Graduating from Facebook Kindergarten to Facebook High School – an exercise is Minimalism.

I recently wrote about how I’ve unfollowed all but a few close friends and family on Facebook.

I’ve removed everyone on Facebook except my core family and friends – literally about a dozen people. I also removed all notifications to prevent the ever nagging request from the app to interact with it. Since doing so I’ve noticed a few things.

For one I’ve started writing for half an hour every day for the last week. An activity I’ve wanted to expand on for a while. Secondly I’ve started reading a lot more. My wife and I have started leaving our phones in the kitchen at night, the only devices allowed in the bedroom are our watches (for an alarm) and our Kindles which we recently purchased for this purpose (bed time reading).

So, what have I noticed with Facebook itself?

  1. Those dozen or so people that I follow don’t post that much.
  2. I still open the app as a force of habit but I often see the same top story that I’ve been seeing for the last few days. A new post is a nice surprise.
  3. Because of point 2, I’m training myself not to bother opening it. I open it, and close it so quickly, due to no new updates, that over the last few weeks I’ve started catching myself before even opening it.
  4. Occasionally I’ll think of someone and decide to intentionally check out their Facebook profile to see what they’ve been up to. Often this will create a desire to actually contact that person and have a real interaction with them.

Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, did a great TED Talk about the size of social groups that we can manage and showed through studies with apes that a social group of 150 (The Dunbar Number) is as big as most social groups get. Our brains are not able to manage more relationships and the time we have available to invest is not enough.

However, our core group of social relationships, those that we would turn to in times of crisis is more like 5–10 people.

My facebook friends list is over 500. Ridiculous. Unmanageable.

Yesterday I found the below article about someone that had done exactly the same thing as me. It’s worth a read. He thinks he broke his Facebook, but I’m not so sure. I think he’s gone down the same path as me, possibly for different reasons, but we’ve landed in the same situation; somewhere great.

As the author points out, Facebook has been building up a picture of you over the last ten years based on what you ‘like’ – what your friends like, what you click through to view and more. Your behaviour in a medium that you’d never had access to before and had no idea of the impact it may have has built up a profile of you, and they now believe that’s you.

You can think of Facebook as a bunch of tiny buttons that you’re asked to push all the time. But you can also think of Facebook itself as one giant button marked “This Is Who I Am!” Just like all those tiny buttons have an undo function, that giant button should have an undo feature as well. You should be able to restart your Facebook experience. You should be able to hit a button that takes the algorithms determining what you see back to zero, so that you can try to retrain Facebook anew while leaving your friend networks intact.

Isn’t that a bit like starting out in life, not knowing anything about the world, not knowing who you are or who you’re going to become? As an infant and then a teen you have people that have been through it before giving you advice and helping you make sense of it and this helps form the person we are. We’ve never had that with Facebook, we’re the first generation to have it in our lives and we’re only now just learning what that means for our relationships. Facebook has built our social profile up based on these ‘juvenile’ behaviours and we are now that person for ever more. Or are we?

Now the first generation of users are starting to grow up and realise that maybe that’s not the person we want to be online. We’re starting to realise the detrimental effects it can have on our social group, trying to manage that many people on a social platform that doesn’t account for the Dunbar Number. It’s time to grow up and graduate out of kindergarten and become high school students in the virtual world.

Maybe we can’t wipe that original profile that we built over the last ten years, but can we manipulate it into being something better that serves us, rather than being enslaved to? Unless of course you’re willing to delete your account and start again – but then there’s all those photos, those cool cat videos you saved and friends that you might one day have a need to contact.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Facebook and other social platforms have a place. I always liked the idea of being able to travel and share my location or travel plans and have someone from my past that lives locally pop up and say “come visit, I have a bed” and catching up with people for the first time in decades. I have a lot of international friends and that really appeals to me. I’ve never culled my Facebook friends for this reason. I also often see friends post questions to the ‘hive mind’ of Facebook to get a recommendation or help with a problem and I think it can have some great advantages along those lines.

As I continue to retrain my brain in how to use Facebook, I’m wondering whether my intentionality will help retrain Facebook in to what to serve up to me and whether my profile may adapt to more focused interactions with my core friends. I may even add a few more people to my group of ‘followed’ family and friends, although up to now that’s not happened because I’m enjoying the break.

This is a continuing experiment so I’ll let you know how things develop. For now though, I’m enjoying focusing on a small group of people that I’d like a closer relationship with.

Is it time to change the way we interact on social media?