Big Al versus Facebook

Alan's mysterious Facebook profile pic
Alan’s mysterious Facebook profile pic

Friend and fellow Tofitian Alan C. receded from Facebook a while back. He was dissatisfied with many things about the site, and wanted to rethink his relationship to the data-mining mega-corporation. He’d been making comments for weeks about spending too much time on social media, with a definite sense of diminishing returns. I gather he was also concerned — as am i — about the amount of personal information Facebook gathers, and what and how it sells that personal info to advertisers for billions in revenue.

However, Facebook has cleverly wormed its way deep into our lives, making it hard to quit cold turkey. (I know; i tried once, and came crawling back two months later.) But Alan was smart about it. Three months ago, he began the process with small steps. Here’s part of his Facebook post from 26 August:

As you may or may not have noticed, I have not been using my personal facebook account for 7 days now! I just logged in to check if there was any important messages. Thought I’d let you know if you do have anything for me, then you should email me….

(breaking the addiction to facebook, one step at a time)

Then a follow-up a few days later (formatting added by me):

So for those that want to keep in touch — you can subscribe to an email list — I will announce radio shows and also things that are of interest too me — my site [] will be changing a little bit as time progresses and I find my groove. I will be posting things that are of importance to me on my site and if you want to hear about that stuff, then add your name and email.

If you don’t want to be on the list, no biggie. I have even found that being off facebook increases my desire to reach out to friends on a more personal level, which will improve relationships with those I care about. Plus it frees up enough time to physically connect with those around me.

Facebook is designed as a distraction I have noticed that is not improving the quality of life or relationships. It’s time to scrap the addiction and join so many others that are doing the same.

Then Alan went AWOL from Facebook entirely. Though not from life: We still saw him around town, at events, and he was still active on Twitter and on his website.

And then last week, after three months of Facebook detox, he suddenly came back on, announcing his return with a post that looks to me about the sanest personal Facebook policy ever. It’s a well thought-out way to tame the distractions, but still use Facebook to keep in touch with select people and issues.

Here’s some of Alan’s reintroduction post from 27 Nov. (formatting added by me to make his approach clear for those, like me, who might want to emulate it):

My 3 months away from Facebook have been an eye-opening and liberating time. I have realised what I want to use facebook for now — to keep in touch with my closest friends, and for a customised and uncluttered news feed.

So, I am back, but this time, I have meticulously organised my lists. I have:

  • a small collection of ‘close friends’, they are the only people I follow and they are the only people that see my posts. These people are the friends I physically have in my life and am likely to see again in my life at some point.
  • I have also edited what kind of posts I see from these ‘close friends’. So I will not see anything you like or comment on, and will only see the things you post.
  • I also have a specific list for family, so I can keep tabs on my family (not the weird facebook smart list for family, but my own list that doesn’t tell facebook who my family is).
  • I also have a separate list containing those people, pages and organisations that have a positive influence on me and on the world.

And his kicker pronouncement, that might well apply to every form of media these days: It’s time to put facebook to work for me, not me for facebook.

The man is organized. He loves his Facebook lists, and he relishes the laborious process of using them to tame the behemoth. The big question now is whether he’ll be able to stick to it. Facebook is a powerful drug. Will the giant-slayer resist its lure? I’ll try for a follow-up in a couple of months.

It’s probably futile to “friend” Alan on Facebook, but you could follow him on Twitter @alschill.