Weaning off Facebook

I’ve known for awhile that Facebook is a net negative in my life. I like keeping up with people I care about, but the people I care most about are not usually the ones dominating my feed.

I still want to be on Facebook. A close high school friend just joined, and I would not have known about another friend’s death without Facebook. It’s also the best place to share photos with family. I just want to be on Facebook much less.

My current solution, since self-control wasn’t working, is to delete the Facebook app from my phone. This way Facebook becomes intentional behavior instead of default behavior: If I want to be on Facebook I have to be in front of a computer and go to the Facebook website.

It sounds really simple and obvious, but it’s worked: I’m now on Facebook about 90% less than I was previously. I log in a few times a day, usually for less than 30 seconds each time, and only on weekdays.

My default, mindless-phone-scrolling behavior now leans heavily toward Twitter, but so far that remains a net positive. And I’m blogging again!


Don't give us stuff. Give to great causes instead.

Since our first child was born in 2004, we’ve had a Christmas policy:

  • DON’T give us any  stuff.
  • DO give stuff to our kids.
  • DO donate to a good cause instead of giving us stuff.
  • We’ll do the same for you and your kids.

For the most part, our family has adhered to this policy, although a few cable-knit sweaters still sneak under the tree each year.

This year we’ve given to several organizations, and I thought I’d zoom in on those we gave to via Help Attack!, which enables you to pledge to nonprofits every time you post something to Facebook or Twitter. Below are the organizations we supported in 2011. The links go to a pledge page on the Help Attack! website.

Health Alliance for Austin Musicians

Mobile Loaves & Fishes

Sierra Club Foundation

Southwest Key Programs

St. Baldricks Foundation

Sundt Memorial Foundation

Wikimedia Foundation

Help Attack! was not the only means by which we gave to charity in 2011, and none of our donations through Help Attack! were large (the median was around $20). But by using Help Attack! we definitely gave more than we ordinarily would have, and to a greater number of nonprofits.

However you choose to give, as you check off those last-minute gift lists, consider giving to a great cause in lieu of wrapped gifts that ultimately wind up in a landfill. (Not that I don’t love cable-knit sweaters, Grandma.)

Happy New Year!

Facebook Lists Vs. Google Circles

Google Circles
Back in March I wrote about how to use Facebook lists to manage who sees what you post on Facebook. Since then Google+ has launched as a direct competitor to Facebook, and Facebook has quickly incorporated some of Google’s best features into their interface. But one thing Facebook is having trouble copying — despite best attempts — is the “Circles” feature.

Circles, on Google+, are pretty much the same thing as Facebook lists: a way to organize your contacts into groups, so you can choose what to share with whom. The difference is that Circles are intrinsic to Google+. You can’t not use them. On Facebook, however, chances are you don’t use lists, and if you wanted to use lists you would have to spend a lot of time hand-selecting which list to add which friends to. Total pain in the behind.

Advantage: Google.

I use Circles to sort people into friends (with whom I can be utterly juvenile and profane), family, acquaintances (e.g. people I know from Twitter only), and colleagues (with whom I share almost nothing – HA!).  It’s easy to do, and easy to create new Circles on the fly.

Why don’t you join me?

The New Yorker's Failed Facebook Experiment

I’ve subscribed to the New Yorker for over 10 years. I consider it the greatest magazine the world has ever produced but I recognize that part of its appeal is that it makes you feel like a member of an exclusive club of sophisticated Manhattan liberals. There is just enough low-brow, off-beat content to keep the snobbishness from being insufferable, but even as you read profiles of B-list celebrities like Anna Faris, or extensive reportage on tugboats and tugboat owners, you visualize the typical New Yorker reader chuckling ironically in a tweed suit.

Since the New Yorker started a Facebook page, the curtain has been lifted on the New Yorker’s audience. Sifting through comments on the New Yorker’s Wall, it’s not surprising that readers seem, well, pretty normal. If the magazine catered exclusively to Manhattan neuroscientists and avant-garde, found-object sculptor/dancers, it would be a mimeographed newsletter, not a mass-market juggernaut with an 85-year history and a million subscribers.

But it was when the New Yorker experimented with Facebook-only content that New Yorker readers revealed themselves to be as ugly and petty as YouTube commenters. (Well, almost.) The content in question was a long rumination by Jonathan Franzen on the suicide of his friend David Foster Wallace, and what it means to be engaged enough with life to choose to keep living. There was stuff about bird-watching and Robinson Crusoe, too, because this is the New Yorker after all. I found the article mesmerizing and touching. Facebook fans, not so much.

Comments fell into three general camps:

1. People who were pissed about the whole campaign in general. (I couldn’t find the fans-only tab, either.)

2. Armchair critics.

3. Ad hominem attacks. (The worst of which was removed but here’s one of the responses.)

4. The sane.

The New Yorker’s participation in social media raises an interesting problem for them, which is best summed up with the over-cited Groucho Marx quote about not joining any club that would have him as a member. The New Yorker preserves its mystique by not making celebrities of its editors (there’s no masthead) and by making readers feel like they’re part of an exclusive club. Now we learn that that club is not so exclusive after all. New Yorker readers are just as petty and flawed as anyone else, regardless of how many degrees they hold.

What should the New Yorker do in the brave new social media world? They could bury their heads in the sand, go back to printing in black-and-white and taking down their website and Facebook page. Or they could slog along, experimenting, taking risks, making mistakes, releasing iPad apps, podcasts, video, and yes even “fans-only” content. Despite the failure of the Franzen experiment (and I do think it was a failure) businesses must evolve or die. So go for it New Yorker, keep pushing forward, no one knows for sure what will or won’t work, there are no social media “experts,” go with your gut and treat us like guinea pigs. Even if I do need to find a snootier club to join.



How to Use Facebook Lists to Hide Posts from Your Mom (or Boss)

So you’re Facebook-friends with Grandma. Or your boss. Or your batshit-crazy in-laws. You have three choices: You can self-censor from this point forward, and scrub all your past posts about Spring Break in Guadalajara. You can continue as usual and risk intra-family war or loss of employment. Or you can make use of Facebook lists.

Facebook lists, like Twitter lists, are a way to categorize your friends. For example, I could put all my Austin friends in one list called “Austin Friends” (creative, eh?). Or you could create a list called “Batshit-Crazy In-Laws” for your batshit-crazy in-laws. (I would never do such a thing.)

What’s great about lists is that you can choose to make your posts visible only to certain lists or make your posts invisible to certain lists. This latter option is useful if you’re not comfortable sharing news of your latest genital piercing with Aunt Maisey. Here’s how to do it:

First, go to your Friends. (At this writing there’s a link in the left column.)

Click “Edit Friends.”

Click “Create a List.”

Name your new list and select its members.

Save the list and open a new post. Click the dropdown represented by a little lock and choose “Custom.”

In the next window, enter the name of the list — or individuals — you want to hide your post from. If you want, you can make this your default setting for future posts.

Save your setting, publish your post, and voila! You’re done.

Now, a couple of caveats:

Facebook changes their privacy settings constantly, so these instructions won’t work forever. Check your settings often to be sure nothing has slipped.

There is no guarantee that just because you hid a post from someone, it won’t still reach that person. Either Facebook could screw up, or one of your “friends” could innocently (or not-so-innocently) email/tweet/telephone your post to the person you’re trying to hide from. So use these settings with caution and don’t post anything that will get you fired or thrown in jail, no matter how tight you think your privacy settings are.

The Onion, the Jesus Lizard, and Another Reason to Hate SEO

The OnionEvery Onion article starts with a great headline:

“Nation’s Dog Owners Demand To Know Who’s A Good Boy”

“Even CEO Can’t Figure Out How RadioShack Still In Business”

“Man Who Temporarily Disables Facebook Account Deems Self ‘Off The Grid'”

Once  the editors approve a headline, a writer amasses 150 to 900 words to support it. This method has served the Onion well for many years. It’s a perfect system for writing fake news.

The problem is that, in an attempt to game search engines, this is pretty much how purportedly real news organizations work too. The Huffington Post is one such offender, with articles like “What Time Does the Superbowl Start?” whose only purpose is to gain top rankings in Google search results. It’s non-news like this that makes following links to the Huffington Post such a crapshoot: You never know whether you’ll find real news, or a snippet of an article from another publication, or time-wasters not intended for human consumption.

Because HuffPost is successful, there are scores of copycats polluting the Web. Google’s recent algorithm change seeks to address this problem but may not go far enough. After all, a large part of the problem is us. (“What Time Does The Superbowl Start” has over 3,000 “likes” on Facebook.)

The Jesus Lizard, one of my favorite bands, uses the Onion approach for song titles. The bassist and guitarist write music, come up with a name for the song, and then hand it off to the singer, David Yow, to write lyrics. This system has given us gems like “If You Had Lips,” “My Own Urine,” and “Happy Bunny Goes Fluff-Fluff Along” (and these are just from their first LP).

What can be done? Well, until online publications begin randomly substituting headlines with Jesus Lizard song titles—thus putting SEO out of business—we can do our part by not visiting websites that flagrantly appeal to search engines over humans. It won’t be easy; we’ll have to hover over those hyperlinks to see where they go before we click. And for cryin’ out loud, go easy on the “like” button!



Three Ways Facebook Encourages Banality

Two Words: Shopping!! Courtesy of LamebookI don’t find Facebook addictive or even interesting.

I check Facebook once or twice a day and skim updates from friends and family. It’s nice to know that individuals with whom I share varying degrees of closeness are still kicking. But that’s about all I get out of it: Confirmation that certain people are still alive. Surely there’s more to it than that.

The writer Corey Doctorow argues that the subtext of the banal musings posted on Facebook is “I am thinking of you, I care about you, I hope you are well.” Maybe so, but Facebook more often feels like a waste of time than any other social media in which I participate. Something about the platform encourages banality. Which is strange, because, unlike Twitter, Facebook was developed as a gated community in which only people you select can see what you post. (Facebook’s recent ghastly changes to their privacy defaults are a topic for another post on another day.) So why the hesitation to post anything meaningful?

(Full disclosure: the majority of my posts on Facebook contain maps of where I have ridden my bike. If it can get more banal than that I’m not sure how.)

  1. Facebook undermines conversation. Sure, you can post something, and dozens can comment on it. But it’s a free-for-all, like a verbal spitball fight from opposite sides of a large room. The spitballs never connect midair; they just go splat. Since every comment becomes a non-sequitur, people tend to post comments that can stand on their own, bearing little relevance to the original post.
  2. The “Like” button. Is there anything lazier?
  3. Its attempts to be more like Twitter. Even as a late comer to Facebook I recognize that it ain’t what it used to be. The Wall, which was once the main selling point, is now subordinated to the News Feeds and Status Updates. (Related: Can anyone explain to me the difference between the two?) At least when you posted on someone’s Wall you were attempting a personal connection. Now Facebook functions more like Twitter, except, let’s face it, your circle of friends and family isn’t nearly as interesting as the strangers you could be inviting to your dinner party on Twitter.

How do we fix Facebook? We don’t. You could thread the comments, add a “dislike” button, scrap the Twitter-mimicking. But Facebook’s management has made clear that it doesn’t want to be fixed. It just wants to monetize you. Time to move on to the next hot social media phenom: picking up the phone.*

*Yes, I know this makes me sound like a smarmy old git. But it’s in line with one of my New Year’s resolutions to acknowledge special occasions more. I plan to achieve this through snail-mail cards and phone calls and, for the bigger ones, actually planning in advance for once. Because I know something important is being lost when we resort to e-greetings and Wall posts.     



Reblog this post [with Zemanta]