How to Life without The Evil Empire?
May 6, 2017 11:59 AM   Subscribe

More specifically: How do people keep and grow a network without Facebook? If that doesn't seem possible (which: ragefist at the moon, that is some bullshit), how do you mess with Facebook settings so that it doesn't suck your soul through a tiny screen?

I've historically been bad at maintaining social networks over time. I'm pretty good at making friends (although this is admittedly harder in my 30s), but keeping those interactions going has sometimes proven to be a challenge. My next-in-line personal project is about opening myself up more to the world at large, and pursuing more of the things that bring me joy, and that often means meeting and befriending new people. But this time I'd like to keep more of them. Since I'm a writer who needs lots of alone time to write, this means active effort on my part. Which works in the short term, but then things tend not to stick if there aren't obvious or regular reasons to see people.

And Facebook makes me insane. The last time I got sucked into it, I woke up from the haze like 40 minutes later with a crick in my neck, chucked my phone to the other end of the couch, and thought, "oh so that's what vampirism feels like. It is a lot less sexy than I've been led to believe." I also felt like shit. I really, really, really despise everything about it.

And yet.

So, are there alternatives? What do you use? How do you use it?

I really want there to be an alternative, because, you know, vampirism.
posted by schadenfrau to Human Relations (25 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Besides the actual alternatives to Facebook, like Mastodon or Diaspora, if what you're looking for is "Facebook, but just the people I know and not a lot of ads or irrelevant stuff", you might be interested in FB Purity, a browser extension that lets you tweak just about every aspect of the website to your liking. That plus an adblocker (mine is uBlock Origin) keep my feed manageable.

I notice you said you were browsing on your phone, and our experiences may vary: I try to avoid the FB app for my iPhone because it lacks the FBPurity settings (no idea what you can do on Android).

Of course, this is no guarantee that you won't still get sucked in for 40 minutes at a time. But at least you'll have control over what you see.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 12:08 PM on May 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

I think you're asking a general question disguised as a specific one. So I'm going to offer what may seem like an annoyingly general answer.

If you don't like a given party, don't seek a better party. Instead, be the party. This would be the perfect project for a transitioning extrovert.

I realize that sounds like sappy, empty platitude, but it represents a powerful shift of perspective which will spur creativity and forthright proactivity - things that are strangely missing in most people these days, lost in passive consumerism. I've used it to weirdly gigantic effect myself.

I'm not, btw, suggesting you build your own FB-ish app. There are lots of ways of networking; humans have been doing this for millennia without any internet at all...
posted by Quisp Lover at 12:08 PM on May 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

Can you perhaps be more clear about what you are asking? I don't get the "vampire" metaphor at all.

If you are asking for some different internet-based social network, that is one thing - but perhaps you could be more clear and less metaphorical about what you don't like about Facebook (e.g., the things that your people tend to post there, because they are too _____ for your taste, or whatever).

No social media are necessary to having friends, of course. Maybe what you could try is getting the email addresses or phone numbers of people you like to hang out with, and contacting them to suggest get-togethers? I know that sounds basic, but again I am struggling with the lack of clarity in the question.
posted by sheldman at 12:28 PM on May 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

And Facebook makes me insane. The last time I got sucked into it, I woke up from the haze like 40 minutes later with a crick in my neck,

Forgive me, but I don't know that this is a problem that can be solved with technology. Mitigated, maybe? But I'm also not sure what your problem is, exactly, so there's that.

Delete the app from your phone. If you have your login info saved in your mobile browser, delete that as well. Facebook on desktop/laptop only, and only once you've installed FB Purity, which will allow you to manage what you see and from whom way more easily (and more finely grained) than the naked browser way. Set a timer if you need to - 10 minutes of checking fb and DING you're done for the day. Don't let your browser remember your login info and make your password painful enough to remember that you have to look it up every time you log in.
posted by rtha at 12:31 PM on May 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Another possibility is to try this: if you do go on Facebook, ENGAGE with people. "Like" their silly cat pics. Comment on stuff. I am imagining that perhaps part of the problem is that you feel that you are just viewing rather than taking part in a network of friends?
posted by sheldman at 12:34 PM on May 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ahhh, sorry for the lack of clarity. I have deleted the app from my phone, and I wasn't a heavy user to begin with. By vampirism, I mean it literally feels like it sucks energy -- and enthusiasm, and optimism, and general good feelings of joy, humor, and compassion (both towards myself and others) -- right out of my body. I really don't know how else to explain it. I feel tired and terrible after using it. I know I am sensitive to all the little dopamine slot machine triggers they have embedded in social networking apps, but I'm not at all sure that entirely explains it. If it does, and there's ways to minimize that, awesome! (Which is part of the reason for the question.) But otherwise un-altered Facebook (in particular) is terrible for me, from a mental health perspective.

But I'm asking here because in real life, whenever I ask people about how they manage keeping in contact with people, strengthening new friendships with people they don't otherwise see regularly, and even discovering new events and things to do, the answer is literally always "Facebook."
posted by schadenfrau at 12:39 PM on May 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

I get people's phone numbers and/or email addresses and text or email them to hang out.

Never been on FB and I've noticed nobody in my circle is too into it these days, and nobody thinks I'm impossible to reach.
posted by kapers at 12:43 PM on May 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

I don't know what is hurting you or if you just hate the people you're friends with, but I use the FB Purity plugin linked above to remove a lot of the ads and gameshit and cruft and algorithm funkyness, keep my sort set to "most recent", and can keep up by scrolling down the main (friends, not the entire world) list a few times a day. I don't heavily curate my feed (aside from unfollowing the very few people I didn't just unfriend, and just generally not having shit friends), I turn most notifications off (except that they are explicitly on for a couple of people who, either because they have fragile health situations or are specifically good sources of information I find high-value, I want to know when they post).

I use the FB Purity filters to hide notifications that people liked or commented or reacted to things, so that all I get are primary posts, with their comments underneath.

I use the Friendly+ app on my phone, which gives me a limited amount of the same filtering, but honestly FB Purity is so good that I just rarely use my phone with Facebook at all, which is fine with me.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:04 PM on May 6, 2017

Volunteer, write letters & emails, call & text people. Arrange get-togethers.
posted by aniola at 1:21 PM on May 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Here is a totally non-Facebook-related answer:

What works for me in terms of making new friends and maintaining those relationships over the long term is to do social stuff in contexts where there is a regular reason to see those people, through a regular shared activity. So, pub trivia nights, book clubs , and social dance classes are favourites of mine. Art classes too, but they seem to be a bit less effective for be-friend-ing. For people who like sports, sports teams. For you, maybe a writing group? There are also general social things on sites like Meetup and Couchsurfing. Volunteering might work in some contexts, but hasn't been as effective for me except when I've joined organizing committees, which has worked.

I think the characteristics of an ideal new-friend-generating regular activity are frequency (weekly or biweekly is best, developing friendships from monthly meetups is possible but takes much longer), presence of a core group of people who are usually or always there, and time to talk while doing whatever the activity is. It's also nice if there are enough participants that the thing happens every time it's scheduled, whether or not each individual shows up.

If you don't need to meet new people and just want to maintain relationships with people you already know, how about suggesting a regular activity/meetup to those existing friends?
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:33 PM on May 6, 2017 [14 favorites]

I quit facebook three years ago (because of the vampiric feelings you mention - I felt like it was making me a more shallow, judgmental person). One result has definitely been a pared-down version of my 'networks' which I don't think is entirely a bad thing - just more in line with how people used to socialize, with a smaller circle of actually close friends rather than a broad swath of weak acquaintances. I stay in touch with my actual close friends through email and texting, and maintain a broader network in a very low-maintenance way through Linkedin (totally square, but I find it serves the pure staying-accessible-to-acquaintances function in a much less problematic way than Facebook).

There was an initial adjustment period where my good friends kept trying to invite me to parties on Facebook, or send me articles, etc. and then texting me and being like "where are you???" (because I didn't make any kind of grand announcement that I was quitting). But over time they got used to it, and now send me invitations and articles and baby pictures by email, along with the other handful of non-FB-havers (it might seem like EVERYONE else has it but that is not literally true, as you will learn if you quit).

I will say, there is a stratum of people I am medium-close to (not close enough to call or email, but close enough that I'd like to know how they're doing sometimes) and that circle is definitely harder to stay in touch with sans Facebook if you don't see those people in the course of normal events - you have to make a concerted effort. But the positive is that if you do make that effort, you will have higher-quality interactions with them than a random 'like' here and there. Plus, I find that an ancillary benefit is no longer being tormented/tantalized by very false versions of people's lives; by having real-life interactions with them you get a more complete picture of what's really going on.

This is the circle of friends I was most concerned about losing contact with when I left Facebook, and I started out by just disabling it temporarily and telling myself I'd go back at the end of the summer. But I immediately realized that the benefits to my mental health were way greater than the inconvenience of having to make a conscious effort to stay in touch with certain people (especially since that effort itself has its own benefits).
posted by Owl of Athena at 4:57 PM on May 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Maybe a WhatsApp group shared with the people you most want to interact with/keep track of? It's owned by and integrated with Facebook (if that's a dealbreaker for you) but can be used on its own. If you want to divorce from Facebook entirely, the free versions of Slack and Hipchat work pretty well as community hubs.
posted by givennamesurname at 4:58 PM on May 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have to be on Facebook for my job, and my friends are there. But I've consciously added people like Pema Chodron to my feed and it's actually a pretty nice stream most days. So if you go that route, try adding things that fill your well.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:39 PM on May 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

The tricky part of this is that you can control what network *you* use, but you can't make other people abandon FB and use something else-- and unless they already love you or hate FB, they're going to stick to what's easy for them, and what their other friends are on.

That said, if you think there are other technical solutions that would solve this existential angst re Facebook, then perhaps you can tease out what would be different there. Different people? (Change your filters.) No pictures or videos? No news? No fake news? Once you figure out what is soul sucking, you can try to address it.

If you don't think any technical solution will help, join a book club, or a yoga studio, or a running group, or get good at being the person who reaches out via texts and plans social gatherings.
posted by instamatic at 5:59 PM on May 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

My cat uses facebook. She subscribes to various groups and has a very nice feed and only has two friends. When she needs to change something, no one seems to take it personally. I recommend it. Me, I am on a chat program with a few friends, email for some others, phone for others. It works out fine. My neighbor just put an invitation to her birthday party in my mailbox, my actual physical mailbox.

I am an introvert. I still have more of a social life than I prefer despite all this.
posted by nanook at 6:44 PM on May 6, 2017

I'm not a Facebook fan, either. I recently started using Instagram and have found it quite pleasant. It feels exponentially more calm, positive, and serene than Facebook. (Caveat: Instagram is still owned by Facebook, but you can keep your accounts separate.)

Do any of the people you'd like to keep in touch with use Instagram?

(Also, try following accounts with beautiful photography, so your feed will be a mix of posts from people you know + some lovely photos of places/things you like.)
posted by misspettigrew at 6:52 PM on May 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

I know many who successfully use whatsapp groups, as mentioned above, for this purpose. WeChat is also pretty good for this, but not used as much outside of Asia. If you could be a bit clearer what you don't like then I might have other suggestions-- And this post has made me shamefully realise how little I use actual email these days.
posted by frumiousb at 9:07 PM on May 6, 2017

Google hangouts, or WhatsApp, or just group texting works well for me. I have a Facebook account which I maybe check once every 75 days or so.

Also, Taco Tuesday. Every Tuesday I go to a local taco place to eat and chill with friends. There's a regular small group, and others come and go each week. It requires no internet apps of any kind.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:19 PM on May 6, 2017

I got rid of my Facebook a few years ago and after a short period of feeling like I was missing out on everything my pre-smartphone life skills kicked in and I started enjoying the fact that I didn't know everything about everyone all the time. I found I liked people more, and I found myself with lots of free time to do the stuff I care about. So I haven't missed it. Give it a few weeks and you won't either.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:57 AM on May 7, 2017

Facebook is useful for introverts/ people who do lots of alone stuff because it reminds you that other people exist and have lives and to talk to them.

Another way to do this is to put communicating with people into your calendar. Schedule time to call people and chat briefly, to text them, or to email them, just to touch base and nurture the friendship. Maintaining relationships is hard work for those of us to whom it doesn't come naturally. You have to make a point of keeping in touch with people, even if it's just "im here, are you there" birdsong. That's something that Facebook essentially does the work for you; without it, you have to be a lot more active.
posted by windykites at 9:43 AM on May 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I haven't checked Facebook for 2.5 years.

Take any online rolodex, and run a cronjob with a cursor to remind you to contact those people. You should prioritize it so there's an inner, middle, outer group. Max ~150 people (Dunbar's number.). You don't need a proper CRM, because those are for salespeople and moreover they are all shit.

(Many people who talk about Dunbar's number do not read his papers. It's a linear regression on the genus of primates on the volume of brain spaces, but most linear regressions on renormalized quantities are not so good. It is known that social networks are amenable to RG, I don't have cite on me. I mean, you should cheat. Keep Farley files, if you need to (CRM's are a poor substitute))
posted by hleehowon at 11:18 AM on May 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Two hacks: (1) "Unfollow" anyone or anything on FB that drains your spirit. (You can still maintain a connection with them, but you won't see anything they post in your timeline.) (2) Set a timer on your device to go off after five or 10 minutes of FB browsing. Then, close it and move on with your life.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 11:27 AM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I haven't had Facebook for years. The misery just didn't seem to be worth the benefits, but I was honestly terrified when I got rid of it that it would negatively affect my social life.
Well that didn't happen at all. With the exception of a couple of group invites which someone in my social circle would have to text me about, lack of Facebook barely made any difference.
These days group stuff seems to be increasingly organised through WhatsApp, which I would also highly recommend for staying in touch with people on a more casual/infrequent basis.
posted by inner_frustration at 3:06 PM on May 8, 2017

I have a Facebook account, but I unfollowed everyone (right click on a post from someone and click 'Unfollow' and you won't see any of their posts). You can do this in bulk. Select the little down arrow next to the question mark in the top right of your screen, then 'News Feed Preferences', then 'Unfollow people to hide their posts', then select everyone.

When you login after doing this, Facebook is just an empty, boring messaging/event management application, which makes it a lot less time-sucky. You can also go to to just use FB messenger without the rest of it.

This has reduced my Facebook usage from perhaps 1-2 hours per day in dozens of little 5 minute 'sips' to maaaaaybe once a day for 2 minutes, if I remember. Sometimes I forget to check it for a week or two. If you turn off all notifications, it's pretty easy to wean yourself off it.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:16 AM on May 10, 2017

Turning off notifications is very helpful. You can turn off quite a few of them. Unfollowing people who just irritate you is helpful. You don't have to unfriend them, just unfollow. I found deactivating my account for a couple months super helpful too. It just got me out of the habit of checking it all the time, even after I re-activated it.
posted by Cranialtorque at 1:42 PM on May 11, 2017

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