Facebook detox - my one year long experiment
TL;DR: I quit using Facebook more than 1 year ago and the overall effect was beneficial to me. I stopped wasting time in useless Facebook posts and started wasting time into more enjoyable internet activities. I may go back to it someday if the conditions are right. Maybe you should quit it too.
In the middle of 2017 I decided to install a (very crappy) app that tracks your phone usage behavior: how many times you unlocked your phone, which apps you used the most and for how long, among other stats (interestingly this feature is now baked into all recent smartphone OS’s).
By doing this I was able to see that I was spending almost 90% of my screen time on three apps: Google Maps, Facebook and Youtube. Google Maps was, by far, the one on which I spent the most time during the week (almost 2.5 hours a day), but that’s due to São Paulo’s insanely long commute (at least I get the chance to hear some of my beloved podcasts). The third one was Youtube. And the second was Facebook.
This opened my eyes to the fact that I was spending, on average, 2+ hours per day scrolling through rants, humblebrags, flexing, fake woke branding, bad news reporting and other kinds of useless information.
After reading a lot about social media addiction and other people’s experiences with quitting Facebook altogether I decided to quit it myself.
This post is a reflection about that experience.
Increased News Signal to Noise ratio
As stated in this Farnam Street’s blog post about one of the N. N. Taleb’s books (Antifragile):
When consuming information, we strive for more signal and less noise. The problem is a cognitive illusion: we feel like the more information we consume the more signal we receive.
While this is probably true on an absolute basis, Nassim Taleb argues in this excerpt from Antifragile, that it is not true on a relative basis. He calls is the noise bottleneck.
Taleb argues that as you consume more data and the ratio of noise to signal increases, the less you know about what’s going on and the more inadvertent trouble you are likely to cause.
To the exception of incurring into some confirmation bias, after the fear of missing out on important news and events died down, I noticed that my level of “the world is going to hell in a handbasket” anxiety drastically decreased and now I’m able to really pay attention and dive deep into the news that really matters to me, confirming Taleb’s opinions.
From my experience, the news that are really important to you will find a way to reach you somehow, be it through friends, coworkers, group chats etc.
My final heuristic on this matter ended up being that news quality is proportional to news delay: if you refrain from incessantly reading every piece of news in your social feeds you’ll increase the average quality and relevance of the news that reach you but, at the same time, you’ll usually be the last to know; if you try to consume as much news as possible you’ll be in the front of the pack when it comes to the latest news but you’ll have a hard time discerning what’s relevant or even true.
As in my professional and personal life the information quality is more important than it’s latency or throughput I reached the conclusion that on this aspect leaving Facebook was good.
Procrastinating more efficiently
As a whole, I did not reduce the amount of time that I spend procrastinating. The difference is that now I have to actively search for means of procrastination that really interests me. So instead of mindlessly scrolling through other peoples’ euro trip photos, MLM click baits and political hate porn I spend my time watching some nonsensical talks, useless survival guides (at least for me), deeply unknown and irrelevant web culture history, and, sometimes, technical videos (excerpts from my recent Youtube history).
I’m not saying that the things on which I waste my time now are better than they were, I’m just saying that they leave me much more satisfied and feeling less like a waste of life.
Being a jerk by pretending to have parted ways with the sheeple
Everybody likes to think of themselves as better than others (vegans, emacs / vim evangelists, blog writers etc). Quitting Facebook will only confirm what you always suspected: that you are a special snowflake after all.
My god, how I hate my past self for using Facebook as the authentication method in other services. In most services that offer this kind of authentication it’s either hard of flat out impossible (I’m talking to you Spotify) to change your authentication method, meaning that EVERY SINGLE TIME that you need to log into something you’ll have to reactivate your Facebook profile, login and deactivate it.
Believe me when I say it: that’s a non trivial amount of pain in the ass.
Missing out on events and milestones
Let’s face it: nowadays, Facebook events is the way people use to invite each other to parties, conferences, courses and almost every kind of non-recurrent event.
With that in mind, if you quit Facebook you have to accept the fact that you’ll either going to be left / miss out on a lot of social gatherings or you’ll have to spend a lot of time and energy scouting the internet, family, friends and cliques for important and fun events.
The same applies for some of your colleagues’ life milestones: it’s not uncommon for me to, while reactivating Facebook to log into Spotify, find out that some school time friend of mine has already married and recently had a son.
Less local memes
I have to admit that none of the problems above hit me so hard as not being daily exposed to brazilian memes because, boy, do I like memes.
IMHO Brazil’s one of the world’s best meme superpowers but unlike U.S. memes, which can be found almost everywhere (Youtube, 4chan, Reddit), brazilian memes are posted almost exclusively on Facebook and Instagram (there’s some meme activity on Twitter but there it’s more normie oriented).
Was it worth it?
All things considered, I think that quitting Facebook had a net positive impact on my life. As I’ve always been a somewhat antisocial person, it’s safe to say that the upside more than compensated for the downside of this decision.
It’s clear to me that seeing other people happy, even knowing that most of it is pure facade, made my life more miserable than it needed to be. Now I find myself a less depressed and anxious person.
So even though I cannot attribute all my recent quality of life gains exclusively on quitting Facebook, I’d be hard pressed to defend that it had a overall negative impact on my wellbeing.
What about other social networks?
You may have inferred by now that my next life hurdle is Youtube “addiction”. My rock bottom was one week into my university’s vacation in which I spent 25 hours watching videos (that averages to 3.5 hours a day). Reducing Youtube consumption is my next goal.
As for other social networks and platforms, I’d say that the only ones that I spend more than 2 hours per week are Reddit, which I only recently started using, and HackerNews, which is my daily source of curated news, but none of these is creating a major problem in my life.
Will I go back?
Probably yes. As life goes on getting in touch with the important people in my life is becoming increasingly harder. Seeing their posts in my feed can function as a trigger to contact them more often.
But in order for me to go back, the following conditions must be met:
- I have to improve my self control as to avoid binge swiping my feed
- I have to rid my contacts of toxic people and pages and be left with enough relevant people
My plan is to try to go back for 1 week periods every 6 months and test for the conditions above (I already failed miserably in my first attempt).
Should you do the same?
If you feel that it’s taking a lot of your time or is making you more miserable and you think that you can handle the consequent social isolation of quitting I’d say do it, but if your answer to this is no I’d suggest that you take it slow and try to reduce your Facebook usage over time by using some app time monitoring solution.
Even though I’ve also disabled my Instagram account, I never was a heavy user of the platform, so disabling it had no major impact in my life and that’s why I didn’t comment about it. Your mileage may (and probably will) vary, though.