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internet

Your Instagram feed makes people sad.

From MarketWatch (last year), “New study claims Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are linked to depression”:

Why does social media make so many people feel bad? The study didn’t analyze this, but Hunt offers two explanations. The first is “downward social comparison.” You read your friends’ timelines. They’re deliberately putting on a show to make their lives look wonderful. The result: “You’re more likely to think your life sucks in comparison,” says Hunt. The second reason: FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out.

On Instagram, I filter my life through the rosiest possible light. Here’s a theoretical example: one night last winter, my family played “Go Fish” by firelight. It was totally a “’grammable” moment—if I first cleared away the clutter, staged the shot, and heavily edited the photo.

But that post would conveniently leave out the seven failed attempts to ignite the logs before they finally caught. And it wouldn’t include the tantrum my daughter threw when we refused to top off her fireside milk cup. Or mention the fact that we hadn’t touched the fireplace for years before that night.

Is it dishonest to share only the joys—and hide the annoyances and heartbreaks? And if others get jealous when scrolling through my curated feed, should I feel guilty? ■

Categories
internet

Facebook escape: tips for deleting your account

Yesterday, I finally deleted my Facebook account.

The great divorce

I’ve flirted with deletion for months now, repeatedly deactivating Facebook, only to come crawling back a few days later.

This past weekend, however, I made the first change that couldn’t be easily undone: deleting all 500+ friend connections using a Google Chrome script. That step had “weight” to it, since rebuilding my social graph would mean starting from scratch. I would have to manually, painstakingly send each individual request, and confused friends would hesitate to accept, since they’d wonder whether my account was legit (“Wasn’t I already friends with Matt? Is this a spammer?”)

As it turns out, the great unfriending purge lent me just the momentum I needed. Once that was done, I felt liberated to finally delete my account for good. Of course, as Facebook eagerly reminded me, I haven’t escaped quite yet. There’s a two-week waiting period; if I log in again, my old account will instantly be resurrected (“It’s a MIRACLE!”). This is the last Facebook face-off; the company leaves the door unlocked for those whose willpower can’t last the fortnight.

But, again, the unfriending step has given my Facebook departure some inertia. Because that old account no longer has any friends, I’m not tempted to come crawling back. Even if I did log in, there’d be nothing to see; Facebook’s a ghost town to the friendless.

Facebook deleted, but

I do have a confession. At the same time I was deleting my old account, I was creating a new one—a “dummy” account that’s 100% undiscoverable and nearly empty. It has no Facebook Messenger history (by which old friends could track down my profile). It has no ‘like’ history or profile info for Facebook to target advertisements against.

Why maintain a dummy account at all? I’d rather cut ties with Facebook completely, but there are three reasons I’m keeping my toe in the water:

  1. IMing with my wife. We use different chat services for different purposes. iMessage works well for on-the-go contact. Google Hangouts serves as our ‘work chat’ solution. But we still need an asynchronous conversation for sharing articles and links. Divorced from the grossness of Facebook itself, Messenger is actually a pretty decent messaging app. More importantly, it’s one my wife is already using. So my dummy Facebook account has one (and only one) friend: my wife.[1]
  2. Promoting my online work. Although Facebook isn’t for me, others have found ways to make the service tolerable—even valuable. I want them to be able to enjoy my work; a reader is a reader, no matter how they find me.
  3. Keeping tabs on new tech developments. Like it or not, Facebook is a major player in the online space. They’re likely to be influential for years—even decades—to come. If I want to understand the features and products that Facebook will announce in the future, I’m going to need an account. I might as well have it ready to go.

Summary: tips for deleting your Facebook account

Quitting Facebook is hard. The service is optimized for capturing and recapturing human attention; it’s literally engineered to keep you from leaving. But it’s possible to ease yourself out the door, so that the actual account deletion feels anticlimactic. To summarize, here are my recommendations:

  1. Try account deactivation first. Short-term Facebook “fasts” are a good first step. They wean you off the service’s constant, algorithmic stimulation. Plus, you may be pleasantly surprised how much more time you have and how much better you feel. These realizations will make it easier to take the deletion step.
  2. Unfriend everyone before deleting. Taking this step makes it less likely that you’ll reverse your decision after the fateful click. One note: Facebook makes it infuriatingly difficult to unfriend people in bulk. Fortunately, there are browser extensions that can speed up the process dramatically.
  3. Consider using a “dummy” account. Facebook’s orbit is hard to escape. You may need to manage a Facebook page for work, or Facebook Messenger may be your family’s default chat platform. For these one-off needs, create a replacement account, locked down and hidden from everyone you choose. Just remember that Facebook specializes in increasing user engagement; it will do everything it can to suck you deeper into its ecosystem. ■

  1. It sounds kind of sad when I put it that way, huh?  ↩
  2. Pencil artwork courtesy of Vecteezy.

Categories
internet

Twitter bankruptcy: skipping unread tweets

My weekend was busy: a bike ride down a remote mountain canyon, riotous with fall color. Delicious meals shared with family and friends. Home projects to prep our cabin for the winter. A mile-long hike to waterfalls, interrupted repeatedly by toddler discoveries (and potty breaks).

Good things, every one of them. But the weekend’s activities left very little time for checking Twitter. By the time we settled down last night, I had fallen a full day behind my timeline, and I was too exhausted to wade through the 500+ tweet deficit.

For some people, that’s no problem; just skip past the older stuff to the current tweets, right? But that’s tough for me; I’m a Twitter “completionist”—i.e., I try to read every tweet in my feed, and I hate jumping ahead. Skipping a Twitter backlog feels like a loss: what clever observations will go unobserved? What news stories will I never even hear about? What blog post ideas will go uncaptured and unwritten?

But although I hate feeling out of sync, Twitter debt provides several benefits:

  • That high unread count indicates that I’m staying active. I spend too many weekends comatose on the couch, checking Twitter so frequently that I’m always caught up.
  • Twitter backlogs remind me to follow fewer people. If my timeline’s unread count skyrockets every every time I disconnect, I’m probably following too many people. Twitter completionists must ruthlessly cull their follow lists, dropping tweeps who overpost (or underdeliver).

Even being forced to declare “Twitter bankruptcy” can be good:

  • People get the priority. It shouldn’t be difficult to choose between reading strangers’ tweets and being present for loved ones. My daughter won’t be two forever; she won’t always chirp, “Come play?” When I skip unread tweets, it feels like I’m prioritizing what really matters.
  • Good content tends to resurface, anyways. Even if I miss an amazing tweet when it’s first posted, chances are that someone else will retweet it later. If it doesn’t come around again, it probably wasn’t worth my time, anyways.

This morning, I finally let go. With some reluctance and a bit of grief, I tapped the status bar, then watched Tweetbot scroll past hundreds of unread updates. After a moment of respectful silence, my unread count silently started ticking upwards again. ■


Categories
internet

The everyday annoyance of quitting Facebook

I first shuttered my Facebook account a few months ago. For the most part, I haven’t felt tempted to reactivate, even though I miss reading friends’ comments on our kid’s photos.

But Facebook isn’t just “sticky” from a relationship perspective. There are also some practical annoyances that make it difficult to resist the blue behemoth. From time to time, I’ve even given in and and temporarily reopened my account (then immediately deactivated it again). Here’s what keeps dragging me back:

  • Many web services rely on Facebook identity for authentication. When I sold my old Apple Watch a few weeks ago, I was forced to reactivate my Facebook account in order to log into Swappa. Lesson learned: whenever possible, avoid using third-party services (e.g. Facebook, Google, or Twitter) to create accounts for new apps and web services. If an app forces you to connect to Facebook, consider skipping it (and letting the developer know why).
  • Some meatspace (i.e., real-life) groups only communicate via Facebook. For example, my local ultimate frisbee “league”[1] drums up attendance each week by posting to a shared Facebook group. Without an active account, I can’t chime in—or even check whether anyone else is planning to show up. Lesson learned: I only have myself to blame here, since I was the one who originally created the Facebook group. Looking back, a shared text message thread would have accomplished the same thing, while remaining platform-agnostic.
  • Similarly, many local businesses use Facebook as their only web presence. I’ve occasionally been tripped into logging in, just to get at a restaurant’s operating hours or menu. Lesson learned: fortunately, most Facebook page info is accessible to anonymous users, though it’s not hard to imagine Facebook someday locking this data behind their authentication wall. In that case, there’s not much you can do, unless you want to (a) pester business owners by complaining about their skimpy web presence or (b) offer to help them establish a “real” website. And even if you have the time for this, many business owners are reluctant to pay for web hosting, when so many of their customers live in Facebook anyways.
  • Since I started blogging again, I’ve wondered whether I ought to be promoting my posts and podcasts on Facebook. I don’t want to do this, but it would drive more traffic. Lesson learned: no good solution here. If I want Facebook users’ eyeballs, I will have to reopen my account and cross-post there. There’s no way to update a Facebook page without maintaining an active personal profile.

Of course, if I were really serious about quitting Facebook, I could simply delete my account. At that point, it would be a chore to re-join, since I’d have to rebuild my friends list and repopulate my profile. Momentum would likely keep me from getting sucked into Facebook’s orbit again.

But for all the reasons listed above (and especially the last one), I haven’t yet had the courage to quit, cold-turkey. ■


  1. And by “league”, I mean “a dozen people who like to drop frisbees and jog meekly around an elementary school soccer field.”  ↩



Categories
internet

A long sentence vs. a short paragraph: on Twitter’s character limit change

Last night, Twitter began public testing of a long-rumored, controversial increase to its character limit, doubling the quota from 140 characters to 280. It’s the most significant change to the service since its debut over a decade ago—the difference between a quip and a quote, between a thought and an idea, between an objection and an argument.

To illustrate this, I’ve pasted a few familiar quotations below; each of these fits under the new 280-character limit; the struck-through text would have been cut off under the old 140-character rule.

Winston Churchill, address to the House of Commons, June 1940

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg address, November 1863

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation… can long endure.

Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. Declaration of Independence, 1776

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement address, 2005

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death.


It’ll be fascinating to see how user behavior changes once the longer quota goes live. Until yesterday, every tweet was understandable at a glance. Now, browsing your timeline will require require actual reading (heaven forfend). Will Twitter still feel like Twitter? ■