Why (And How) I Turned Facebook Into Myspace

If you’re older, you remember Myspace. An early-web social media network, and arguably the first one to explode (define that as you wish). It was many things — a website for those who couldn’t technically make their own, a canvas to express yourself, a portal to share your artwork, photos or music, and a tool for communicating with others who had a Myspace page. You weren’t on the cutting edge if you didn’t have a Myspace page. FOMO was strong in the early days of the social web, and this walled garden played nicely with it. Myspace was one of the first blogging platforms and arguably helped popularize the term “blogging”. Each user’s page had a surprise, usually in the form of .gifs that were too big for early connections or browsers, or pages so hacked they couldn’t load properly. It was fun, exploratory, and different.

However, Myspace didn’t have a feed.

(For those who are now remembering their Myspace page with nostalgic delight, don’t forget how god-awful some of those .gifs were:)

Back in the Myspace days, you had to go to someone’s page to see what they were posting. You had to be interested in visiting others versus waiting for their updates to stream past your eyes. When is the last time you actually visited someone’s Facebook profile or organization’s page? Even if you still do on occasion, what’s the delta between that action and watching your feed simply do its thing? Visiting other Facebook pages just is not something we do.

It’s a major differentiation.

A little history to set the stage further

When Facebook started growing, Myspace users initially resisted. It was an ugly palette of white and blue with a bland layout. Worse, it didn’t allow for personal customization. It didn’t have half the features it has today (events, groups, pages). It just wasn’t fun; or, it simply wasn’t what we were used to. We said we’d never leave Myspace, but we did.

Things for Myspace ultimately went south. As more people migrated over to Facebook, the Myspace adoption was quickly dropped. Our Myspace friends weren’t updating their pages much. Nobody seemed to be splitting their lives on both platforms. Eventually we all went to the other side, and Tom was left alone. Despite our earlier protesting, we became hooked on the psychological draw that Facebook had ultimately stumbled into.

I believe the secret to Facebook’s success was the “news feed” that Facebook’s users adored. I know that was the difference maker for me — the alluring stream of updates (and advertising — $$$) from everyone you follow was so much easier than hopping between profiles. We are lazy people, and we want things handed to us. Want to know what happened in Sally’s life? It’ll probably show up eventually. Want to see where the cool kids are hanging out? Hang out in your feed long enough. Want to get lathered up over political news? You’re in the right place. The scroll wheel on your mouse has never seen more use.

I was addicted. And like most addicts, I finally hit rock bottom. I blame myself for overindulging on the feed. That fucker “fed” me alright.

The Feed

Remember Johnny 5 and his search for input? This has an impact on you; even if you’re only half-reading this barrage of posts from others, you’re still absorbing it. You’re in a flow state. This is a state that is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time. We’ve all been there. For me, this was leading to fatigue. Not in minutes, hours, or days, but years of Facebook use. Whenever disconnecting from the flow, I still had sputtering reactions of everything I consumed bouncing around my head. And it wasn’t typically a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Ultimately I started to feel like certain people, and their opinions, were constantly up my ass.

Here’s an example:

Joe is one of my best friends, but he lives in a bubble politically. He’s not flexible in his thinking. He posts things that I considered wrong and sometimes dangerous. Little by little, this pecked at me. The comments from people who agree with Joe would frustrate me. The closed-off behavior of the others in this bubble drained me, but I kept letting myself get sucked in. I wanted to pretend it didn’t, but I’m not above psychological standards. I’m human.

With Facebook’s attempts at personalizing their feeds, the need to retrieve someone’s update is decreased. The Facebook feed algorithm is influenced by your interactions, which in theory sounds fine. Perhaps even clever. But it demotes other things you are interested in but don’t necessarily interact with. Most casual users don’t realize this algorithmic suppression of well-rounded interests. The sea of updates and information from friends and organizations becomes centralized to the detriment of your broad interests

When the sadness caught up to me

Recently I started to feel sad about my friendships. I started to question my relationships. Do I have as many “friends” I think? Or are they more acquaintances? Facebook calls them friends, but if a feed is my only connection to them, to which I could be unknowingly unfollowed or suppressed to them by an algorithm, then what do I mean to them in real life?

Instead of thinking about our relationships horizontally, our thoughts and feelings about others are sculpted by an algorithm that funnels vertically.

I started to think about “scenes” I’m in. I’m in a local music scene, and a local photography scene. In both scenes there are “givers” and “takers”. The givers send me notes about enjoying my art and show up to my shows. The takers are mute unless promoting their own stuff. There are a lot more takers than givers these days. I also wonder if that’s a new generational behavior based on a social media culture.

But wait — wouldn’t someone who pushes their stuff out on a feed (ie, original content, funny things, etc) be a “giver”? Not from my perspective; it just looks like people are giving to get. Researchers have pointed out that for some, there’s a triggering of your brain’s nucleus accumbens when you share to earn attention, thus giving you an emotional pleasure. I actually believe this. When I share my music or photography, the positive response is definitely a high. But I can see how this becomes a one-sided, selfish attention seeking habit.

“Look at me, love me, make me feel good… but don’t expect me to give two shits back. Why? _____(fill in the blank with some excuse)______”

When I pulled back the lens, it all started to seem like a network breeding greed, narcissism, and egotism. As someone who is not these things, it started to feel isolating. I started to question motives and my relationships. To be completely transparent, I struggle with depression. I treat it, but sometimes it sneaks back and changes my perspective on things for a short period. This time, it might have been a good change of perspective.

In a rare depressed move, I expressed some of this sadness on a FB post. In hindsight, I don’t think I was trying to lure the response or trigger my own nucleus accumbens. I said I was taking a break, and I deleted the app from my phone. This was also during my birthday, to which I didn’t really want to see — and question — the sincerity of any birthday greetings I might get.

The result? It felt good. Real good. Like a weight off my shoulders. I was shocked.

But it also felt odd to choose this manner to avoid a platform that did still have access to all the humans in my life, the functionality to promote my stuff, and to consume actual content that I really did enjoy.

So within a couple days, I returned and posted:

This was really a planned experiment — to turn my Facebook into Myspace.

Comments started coming in, with some being more serious than others, asking if I was OK. It was a bit awkward since I never publicly share my depression before, but some were truly concerned. I was touched — it was good medicine. Many were playful, and I absolutely appreciate that as a form of care as well. It was interesting — I haven’t ever gotten 22 comments on a post (now up to 60+).

In hindsight, maybe a bit dramatic to announce that I’m cutting “friends,” as I usually wince when I see that from others. But one friend who I do really like and care about (and never see in my news feed) said,

almost nothing from my awesome friends (that's you by the way ) even turns up in my feed these days. Seems I only see posts from people I'd like to hear from when they post a threat to leave Fb

Bingo.

She’s exactly right. This post attracted more attention, so Facebook’s algorithm saw that and started pushing it into more “friend’s” feeds, thus generating more comments from people who don’t usually comment on my stuff, probably because they don’t see my stuff.

If you’re not aware, this is the way the Facebook algorithm works. It’s not widely known.

(I guess I see why people post negative shit. It leads to more engagement, thus algorithmic attention, thus more stimulating of the brain.)

That solidified it. The feed is fucked, and I want it gone from my life. But Facebook doesn’t want it gone. Facebook is a data company before all; their systems know you, and they want the stream for flushing advertisements in front of you. They think by “personalizing” a stream (which I think is less personalizing and more subjugating), you’ll feel that Facebook lust.

So, the only other choice to axing Facebook’s preferred qualities from my life is to make my experience how I want it to be for me.

Killing the feed, or classifying and unfollowing en masse

I went through every friend. I considered it a first wave. If I saw a person I have no affinity for, I cut them. A person who never responded to my last message, or a person who flaked out on photo shoot, they were immediately cut. If they give me an immediate hot flash of anger, they were dropped. Life is too short to be connected to people with shitty behavior.

I also classified each person into a list. Some of my friends are school mates I want to just have around, some are marketing friends I enjoy and learn from, others are musicians, others are family, others are photography friends, and so on. I don’t want to flood their feeds and add to the problem as I see it, so I can now tighten up on who sees what from me.

Last, I unfollowed everyone. Everyone. This felt weird at first; here I am unfollowing some of my favorite people. It took a while, but I committed to the experiment. I also unliked pages that I had previously liked. But I left likes on pages that reported news I wanted.

Last, I installed a chrome extension that blocked all Facebook ads.

The result

It’s been a couple weeks. It’s interesting to see Facebook’s news feed now. It’s only news I don’t want to miss. I’m still getting my notifications from anyone who included me into a conversation or tagged me in a photo. I’m still getting the joy I get from Facebook Groups I’m part of. I’m still getting the full functionality of Facebook Events.

It’s forcing me to think about people I really care about, and forcing me to visit their page. And moreso, it’s prompting me to reach out and actually say hello, since I don’t feel like these people are as “up my ass” as I once did.

I also don’t feel any obligation to use the like button. If the psychological motivation of liking something is to get something in return, well that wasn’t happening. I don’t have guilt feeding into the “like-economy.” If you want me to support you or something you do, send me a note. Communicate with me. Tell me what you’re thinking, one-on-one. If you’re too busy for that and rely on Facebook’s blast functionality, well you’re probably too busy for me. And I can be the same. It’s very healthy for me to know where I stand with people.

To sum it up, I feel much more in control of my time and my relationships.

Maybe there is some good that I’m missing, like this point of “likes” helping people be more empathetic in real life. Fair, but I don’t see a positive trend in any way. My universe has become riddled with more anger, hate, selfishness, and ugliness, and my experiment is just a way to see if I can’t turn that around. Even at the cost of a tech-giant’s ad revenue. So far, so good.

_______

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