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My tumble off the Facebook limitation wagon last week sparked some questions:
1) Why did I log in? and
2) Why did I feel compelled to join in the first place?

The simple answer to the first question is that it was my mother’s birthday and I wanted to post a message on her wall. However, I wondered whether my intention was only to please my mother (I had already sent an e-card and was going to her party in the evening), or if it was really about others approving of me. If you do something but no one sees it, is it worth doing?

The answer to question 2 is complex, but here’s my attempt at (a part) of it: Everyone else was on Facebook and I didn’t want to miss out. Sometimes, we follow the crowd without first assessing its direction.

Facebook’s function is to help people expand and maintain social connections (or at least names in an address book). If no one joins a social media platform or app, it becomes (or always was) redundant. When we spend a large amount of time on Facebook we increase its value (I will discuss algorithms in a later post), we spend more time on it, and we engage in a social positive feedback loop.

“Early” Facebook joiners like myself may find that their frequency of use has increased over time. I think that when I got caught up in the usage cycle, I stopped searching for or doing things that made me happy for their own sake as I spent more time on Facebook. Reading articles and “connecting” with others in enjoyable, but so is drawing or taking an aimless walk. In hindsight, I think that I saw solitary activities as having diminished significance in comparison to virtual “group” activities, which we ironically do alone in front of a screen. While time spent on Facebook can be valuable, at one point we reach diminishing returns.

I think the diminishing returns are reached when we spend so much time “connecting” that we loose loose depth of connection and time pursuing activities that are we enjoy for their intrinsic qualities. Our constant connection to technology can cause us to isolate ourselves while simultaneously spending the time doing things for others’ approval. The whole arrangement is pretty crazy if you stop to think about it. However, many continue charging ahead.

In the second article of this series, I discussed the cultural lauding of busyness. I think that the busyness process goes something like this: we communicate our busyness to others, we are reinforced by others, we reinforce others for their busyness, repeat. We have equated busyness with worthiness. What are you if you are not busy?

In “Excellent Sheep“, William Deresiewicz tries to determine why so many of his privileged Ivy-League students are miserable. He describes Ivy League admission processes and policies as being primarily focused on ranking students according to how busy their schedules are and rewarding those who make it to the top of the list. The current zeitgeist of “being anything you want to be” while simultaneously being everything at once dovetails with these processes.

To give you an idea of the intensity of the sought busyness level, the current Ivy League admission committees consider 5-6 extracurricular activities as insufficient, notwithstanding the qualities or progress made on any such project, 7-9 extracurricular activities are considered standard. Grades, of course, are also a variable but act as a numerical cut-off: The quantification of students’ academic vigor acts as the qualification. The most disturbing variable, “legacy”(applicants whose parents donate to the school), is worth discussing but is out of the scope of this blog post.

The accepted overuse of Social Media Platforms is a social embodiment of the fantasy of keeping options open while making progress or gains.  They allows us to keep our social options open even during commitments: you can have dinner with a friend while posting, tweeting or ‘gramming to the everyone else (there’s more of “them” then the person to which one is physically proximal: quantity wins). While this might be efficient in one sense, it is extremely wasteful in another: we do not experience things as fully when we do not put all of our attention on them. When we don’t examine what we are doing with our time we can spend a lot of time on autopilot which can lead to  neglecting do things for their own rewards. While we have found a way to increase our nominal connections, we forgot to assess the substantive costs.

Since I have limited my Facebook use, I have more time to write, draw, walk, bike and do things that I find enjoyable for no one but myself. Disconnecting has allowed me to consider how I spend my time and to make more meaningful choices. It’s been completely worth the risk: I’m loving the returns from the investment in myself.

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