There are lots of write ups and studies which are showing more and more the negative effects on our perpetual stimulation by social media. This is everything from the negative effects of not giving your brain a rest, negative emotions from the perpetual stream of information, all the way to it being potentially an addiction. One simple way to get around this is to just uninstall every app, log out of the sites, and be done with it. That’s not always practical since these ecosystems are often how we tie into events, stay in touch with friends, and are helpful conduits to information we are looking for. The real problem is not having control of what and when information is presented to us once we enter these ecosystems. This is a byproduct of two features: alerts and newsfeeds. Eliminating and/or getting control of these is the key to getting control of and crafting your social media experience into being sane again.
The news feeds are by far the biggest time sink in the history of social media. Whether it’s coming from Twitter, Facebook, or some other place, the constant bombardment of the latest posts by hundreds to thousands of people and organizations that their algorithms deem you may be interested in is literally endless. You can swipe or refresh incessantly and usually something new will pop up. There is always something new to see by someone. In smaller doses it can actually be very nice but it’s also something that can get totally away from you. That is therefore the first place that I’ve cut out entirely. I still wanted to be able to access my discussion groups within Facebook, and I also needed to be able to respond to events and that sort of thing since that’s basically what Evite used to be for event planning. I therefore didn’t want to just disconnect from Facebook altogether. The important thing is to switch from being a net consumer to a net producer on there.
The first step is to stop seeing the newsfeed altogether. You’d think that setting your default Facebook link to your home page would be sufficient, but the UI makes it all too easy to simply have the newsfeed crop up again. Luckily there are great browser extensions to block your newsfeed. My favorite one of these is News Feed Eradicator. This plugin exists from the original publisher for Chrome and FireFox. There is a fork of this for Safari but I have no experience using it. For Firefox and Chrome, simply go to your “Tools->Add-ons” menu in Firefox or click on the “Apps” toolbar and go to the Chrome Store to get to the respective plugin/add-on stores. Then type the name and install the plugin. Once you are done your Facebook experience will look like this:
So now, no matter what you do you will not see a newsfeed in your browser. This makes your Facebook experience all about seeking out information rather than being passively and perpetually fed it. Want to check out what someone says? Go to their page. Want to see a particular topic? Search out Groups on that topic and subscribe to them. You can go to them when you want to browse them. Think of Facebook at this point as an aggregator of links rather than an infinite stream of wanted (and unwanted) data.
The newsfeed is only part of it though. The other way Facebook sucks you in is with alerts. At this point you will be getting alerts every time someone you interacted with regularly posts, whenever Facebook thinks you may be interested in something, etc. Cutting down on the alerts is the second important aspect of creating a sane Facebook experience. Go to your Facebook settings by clicking on the help menu on the far right and hitting the “Settings” menu option, or go to this link. Once there you’ll see the notifications option on the left:
Now you have all the control over your notifications you need. The biggest area being the first. Click on the Edit button and you will see a screen like this:
Many of these are going to be set to some version of an “On” setting. As you can see much of mine have been turned off. Go through each of the “Edit” menus to get deep down into the various settings and turn them off as much as you like. After you’ve done this you may need to do some spring cleaning elsewhere. Any person or page you set to explicitly follow will still create notifications, after all you explicitly told Facebook to do that for you. Clean out whichever ones you now feel are nuisances. At this point if you have a configuration like mine you will only see notifications for groups or people you explicitly follow, when you are tagged in something, when an event that you are interested in or going to is happening, or on a post that you have reacted to/commented on is updated.
For the first few days you’ll still get a decent volume of notifications. That’s going to be from groups you forgot about which now percolate to the top of the algorithms as you have stopped interacting with much of the Facebook system. It will also come from posts that you’ve interacted with that continue to update. Continue to pare that down by selectively unfollowing groups and posts as you see fit. Naturally you will fall into a place where you will see a handful of notifications a day at most. You now have full control over your browser-based Facebook experience.
Facebook makes getting a handle on these things on your smartphone or tablet a bit more difficult. The alert settings are universal so you’ve already taken care of that. Now you just need to get control of the newsfeed. While Messenger has been broken out nothing else has so the app experience will have a newsfeed. There are two strategies for handling this problem. The first is to eliminate the apps as much as you can. Events can be synchronized to your calendars through other mechanisms and you’ll still have Messenger. If that’s too removed an experience and you have discipline then the second option is to bypass the newsfeed as much as you can. The surest way to do that is to launch the Facebook app indirectly. You can post directly from other apps, which avoids interactions entirely. The second way is to open up Messenger and browse to someone’s profile. This launches the Facebook app to a profile page not to the newsfeed (which is what it will always otherwise do). The last way is to take advantage of the several seconds delay it takes for the app to read the newsfeed from the Facebook servers and render it. When you bring the app up immediately click on the notifications icon. Doing this will bring you to a non-newsfeed screen where you can then go and browse your groups, people’s profiles etc. At this point you now essentially have the same experience as you do through the website however the UI still can easily bring you back to a newsfeed without you asking to, it’s just nowhere near as pervasive as it is on the website.
With these steps I’ve been able to turn my Facebook experience into a sane one again. I’m more of a net produce than consumer now, which I think is a very positive thing. I am not met with the infinite information flow which can cause hours to disappear down the Facebook/social media vortex. I am also not perpetually met with distracting notifications throughout the day on inconsequential things that at best distract and at worst distress me. I can still interact with friends, see information topics I’m interested in, etc. It’s not perfect but for now it’s pretty darn close to having my cake and eating it to with Facebook.