You really need to slow down

I’ve been using Facebook less and less over the past several years. At the top of the list of reasons is privacy concerns and a growing mistrust of the organization. There are other reasons, but not at the bottom of the list is a simple one: I really don’t need or like the constant stream of information.

Fortunately, there are a lot of people who agree with me. Services like mastodon.social, write.as, and pixelfed.org are based on the idea of community federation. You can have pockets and groups all over the place that can keep to themselves, but also adhere protocols that allow members to engage with other communities and community members. If you haven’t checked out activitypub.rocks, I encourage you to do so.

I also use TinyLetter to send out updates to family and friends that aren’t on Facebook. Under the hood, tiny letter is nothing more than a mailing list service. Everyone understands email. Unsubscribe links are easy and straightforward to use. Everyone can send email from their phone, so you don’t need a native app or special client. Want to share some photos? Attach them to an email. Want to reply to someone’s post? Reply to the email they sent.

Looking back to when the blogosphere (do we still call it that?) really exploded and took off, there was this rush to create protocols and formats, which in turn created some very awesome tools and technologies. This was when Wordpress took off and LiveJournal was fostering massive communities. The pendulum started to swing, however, and this big open group blogging world started to pull back. Services and communities started to consolidate under the non-trivial cost of ownership and operating expenses.

Remember when Facebook pushed “notes” as a primary feature? When they introduced the news feed, it really changed how people consumed content. It started with the prompted status update “Username is …” and “What are you doing right now?”. Oh how times have changed. Now, your status and your activity are the sum total of your actions that they are aware of. All of your likes, comments, purchases, shared articles and memes, uploaded pictures, location check-ins, etc.

It’s all too much.

Your typical Facebook user has an average (mean) number of friends around 340. Depending on how you use Facebook, those are family members, people you went to school with, local friends, remote friends that you want to keep up with, coworkers, and acquaintances. 30% of those people use Facebook daily and 45% get their news from Facebook. With an average of 10 posts created per month by active users, that is a lot of content to consume from a wide range of people.

It adds up, and the end result is that you (we) spend even more time catching up which leads to more generated activity. It’s a vicious cycle, and that’s only talking about Facebook. Twitter, Instagram, Snap, TikTok, Reddit, and others all contribute to the problem in their own ways.

Is there a solution? Maybe. I think one big step is to embrace what is called The Slow Web. Back in 2012, Walter Chen blogged about it on the idonethis.com blog. Jack Cheng later wrote about it and since then, the idea has been picked up and talked about by Wired, The Daily Beast, and others.

Another piece of this puzzle is to reduce our social dependency on big companies like Facebook. As a swing dance organizer, my organization would have to radically change how we stay in touch with local and regional swing dancers if Facebook went away. I think a lot of groups are facing similar problems.