I made the decision back in mid-November to radically cut down on my use of Facebook. Thus far it has been a great success, I have recovered at least ½-hr per day, maybe more. Even if I spent it sleeping, that would be a huge net win, instead I have been using the time to make a dent in my to-read list. For example I have two×20-minute train journeys on a working day that are now better used. There are other more subtle benefits too, I feel that I am less easily distracted, more able to work on things for a solid block of time and at the end feel like I have accomplished something.
What brought this on was an increasing awareness of the intrusiveness and manipulation of the algorithm. This crept up slowly like boiling a frog, but Facebook deploys cutting-edge ML to one and only one end, to maximise the time you spend looking at Facebook. I’d be looking at the next thing and the next thing thinking, why am I being shown this? It’s not important in a general sense, nor is it important to me personally… And what important things am I missing because I’m looking at this instead? I rarely write in this blog anymore; I don’t write much Open Source anymore; where did all that time and energy and attention go?
It’s an interesting aspect of neural nets and so-called “deep learning” (which should really be called “machine intuition”) that no-one really understands how to unpick it; give it a lot of data (everything you’ve ever done on FB or any site with a like or share button) and an objective function and it will maximise that function of course, but the how and the why remain opaque. “Fake News” is a thing because fake news and controversy in general generates clicks and “engagement” and so that’s what the algo pushes to you, no humans in the loop at all. I grew up in a more innocent age on the Internet; there was no algorithm on IRC or AIM or Usenet statistically analyzing every line of text before deciding whether showing it to me or not was more likely to make me spend more time there, and injecting an ad every few lines. There have been a few prominent ex-FB execs coming forward recently saying that this manipulation of the timeline/newsfeed has gone too far too. It pretends to be engagement with your friends but it isn’t really, it’s just engagement with Facebook itself. We didn’t need this extra layer before, why do we need it now?
Anyway, if anyone is considering this, or needs to find more time in the day (it’s a matter of priorities; will you die thinking I wish I’d spent more time clicking like on things an algorithm showed me?) this is how to do it:
- Start by switching off notifications. Get into the habit of looking at your phone when you want to, not when it wants attention. This might take a couple of weeks to ingrain.
- Cue up plenty of other stuff on your phone or mobile device. If you have a few minutes to kill, something other than Facebook to do. It took me a while to unlearn the muscle memory of pulling my phone out and clicking that blue f icon, but it is actually just as easy to click Kindle instead. Or even a quick game or anything that will take the edge off boredom. Also you probably aren’t really bored in the same way as you don’t snack on junk food because you’re really hungry. You will unlearn this impulse too.
- Once you are ready just uninstall the app. This will also boost the battery life of your device! Facebook has another interface at
mbasic.facebook.com that provides an absolutely minimal experience; if you really need to check an event or reply to a message, you will still be able to, no need to worry
- Generate a random password on your desktop, e.g. with iCloud Keychain or whatever you use and activate two factor auth. This little extra step will reduce the temptation to look at it on a whim
Anyway there’s no high principle here or paranoia about tracking or anything; I need more time to do more important and ultimately more fulfilling things, resisting the engagement algorithm and the thousands of “data scientists” who would rather work on selling ads than curing cancer requires as much or more willpower than resisting junk food, so I simply choose not to play and actually after a few weeks I don’t even want to play, and I find it a little weird that I ever spent so much time doing it.
I’m no-one special or unique, I don’t think anything I do is particularly unusual, so perhaps 2018 will be the year mass Facebook Fatigue sets in…