I didn’t look at my Facebook news feed for three and a half months, and it was pretty nice!
Since the start of 2017, I have gone to great lengths to prevent myself from seeing my Facebook news feed. I have had zero access to Facebook on my phone, and limited functionality from my laptop. I could still send messages, view groups and profiles, and upload things, but couldn’t see what other people were up to unless I actively searched for it.
At first, there was a pretty strong urge to check this stream of information that I had spent a cumulatively ridiculous amount of time absorbing for years. I had become accustomed to filling dead time by mindlessly scrolling through memes that I hated, posts by people I barely knew, and of course the occasional gem of useful information. But by the end of 2016, I had become disgusted with it. I even wrote a poem, which has sat unpublished in a draft on Medium since the end of October (late in the election season, when my disgust was at its peak).
My thoughts and desires are reflected in the media that serves as mindless entertainment
As I feed on bytes of a reality’s projection into the digital realm.
I can browse for hours, amazed by the breadth and depth of human stupidity stewing in comment sections
And of seemingly infinite creativity and brilliance in videos and music and think pieces.
I can browse my own past traces left on social media: half-forgotten smiling photos, witty commentary
Making for a fine potion of nostalgia.
Be it a day of murky skies and persistent drizzle or a day of blue skies and bright leaves and crisp air
The outside world does not distract me from my endless distractions.
Scrolling and clicking with apparent nonchalance
While deep down desperately hoping for something to make it worthwhile.
While on a winter break vacation with my girlfriend, I asked her to change my Facebook password so that I would not be distracted during our trip. We kept the arrangement going into the new year, and over time the urges to refresh refresh refresh diminished. I stopped impulsively going to the website every time I mentally shifted gears. I became blissfully unaware of news beyond checking a small number of sources each day, a downgrade from the deluge of information to which I was accustomed. I expect that I missed out on a lot of political outrage in that time, and while I am sure I would have found plenty of engaging content, I was probably much happier having not read any of it.
At the same time, this led to a gradually growing sense of social isolation. Friends who regularly check the site would say, “Oh did you hear about So-and-So getting a new job?” and where I would have normally seen So-and-So’s post about a new job first thing in the morning, sandwiched between a think-piece about intersectional feminism and a “tag your friends” meme, I was totally clueless. This isolation has led to me unblocking the news feed today. I scrolled through it for a few minutes, and it was exactly as I remembered. I will be keeping track of how I use it over the next few days. I don’t intend to give myself phone access just yet (for the same reasons I would not make it easy for myself to have intravenous access to cocaine), and I hope to find a balance between limiting my time on the news feed and knowing the latest scandal to break in my undergraduate newspaper. I suppose some curation of the feed would also make sense at this point, but I will leave that for another time.
This is probably the point in this post where I could make some sweeping generalizations about the effect of social media on society, but what can I say that hasn’t been said more cleverly by someone else? There are positives and negatives, mixed in differently for every individual. For me personally, it was a good experience to block the news feed because of how much time I was wasting with it; some people might have problems instead related to self-esteem and others might not have any problems at all. The goal of this post is mostly self-reflective, but can also serve as a lesson in creating positive change in one’s life: if a thing is causing problems but you still do it anyway, sometimes the best course of action is to make that thing unreasonably difficult to do. It seems like an obvious, and perhaps superfluous (Why would you keep doing the thing anyway? Just use willpower, man!), idea, but the concept of “tying your hands” to improve yourself has some nice subtleties, which I hope to write more about in the future.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check my news feed.
I am going to expand upon this post in a broader one about how I have dealt with procrastination in general for the past 7 months or so, and some insights I have gained during that time. Let’s hope I don’t procrastinate too much to finish it!