To Facebook or not to Facebook… that is the question.

For some of us, at least…

Many users have already given their answer, either by ditching it altogether and moving over to Twitter or G+, or whatever is considered hip at the time, or staying aboard and clicking like until the cows come home.

But it’s not that people who use Facebook are unequivocally hyped about it, either…

According to a report by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index and ForeSee Results, Facebook is as unpopular as airlines, cable companies and the IRS.

They put it like this:

“Despite being the most popular website in America, consumers don’t like Facebook” (source)

Why do people not like it and still use it?

There are many possible answers to this question, privacy concerns being one of the more common ones. But the fact that Facebook can become a huge time-sink because the longer they hold you on their site, the higher the potential ad revenues, is another.

I’ve always been fascinated with Social Media and have written both about its glories and dark sides.

From the first chat-room I entered up to the dangerously mind-numbing expeditions into the glittery junkyard of Myspace, I’ve been both appalled and excited by these strange expressions of human culture, what they might say about who we are and how they are changing our language, thinking and behavior.

The Diagnosis: Run, Don’t Walk!

Sites like facebook are such effective time-wasters because they relax the ‘executive brain‘– the centre responsible for focused decision making, and leave you at the mercy of your impulses and compulsions. Much like watching reality tv shows, or being the subject of hypnosis. (source)

After having completely wasted one or two hours on Facebook earlier this month, myself – I decided to make an experiment.

I would try to maintain my connections and pages for one week without actually visiting facebook.com or using any of its official apps with the intention of getting rid of all notifications that were not actively contributing to direct conversations.

This is the story of this experiment.

It needs to be added that while I could have simply deleted the account and “get it over with” this solution struck me as both too easy and unfair to those contacts of mine who’d get left behind in the platform-preference gap.

Here’s a detailed description of what I did so that anybody interested can repeat the experiment and draw their own conclusions.

1. Blocking Access To The Website

The first thing I needed was to block myself from going to facebook.com in order to see how far I was already conditioned. I used this simple chrome extension but you could use anything that does the trick.

To configure it all you have to do is enter “facebook.com”  where it says INPUT and as you can see on my screenshot I decided to block Google+, too while I was at it because it is too similar to the Facebook experience and I didn’t want it to interfere with the process.

2. Handling Notifications

The second step was to handle notifications via email so that when somebody would send me an internal message or leave a comment on Facebook I’d get it as an email and could reply directly from my email-client. Maybe you’ve already done this, if not here’s how:

Click on…

Account -> Account Settings -> Notifications -> All Notifications

remove all the ticks except where it says “sends you a message” and “mentions you in a comment”

another place you can check is under Wall Comments. Those are things you’d have to make sure are selected.

This is a very minimal setup, guaranteeing that Facebook only sends me an email if a person actually writes something directed at me, personally and not just ambient noise. Depending on what tools and notifications you need to handle your contacts on Facebook, this selection might differ.

After doing this you should also make a special folder in your email-client and create a filter that automatically redirects emails from Facebook into it so your inbox doesn’t get clogged. (If you’ve done this already, even better..) Here‘s how to do it on Gmail.

3. Running the Experiment

I had successfully blocked myself from facebook.com and despite the fact that I was well aware of it, I still caught myself trying to visit the site with my browser. Luckily, due to the blocker, the only thing I saw was this:

I didn’t count how many times I saw this message. But it was way too often! I became painfully aware of the “executive brain” mentioned above.

But after one or two days even my most conditioned brain-cells had gotten the message: Closed! Cerrado! Fermé! And they stopped trying…

Here’s what else I observed:

  • The little minute here and the few seconds there that I would have spent on Facebook slowly accumulated to hours that I was now spending by reading a good book or simply relaxing
  • I began to have more ideas…Only by blocking myself from Facebook did I realize the extent to which its stream of irrelevant and random content was clogging my head-space
  • I focused more on writing
  • Once in a while when someone commented or sent me an internal message, I replied to it through my email-browser. This very fact made me more aware of what I was writing.  Also, it seemed to give these small exchanges more meaning and value. (What’s more meaningful: A straightforward personal email or a tiny red notification leading to a few letters surrounded by a distracting layout and lots of info-clutter?)
  • Also, I was becoming more and more wary of the whole Like-concept and the way Facebook handles notifications. I’ve written about it before, here but now it seemed even more pointless.

Side-note: Occasionally I had to check up on a couple of “business” pages I maintain for friends and myself on Facebook. I did this by using hootsuite, a brilliant little tool that allows you to keep track of a huge variety of services. I did all the usual Facebook-page stuff from there: deleting the spammers, answering client questions, keeping the conversation going, etc.

Also, in case you might ask, I did not miss Google+.

Instead, I was spending more time reading and responding to a carefully pruned Twitter stream.

The main reason why I like Twitter is that it allows to quickly subscribe (=”follow”) or unsubscribe from certain people, interests, etc and there are a variety of ways and apps in which you can use it without ever setting foot on their website, which apparently is also not that popular.

Final Comments

After one week of all of this, I didn’t miss anything. Nobody even seemed to be aware that I wasn’t using Facebook anymore because I was still active on Facebook, sending statuses from Twitter and responding to comments via Email.

Instead, it seemed that I was both more productive, more relaxed and had more meaningful interactions with people than usual, both online and offline.

So far, I consider the experiment succesful and will keep it going indefinitely. (I’ve decided to open the self-imposed block at the end of each week for a short period to check on certain things that I can only do through their website but otherwise refrain from using it)

I’ve used a plugin before to remove advertisements from Facebook, I used a plugin to deactivate most of its features that I don’t need, I disciplined myself by separating work from Social Media time (read more about this here) but in the end nothing works as well as just turning the website off completely while still using the service.

As for the future of Facebook and Google+ I wish they’d detach their service from their websites so that everyone will be free to use service in a way that suits them, not the advertisers. But that’s just wishful thinking, i guess…

At the moment there are still many unofficial third-party apps for Twitter, but there have been hints that this might change in the future, so let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

In the end we should always remember that nobody owns our social connections.

These are our friends, our family, colleagues, clients, etc. – and it should be up to us how we communicate to them.

After all, the fact that big companies have found a way to turn our socializing into money is no excuse for wasting our life staring at red notification bubbles.

img: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by ntr23