Results tagged “Facebook” from Bill Benac

Yesterday I returned to Facebook after doing a 10 week experiment in self-imposed exile. I wrote the following note for my friends there, and I post it here in hopes that those outside my Facebook network may find it interesting/rewarding.

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Hello Friends:

I struggle today to find the proper words to reintroduce and explain myself after a 10 week hiatus from this world where words are usually thrown about so carelessly. It's a new year, and I've been thinking about my Facebook-centric new year's resolutions really since October 22 which was the first day of my experiment. Let me first share my resolutions, then explain the experiment that brought me toward them, then finally describe the discoveries from my experience.

RESOLUTIONS

In the year 2009 I plan to:

* Visit Facebook less compulsively. Instead of logging in many times within an hour, I'll limit myself to twice daily.
* Focus on my objectives within Facebook and consume only the benefits that I actually want. It's important for me to stay in touch with friends. It is not important to entertain myself with comic videos, and I'll abstain from most of your status updates.
* Try to raise the quality of content in your minifeed by posting primarily stimulating information.
* Never be snarky.
* Block most third-party applications than send me invites.

I recommend that each of you also consider some Facebook-centric resolutions for yourself. How much have you thought about maximizing this network's benefits to you while avoiding its distractions and pitfalls? Let me tell you how about my own journey.

MY EXPERIMENT

This past quarter I took a great class at Stanford from a now-favorite professor, Howard Rheingold (http://rheingold.com). Howard famously coined the term "virtual community" and published a book (http://bit.ly/virc) about the concept in 1993. That was the same year the first graphical web browser, Mosaic, was released. The class I took with Howard was called "Virtual Communities and Social Media." After reading several assigned articles about multitasking, I was stumbled into "Is Google Making Us Stupid," published by Nicholas Carr in The Atlantic. Carr explored whether our minds are less able to achieve concerted focus because Google and our hyperlinked world are training our minds to optimize themselves to lightly visit brief snippets content. His article is at http://bit.ly/think.

I've been struggling lately to think clearly, and I've joked that if I had to retake the GRE, there's no way I would earn a score sufficient for Stanford to accept me again. I used to pride myself on my verbal skills, but of late I find my abilities have deteriorated. I've considered several theories. Is my problem that I read less than I used to? Is it that my writing within the workplace needs to be 100% clear and therefore I've stripped out all flourishes? Is it that I'm chronically sleep deprived? Or to paraphrase Carr, has my proclivity for multitasking rewired my brain and "made me stupid?" Facebook seems made for the short attention span, offering bite-sized visits that can be accomplished in under one minute. Maybe I should swear off Facebook for a while, I thought.

What good was Facebook to me anyway? It was impairing my ability to accomplish tasks that required focus, because at any mental pause in the day, I would instinctively click in to see what my friends were up to. This made working from my home office feel more like working from a dorm commons area with friends continually passing by. Further, I wasn't proud of my own contributions to Facebook. In the week leading up to my decision point, I had posted an unflattering picture of John McCain, posted a video of a chimp learning to ride a Segway, and teased a friend about a childhood photo.

So off the grid I went, to see what I could learn.

DISCOVERIES

* I can still read books! Within hours of dropping Facebook, I was enticed into reading a 300+ page book in just a few days. This was exactly the type of activity that Carr's article suggested we have a harder time doing in our over-multitasked digital world. I was delighted to find that yes, I still have it in me to read something more substantial than status updates. Before bed I took from the shelf "Six Degrees" by D.J. Watts, but instead of just scanning its structure as I expected, I ravenously read some eighty pages. Watts brilliantly explores the science of network theory, and he shows it applies to much more than just web-based networks or social networks. Check it out at http://bit.ly/networks.
* I really care about maintaining friendships (strong ties) and connections (loose ties) with you all on Facebook. I was concerned that some of you might send me messages and be put off that I seemed to ignore you. Especially after spending a week studying social capital and taking a few hours in class discussing this topic with the guru Tara Hunt (http://horsepigcow.com), I figured my experiment was costing me somewhat. Ironically, two people who I hadn't been in touch with messaged me on Oct 22, the first day of the experiment.
* Most everything in Facebook is good for at least some people, but that didn't mean that it was going to be good for me. I needed to filter out the content, activities, and habits that didn't lead toward my goals--and as with anything, I needed to know my goals.
* Facebook is an unparalleled way for me to promote a message. My sister Annie Poon created a beautiful animated entry for a Coldplay video competition. I greatly wanted to share it with my friends, and my best distribution channel would have been Facebook. But alas, I was locked out. I'll have it available in the future though.
* Twitter rules! While away from Facebook, Howard asked our Virtual Communities class to use Twitter for a while between ourselves to make sure we understood that medium. I thus set up an account intended for class use only. The problem was that by using Twitter even a little, I began to create some social capital and connections through Twitter with people I care about, and I got hooked. I'll post another note in the future about why I think the interest-based network of Twitter may be a more compelling place for me to spend time than the social-based network of Facebook. You'll be seeing many more of my Facebook status updates originating from Twitter.
* Ten weeks is too long to forgo Facebook. Once I returned, I found a backlog of 30 new friend requests, 18 new inbox messages, and seven other sundry requests. I need to spend some time playing catch up. Most of us can probably handle less frequent visits to Facebook, but ten weeks isn't a maintainable interval.

WRAP-UP

As I said earlier, I recommend that every Facebook user take some time to reflect on whether you are using the technology or the technology is using you to paraphrase hero Michael Wesch's most famous video about Web 2.0 (http://bit.ly/w20). Are you benefiting in excess of the gain Facebook gets from having you view its ads? Do you like the way you use Facebook? I'm certain as I follow my resolutions that I'll be much happier here than I used to be, although I'll be here less frequently.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this note. Do any of these ideas strike a chord for you? Do you need some encouragement to go cold-turkey from Facebook for a while? Am I late to the realizations that most people already had?

Thanks!

Bill

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