Social media overwhelm. It’s a modern malaise which all of us have suffered from at some point.
Left unchecked, social can be a veritable time thief. We can waste hours wading through an information snowstorm, emerging with the depressing realisation that we’ve spent way too long being woefully unproductive.
Over time I thought I’d begun to get my social media in order. I’d overhauled my Twitter account, ditched Pinterest, sorted LinkedIn, ruled out Google+, used content management and curation tools such as Buffer and Feedly, and bookmarked good blogs.
But there was one final beast I hadn’t tamed yet, and it was a stubborn creature: Facebook.
Facebook is a tricky animal to corral because of the control it exercises over what users choose to see. Just when you think you’ve cowed it into submission, it decides you need to see something else: what your friends are liking, commenting on, attending, interested in attending, memories, ads, suggested posts, suggested pages, clickbait… and that’s before you even get to all those notifications asking: ‘Do you know X?’
There’s a reason why I haven’t friended these people. I don’t actually know them.
I had to take action
In order to calm the noise, I decided I had to take drastic action. I didn’t delete my account, but I gave myself a sabbatical: a whole month away from Facebook.
I stopped logging in, and asked my real-life contacts to email or text me instead. No Messenger. Zilch. Nada. Rien.
It’s surprising how illusory connection over social media really is – the reality check when you do decide to go cold turkey is quite revealing.
In my case, being away from Facebook was liberating. It allowed me to focus on interactions elsewhere, and to give my brain a rest. I found myself less pulled between online channels to check messages and posts.
In short, it gave me headspace.
When you’re a creative – and especially if your work requires you to concentrate hard for long periods of time – you do need a clear head. Often, people check into social media to have a break, and that can be good, even fun. But too much online activity can scatter your energy and attention, which isn’t quite so helpful.
I came to a radical decision
At the end of the month, I came to a decision, and it was radical. I used a Chrome add-in called F___book Post Manager to delete my entire activity log until the beginning of this year, totalling nearly five years of interactions.
I left groups and unliked pages that were no longer relevant or of interest, and unfollowed feeds that were full of noise with little to say. I also went through as many notifications as the platform would allow me to kill, and sent them to a virtual grave.
Having streamlined my account, I had to face the most difficult part: telling online friends – in the kindest way possible – that I’d basically reached saturation point, and could only continue to follow those people I actually knew in real life, as well as genuine contacts in my professional network.
My own view is that ‘collecting’ online friends is a pretty meaningless activity, and if social is going to be at all meaningful, how you operate within it needs to be clear about that.
What I did emphasise was that absolutely no offence or slight was intended by unfollowing anyone. It was simply something I had to do in order to stay and make this thing work.
I was concerned about the potential reaction from my online friends, but I needn’t have been. They agreed that the information bombardment on Facebook is constant, and that they too are rethinking their own usage.
Even the ones who knew I’d be letting them go understood my reasons, and were fine about it. One good (real-life) friend took my lead and immediately deleted the Facebook app from his phone; recently he’d also taken a similar sabbatical – albeit shorter – and found it helpful.
Now, social has purpose
I am now operating on Facebook again, but this time I feel it has purpose. Even having turned off ad notifications, I’m still getting a stream of posts about pages that friends have liked, and am still battling Facebook’s algorithm which repeatedly attempts to sell me stuff – and am ritually zapping those pages with blocks. Let’s face it, you can’t fight City Hall.
But I am interacting with writers and creatives, joining genuinely interesting groups – and, of course, continuing to connect with real-life friends and the lovely people I do know.
The big difference is, I’ve calmed the noise.
What I learned is that being a considerate friend on Facebook involves thinking of others. One way we can do this is to only like the pages in which we are genuinely interested. Liking pages indiscriminately bombards friends’ timelines with a slew of ‘suggested posts’ (read: adverts).
Since Facebook decides what we see, what we can do is to take a moment to decide whether we really do like these pages enough for Facebook to inflict them on the people we know. If we don’t take this into account, we risk being unfollowed.
Also, we can go through our list periodically and unlike pages that are no longer relevant.
The lesson I also learned from all of this is that social media absolutely has to work for you as an individual, for your business, or both. It has to be useful, productive and enjoyable.
If you’ve reached the stage where every time you log into a social media platform it does nothing but irritate or overwhelm, perhaps it’s time for a rethink.
You can change the way you use it, strong-arm it into submission, or decide whether it really has outlived its utility and, with the click of a mouse, take the plunge and leave.