[This story was originally posted on my personal blog]
Back when I first came across the internet, a few email addresses at rediffmail.com was my only web presence. However, as the web started to grow in its offerings and gathered the attention of a wider audience, it sort of became necessary among the people I used to hang around with, to have a social network account.
For me, it started with Orkut, which I purely created on being challenged by a very good friend of mine asking me for how I could even exist on this planet without an Orkut account. Soon enough, keeping my online profile became a very important part of my life and then came others like hi5 and Myspace. In around 2010, when most of the people I cared about in my Orkut's friends list moved to Facebook, I migrated too. Having had a not-so-great experience with the user interface a few years ago, I was skeptical, but by the time I actually made the switch, things were so much improved!
Orkut started to die quickly, everyone you ever knew was now on Facebook and people totally forgot about that thing that was actually responsible to bring social networking to people (or people to social networking). This was true at least for the region where I lived at that time, which was Mumbai/Bombay, where a decent internet connection was a big deal, even after a decade into the new 'modern' century.
Back then, investing in a mobile internet plan was still a waste of money for me. Still, keeping my Facebook profile updated was one of my most important priorities of life. Not to say that I shared every single detail of my daily life online, nor did I share weird 'selfies' standing next to expensive objects, celebrities or having exotic food, but Facebook had taken over a not-so-small part of my life.
I also found myself spending time on -
- Responding to unproductive, negative, trolling comments on my posts, that was a sheer waste of time
- Fighting with people whom I did not even know personally, over things that did not directly relate to my life at all
- Trying to avoid a few very specific people from knowing about my personal life, that I myself made public for the rest of the world
Somewhere in 2016 (I do not remember when exactly), I deleted (not deactivated) my Facebook account, which was a very few good decision.
I realized that I did not need a social networking platform in my life and on deleting my profile from Facebook, I further realized that I was not missing anything at all. Everything was going on normally, in fact, I could focus on what was important to me, even more.
I did lose contact with a few people I wanted to stay connected to, which was very surprising to me for how difficult would it be in the 21st century to know and be connected to someone when (almost) all of us have at least one good number to reach them and a few active email addresses? Turned out that after all that evolution on how people could communicate with other people (and animals), Facebook was the new (and only) channel of communication.
I took some time off, switched to a BlackBerry Passport (Silver Edition), which had great hardware for its time but after a year or so, its unsupported wrapper over Android (called BB10) was left even less useable due to lack of connectivity to the outside world (which may sound exactly opposite to what the brand stood for), as they kept on shutting down support for almost every service that I cared for, one at a time, including DropBox, Evernote, and a few others. I still own it and despite not being my daily driver, it is still one of my most favorite phones (out of the 16 odd phones that I owned in the last 16 years).
Now that I developed a pattern with a decent focus on things that mattered to me, I decided to give myself a challenge by adding a bit of distraction to my daily routine and re-surfaced on Facebook after about 3 years. The motive this time was different: have a glance at one of the most successful socializing platforms and learn from it for how they implemented it, which I was already doing offline by following the team behind it and internet celebrities like Dan Abramov. I realized that currently being in front-end development since almost a decade, I'm definitely missing something if I'm not learning from successful platforms like Facebook.
I re-joined Facebook with a fresh profile on June 23rd, 2019 with a new mindset. I decided not to post pictures, share subjective posts about random topics or get into arguments about things that I should not be concerned for. Till the time of this writing, I have successfully managed to keep a fairly low profile by almost not posting anything except for my basic profile details.
As soon as I joined back, it did not take me long to re-realize the problems that I faced last time and the reasons that made me leave the ‘social life’.
Some of the immediate problems that I could see are
Anything that you post can be commented on and turned into an unproductive discussion where people can be intimidated, hurt and what not!
I found myself distracted and tempted to use my phone more often to check my freshly created profile and to connect with all the contacts that I had associated to my profile a few years ago by either scrolling through suggestions or by accepting random friend requests that I kept on receiving at least one per hour.
I skimmed through quite a few profiles to find posts and pictures that could very easily trigger competition between connections. It may not be the actual intention, but I think that there could be so many ways to look at the same thing depending upon who you are and what you’re going through in life at that moment. One may want to share their success stories and milestones to their friends (and potentially friends of friends, or furthermore the entire world) but it may look like a show-off and does not make everyone looking at your success really happy. Moreover, such posts could demoralize someone, which is far worse than sharing the content at all in the first place.
I already started feeling the pressure to keep my profile up-to-date and am feeling overwhelmed with the possibilities I could use my profile for. Facebook has done a great job of adding so many new fields to a profile that one can use to showcase their life achievements and moments better but that can also be too much, especially if you’re a kind of person who has so much more to do in life than just keeping your online profile as accurate as possible. Besides, for a person like me, who already has a presence on so many different kinds of online services including IRC, along with the fact that I religiously try to keep everything up-to-date, that is just a lot of pressure to take.
I do not mean to put Facebook in bad-light at all and I also agree that in most cases, it is not the tool that is unproductive, it is all about how you use it, which reminds me of one of my favorite dialogs from Mass Effect:
A weapon does not choose to kill - the one who wields it does. - Thane Krios.
Today, Facebook is not only a social network to share cat videos. It is much more than that including services like Marketplace, Fundraisers, Jobs, Weather and so much more.
Personally, Marketplace has been super useful in my family in the last couple of years. We've been using my wife's profile to buy and sell stuff and the reach is way better than the competition.
There’s also so much hidden under Groups and Pages, services for free that you can connect your personal website to, and get so much more like ads, RSS feeds, etc.
The plan is simple: connect, observe and learn; sort of use it more like LinkedIn. I have specifically not installed Messenger app on my phone so that internet messaging does not take over my life and make me inefficient again, but yes, I will respond to messages from the website probably once or twice during the day. It is similar to the reason why I prefer not to use WhatsApp when I can actually call the person I want to connect with or send a text message instead, rather than ending up exchanging hundreds of message without talking about anything meaningful.
I also plan to use Facebook as a way to make myself (more) discoverable on the web once again and to connect with people who can only be found on Facebook as to when no other form of communication works, Facebook does.