A good friend said to me the other day that, generally speaking, she believes Facebook is destroying real life relationships. Using a little old school mobile trick, I think I’ve got it all under control.
I recently cleaned up my desk and found an old mobile handset stuffed at the back of a drawer. Back in the day (and that day was only 10 years ago) you could only store 100 contacts on a phone before maxing out the memory. If you hit that limit, you had to cleanse.
And cleansing was therapeutic. Purging memory felt great.
And, what is more, long before Twitter came up with the notion of limited character count, mobile phone contact entries were limited to 20 characters per field. So you had to get creative when inputting your contacts to remind yourself how you knew them. A sample dump from my distant mobile past, sorted by [FIRST NAME]; [LAST NAME]:
- Chris; work
- Chris; Kyle friend
- Chris; owes $$$
- Kate; hot
- Kate; work
- Dominic; met in Fiji
- Kyle; duuuuddde
- Kyle; LA comedy script
I don’t remember any of these people. Or any of those short-coded situations (what was that comedy script? Why LA? How much does Chris(3) owe me now (adjusted for inflation)?)
At the time I write this, I have nearly 600 friends on Facebook. That seems like a lot. I try to remember how I know most of these people, or even from where. And I probably only really see less than 40 of them in real life.
I reckon I could reduce my Facebook friendship base down to below 100 people. And I bet it would feel great. (There’s even a social network called Path that limits you to 150 friends. According to Oxford University anthropologist Robin Dunbar, “Dunbar’s number” states that the brain is optimised for 150 stable social relationships.)
But I can’t be bothered to “cull”. It feels like a big task, and I’m busy. Dumping 10 or 20 contacts from an old mobile was easy, and it served a critical purpose; you got your memory slots back to populate new, exciting and relevant contacts in. Twitter became popular for that reason: there is a beauty in limits.
Don’t get me wrong, I do “like” Facebook. It does what it says on the tin; “Connects you to your friends around the world.”
But my “like” of the wider Facebook offering has waned drastically. With a new son in my life, I only really check in once or twice a day to see if anyone has messaged me, and occasionally I make a status update or comment on someone else’s – and I try to make my correspondence as interesting as possible in what seems like a sea of banality.
The rest of the Facebook experience – sifting through endless food porn, “arm chair” political rants, receiving random event invites (especially from other countries), invites to play stupid games and (badly targeted) advertising – really does not get much of my attention. I don’t engage with about 80% of what Facebook offers as a platform.
But I digress.
I recently did discover a feature that makes me feel a lot more in control: I figured out how to de-list people from my newsfeed. It means you’re still friends, but you don’t have to put up with their news. It’s like putting someone in an airlock. Fabulous.
I suddenly feel like a Facebook newsfeed sniper. If I see a post in my newsfeed, I make a snap decision about the content (and the legacy content) that person posts about. Then I apply my criteria and filters and decide if I pull the trigger;
- People who endlessly post up those stenciled panels with solid coloured backgrounds that basically state (in a variety of ways) “everyone else is a dickhead” or “everyone except me is stupid” – you gotta go.
- People who incessantly post badly lit photographs of their meals… Unless it’s art (a swan carved out of a carrot, for example) I’m not interested. In your head it’s food art, in reality it’s the difference between the photo of a big mac on the menu, and the disappointing reality when you open the box. Gone.
- People who ceaselessly re-publish reams of “new age” crap and stuff about seizing the moment. Do some push ups. Eat some oats. There is still a whole world out there. Get off Facebook and seize the f**king day already! De-listed.
- People who are binomial and dogmatic: they either complain or brag, no middle ground. I don’t empathize or “like” your status; life is what you make it. Your posts are messing with my chakras, man. Gone.
- Conspiracy theorists. You’re not clever, you don’t add value, you engage with, believe and re-broadcast the lowest common denominators of propaganda.
- I genuinely don’t remember you. Or any of our mutual friends. And your content is dull. And when you keep posting who you were “with”, it feels like “I had to be there moments” that don’t quite translate online. Sniped.
- You still use the poke feature.
Sounds mean, doesn’t it?
I sound like an old man, don’t I? Like an old man with an old mobile phone with memory limits.
But here’s the thing; clicking “like” on a stream of content is of very low relationship value. Participating in long streams of banal comments is… banal. Scatter gunning your contact list (and especially those overseas) with your event invites doesn’t quite feel personal.
What does get my attention is; great photography, great comedy and something insightful or funny. It’s like inviting good company to dinner, you want quality content.
So does Facebook ruin real life relationships as my Facebook friend pointed out to me… um, using Facebook? Is “like” making us into a society of lazy people who opt to click on a screen rather than click and sustain real life conversation?
Maybe. Facebook is repetitive, highly addictive, instant behaviour that seems to be becoming the norm. Those little red notification dots with numbers in them are validation of you and your content. Like stocks, you always want them to go up. It’s a rush to see it happen.
But I’m still slightly old school, and I believe in spring cleaning. There may be no limits to how many friends and how much data about them can be stored on Facebook, but your time in life – like your old mobile memory – is limited (and if “Dunbar’s number” is right, that limit is 150 stable friends.) And I, for one, like to get out more and interact with real faces and real books.
(Then I’ll have something interesting to say to all my digital friends.)