Monday, May 9, 2016

A Minimalist's Guide to Facebook

Hold up. I'm Instagramming this.

Facebook gets a bad rap with simple living enthusiasts, and it's not hard to see why. Scrolling your newsfeed is one of those passive activities that can leave you with the empty feeling of having wasted your time with nothing to show for it--similar to the groggy, guilty, bloated, disconnected feeling you might get after watching hours of television. Only instead of spending a big chunk of time, all at once, you're spending little dribs and drabs, here and there, which in some ways can be worse. It's such an easy, habitual form of procrastination that it can easily eat way more time than you want it to. Facebook is also a rather shallow means of communication. "Liking" a post from an old high school acquaintance is a hollow substitute for an actual conversation with an actual friend.

For some, the answer is to delete their accounts. You've probably heard from them, because they like to talk about how they deleted their account. "I deleted my Facebook" is the new "I got rid of my TV."

I'm not knocking it, exactly; some people definitely need to go cold turkey to kick an unwanted habit. I'm not one of them. When rules get too strict, I get defiant.

Besides, there are some things I really like about Facebook: funny comment threads; the ability to chat with people I don't know very well, like new friends and, once, a stranger who found my wallet; notices from neighborhood groups, like my local Buy Nothing group, where people swap unwanted items from their decluttering purges; and, especially, invitations.

Facebook wasn't intended to be an invitation engine, but I don't know of any better platform for arranging parties and events. Email is just not very good for invitations. It's hard to keep track of individual responses, and heaven forbid you change anything: somebody always goes by the previous version of the plan. Texts and phone calls are even worse. Evite sites require everyone to sign up for something new, meaning most people won't do it. Facebook has everything: a master post with the most current information about the event, RSVPs, notifications. And people are already there. It just works. I like it as an attendee, and I absolutely rely on it as a host. Whenever I host anything, I start resent my friends who've deleted their Facebooks or who never had one or who have one but don't look at it, because it requires starting a whole separate invitation thread and whole separate means of organizing responses, just for them.

I know people who refuse to use Facebook say things like, "If they're really your friend, they'll find some other way to contact you." But I don't feel like everyone has to be a True Enough True Friend that they'll remember and conform to my preferred method of communication. Some people are just okay friends, and that's fine; making it easy for them to invite me to stuff means I'll get invited to more stuff. Besides, what if I have a friend who just prefers to do communication on Facebook? Shouldn't the "true friends honor each other's preferred means of communication" maxim apply equally to me?

So, for me, the answer is not to delete my Facebook. But I do want to use it for what it's good for, without getting sucked into the bad habit of compulsive feed-checking, or allowing it replace real-life communication. Here are my tips for using Facebook to work with, not against, a simple lifestyle.

Turn Off Notifications

If you still have Facebook push notifications on your phone, for heaven's sake turn them off. Disable all emails, too, except for updates to events you are attending or other key information. You do not need to know when your friends post things. It's one thing to catch up on your feed as a distraction when you're waiting for the bus or something, it's another when you allow your newsfeed to jump out and distract you when you are doing other things.

Don't Be a Completist

I used to have a habit of trying end my Facebook "reading" where I left off the day before (okay, earlier that day). I didn't want to miss a single post. I'm not even sure why, since most of the posts aren't particularly meaningful or interesting. Besides, Facebook's algorithm is pretty good at making sure I see anything of real import (i.e. lots of likes), like a friend getting engaged or saying something really hilarious, no matter how infrequently I log in.

I had to make myself log off without reading everything a few times to solidify this. It felt weird. But it's worth it to lose the completist attitude.

Unfollow All Brands

Who needs their feed cluttered up with marketing announcements? Not you. Unfollow every single brand or corporate entity. You may make up to three exceptions for hyperlocal, hypercharming shops, BUT THAT IS IT.

Unfriend or Unfollow Anyone Who Isn't Really a Friend

I went on a huge unfollowing kick (I didn't unfriend because I was leaving myself the option of refollowing people if I missed them--kind of like putting your possessions in a box rather than donating them). My definition of a friend was pretty liberal. For each person on my friends list, I asked myself how I would feel if they texted me out of the blue to hang out. (If they lived in another town, I imagined they said something like, "Hey, I'm going to be in your town next week for business, want to get a cup of coffee?")

If I'd say, "Yes, of course," then they are a friend.

If I'd be extremely shocked to hear from them, wonder how they even remembered me, or how they got my number, then they probably are not really an actual, relevant friend in my current life, and I could safely unfriend/unfollow them (unless, of course, they wrote really funny posts, shared really interesting links, or were really hot).

Unfriend or Unfollow Anyone Whose Posts Upset You

Even if you are truly friends with someone, or they are undeniably important in your life (like a family member or current co-worker), you can feel free to unfollow if the person's posts upset or annoy you. This includes anyone who is relentlessly negative; anyone who posts extreme political opinions that you don't agree with; anyone who posts extreme political opinions that you agree with but the provocative way they word them makes your side look bad; anyone who constantly brings up true facts that depress you, like global climate change or total hive collapse; anyone who seems to be stealth marketing or making charity appeals; anyone who lets Candy Crush post for them; anyone who is relentlessly positive; anyone who is always posting pictures of their perfectly pedicured feet at worldwide beach locales; anyone whose posts make you feel jealous or acquisitive or any other way you don't want to feel; anyone whose posts don't spark joy. You don't need it.

Maybe Start Texting People Asking If They Want To Grab A Cup of Coffee

One of the common complaints about Facebook is that it substitutes faux intimacy for actual real-life spending time with people. That would definitely be an unsatisfying trade. But it doesn't have to be either/or. If you were on the fence about any of your maybe-friends in the unfollowing exercise, maybe that is a good wake-up call to actually spend some time with them!

Join Local Groups

As part of my intentional effort to make Facebook support actual real-life spending time with people, I joined a bunch of local groups. This includes the Buy Nothing group I mentioned earlier, among others. The conversations on local groups often lead to in-person meetups and events because, guess what, everyone lives nearby!

Go, Or Do Not Go. There Is No "Interested"

This is more of a general Facebook pet peeve than a minimalist thing per se, but it annoys me to no end when people say "maybe" or "interested" to events. Nobody ever goes to the events they're "interested" in. Face it, if you are not ready to commit, the answer is no.

Actually, no, this is totally a minimalist thing. "Interested" allows you to avoid acknowledging your true priorities. Realistically, you can't do everything, and you don't even want to. I have a theory that people who say "interested" to everything end up doing less than people who say "going" to some things and "not going" to most things. Decide what you want to do and do it. Decide what you don't want to do and don't do it.

Develop an affinity for another page beginning with "F"

That way, when you type "F" into your browser, it will autocomplete with something else. Feedly is my current pick; may I also recommend Flickr, Forbes, Fanfiction.net, and FDA.gov. You never know when you might need the latest food safety guidelines!

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