In the last few days I have, against my better judgement, rejoined facebook. I did it because once again a friend had something to share and I was excluded from their chosen medium. I set about re-creating my account with a certain pragmatism. I didn’t want to suffer ‘friend-creep’ – that is, receive invites from a bunch of people I barely know and end up with a friend list in the hundreds as I had before. This was probably one of the defining reasons behind my original decision to delete my account and something I feel needs to be kept in check. The thing is… I don’t really feel that I’m doing a very good job.
Facebook is designed with the express intent to prevent me from achieving this. Even if I tightening the privacy options to the point that I am literally undiscoverable by standard means there are pressures keeping me from being selective about my friends list. I added a few people whom I don’t have an easy channel of contact with otherwise and I uploaded a handful of photos and it all felt innocuous enough. I soon realised though that people were noticing me cropping up on friend lists and asking me about it. There’s a certain pressure then to be inclusive, to start adding people out of duty and expectation. Even more annoying for me was the site’s need to tell me who my friends were, constantly suggesting that I might know people, presumably from data harvested from contact lists and e-mail correspondence. Peer pressure and the site’s own database were collaborating to persuade me to bring more people into my circle of friends and its obvious why; the more of our relationships facebook can analyse the more they can target us with relevant advertising.
So a few days in, I feel distinctly dissatisfied again. I don’t like feeling pressured to include people. Maybe I’m being needlessly sensitive, and I’m aware that (though writing a blog about these things may suggest otherwise) I’m actually a pretty intensely private person. I want to maintain a very solid level of control over what I share and who with. I use other social websites such as twitter, and due to the openness of this platform I tailor what I write so that I only divulge that information that I’m comfortable with. I could do this with facebook too, I don’t have to make available any information that I don’t want to be, but this to me completely defeats the purpose of having a selective inclusion.
This conflict made me think about the people I socialise with online, specifically through these kinds of social networks. Who on twitter do I actually pause to read and who do I skim by just because I follow them out of a sense of loyalty; that I should because I’m acquainted and not because I’m interested in their day-to-days. I’m forced to wonder how to maintain control of my own online social networks. Who is really important enough that I want to include them in those parts of my day to day existence that I choose to broadcast. If I sit and think of it I’m not sure it’s a very large fraction of those people I’m currently ‘friended to’ (as opposed to friends with).
I’m resolved now to apply some minimalist thinking to my social networking. I think it’s a pretty harsh choice; I’m going to essentially choose which of my friends I find interesting enough to have on the feeds I read daily. So I have to sit and be brutally honest about what content I want to read and be minimal about my decisions. I need the least amount of follows/friends/watches to cover those things I am interested in paying that kind of scrutiny towards and I think that in many cases it will exclude people that I’m just friends with in favour of people or organisations that publish content that I actively want to pursue. So I’m going to spend some time pruning and trimming friends that I don’t pay attention to and acquaintances I skim over and I expect a few people will take offence. I’m also quite likely to resolve to my original decision to remove myself from facebook because I don’t feel it’s appropriate for the function that I really want it to perform.
The result, I hope, will be an uncluttered feed of information and content with a low chaff ratio that I enjoy reading through rather than glossing over it because the majority of posts fall short of my interest.