the most visited site on the internet. It is something that I not only use personally, but it has become a stand-alone service for the PR/branding company I own with my wife. We offer social media strategies and administration for several clients at a time. It’s a fun part of public relations.

Still, enjoy it as I may, I can no longer ignore the negative affects it has on my life.

Like many people, I have come to accept Facebook as a necessary evil like TV or cell phones. It is something we need to communicate with the world—I tell myself. It is a part of my job. If not for it, how would I keep up with my friends, get invited to some events, and find out about all those goofy news stories and videos? Some of this is true, but a lot of the behavior Facebook encourages in me and others has me troubled and so I’m looking for a way to prune it way back.

A lot of really smart people have done some great analysis on social media and what it does to our interactions and to our brains, so this is not bold new territory. But I wanted to ponder on what it does to me personally:

1. It creates a distorted self image. For me, since I am ostensibly in the image business, my own opinion of myself starts being shaped by my profile, my number of “friends,” and the comments people leave there. A perfect example is a birthday where hundreds of people wish me happy birthday on my wall, but very few people call. Naturally, I think, I start identifying more with the more comforting and flattering scenario. Does it feel better to imagine oneself with over a thousand “friends” or just couple of real friends?

2. It fosters a false need for validation. Although this is better now that I no longer do internet-enabled apps, the nature of Facebook is posting and commenting then checking back to see who has “liked” or commented. It is a very narcissistic activity to compulsively look to see how much attention we are getting.

3. It is a waste of time. What I like about Facebook is the ability to share things with people I know and to learn about the people who I know but likely would never hang out with otherwise. What I don’t like about it is the boob tube/rabbit hole factor wherein I just find myself mindlessly revisiting the site throughout the day and even between and in the middle of other tasks—just sort of channel surfing my friends. Like picking a scab, it is hard to stop but it is a really senseless activity.

4. It dilutes real relationships and interactions. This weekend, I went to my high school reunion and found that there was no catching up to do. The people I wanted to stay in touch with where already “friends” on Facebook and so I knew about their kids and jobs and lives. And in everyday conversation, I find that there is often nothing to share because I already know what the other person is up to. Often, people just assume that I’ve been trolling their Facebook wall and know about their lives—surprised to find out I didn’t know…

5. It is addictive. I know that I have an addictive personality, especially when it comes to digital things. Hence, this blog and the reasons for it, I suppose. At times, I’ve been addicted to video games, gadgets, and news sites. Regardless of the back-story, I find myself being sucked into the Facebook realm. I will think about something to post to Facebook in the back of my mind and it will linger there until I post it… then I’ll wonder what people thought of it.

On one hand, I guess I could just shrug it off and accept that this is how things are now and that there is no plausible way to just suspend my account. But my sense is that finding The Off Switch of Facebook is inevitable. I’m not interested in just canceling my account, but—like work emails—I think I could really get a lot out of shutting it off for nights and weekends.

I haven’t decided how exactly yet. Maybe I’ll give myself a Facebook curfew or maybe I’ll find a hack or app that will limit my usage to a number of hours or times of the day. Whatever I do, I am vowing to not only be more vigilant and self-aware in my usage of social networks, but also to take a stand against them in my personal life. I’d like to reclaim that sense of discovery that comes from talking to a friend and learning about their lives.

Something else I’m realizing about myself is that in most things, my approach is to yield. Despite our go go go kill kill kill society, I feel like the wiser route is often to let others go/talk/do first then decide what I do next. But with technology, I feel like I cannot simply trust or yield to it because it has no conscience—or limits. With technology, I feel a responsibility to take a stand and to play an active role in how it shapes my life. Facebook is no exception.

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