For several months in 2015, I checked Facebook maybe once every couple weeks. During that time, I didn’t reflect very deeply on why I was avoiding Facebook, but simply knew it wasn’t really enriching my life.
Lately, I check Facebook to see if a relative has uploaded an anticipated video, or to see how the family holiday pictures turned out, only to spend the next 15 minutes scrolling through endless useless pieces of information: lip-puckering selfies, trending topics, bogus statistics memes (only 1 in 10 people can read this upside down!), diary entries from people I hardly know.
It’s sort of like going to your junk drawer to find the nail clippers, and rifling through old receipts, coupons, paper clips. Instead of fetching your clippers, which you know are in the back, you occupy yourself momentarily with what’s in your drawer and why it’s there.
Facebook Is a Garbage Dump
In these past few weeks, after repeatedly letting myself get sucked into the Facebook vortex, I’ve come to realize that Facebook is really just a digital garbage dump. The junk mail we tossed in the garbage and the hyper-dramatic forwarded emails we used to delete out of our digital inbox now barrage us daily, and we just let it the trash build up around us, like cyber-hoarders.
Why did I “like” Hot Showers? Why did I follow that D-list media pundit? Why do I collect “friends,” who aren’t really my friends at all, many of whom I’ve met just twice, once, or never?
It’s not just that we collect garbage, we contribute to it. Social media isn’t a one-way consumption platform—all this garbage is coming from me to you, and you to your friend, and back to me again. It’s an endless cycle of trash, never recycled, just added to with little quips, pictures, and countless half-true memes of equal or lesser value.
I used to say about pop culture gossip that I had heard it through the grapevine. Now I say that it hit me through the garbage chute.
Millennials Produce the Most Garbage
According to Pew, millennials remain the heaviest Facebook users, with 82 percent of those aged 18 to 29 using Facebook, which is the most engaged social media platform for all ages. Older adults are a growing portion of Facebook’s user base, though. Seventy percent of all Facebook users are on the platform daily, meaning they are either producing or consuming digital garbage. Probably both.
Millennials are widely reported to be the most self-absorbed generation, constantly desiring to be heard and seen, constantly projecting themselves to the world. Unless you’re Kim K or of equal celebrity status, it’s not that you think the world is dying to know how your hair looks today, or what bar you’re standing outside.
Rather, you think the world should know where you are and what you look like today. Every semi-significant thing we do or think shouldn’t be kept private, hidden under a bushel—no! Let that selfie shine! Let your opinion on conflicts both familial and foreign be known!
In my seven or eight years as a Facebook user, I’ve posted maybe two selfies. They weren’t of just me, and they definitely weren’t taken in front of a bathroom mirror. I don’t even have pictures from our honeymoon on my profile. Of course, I’ve shared a fair amount of the annoying, arrogant, whiny updates typical of young adults, as my Facebook Memories often reminds me, but I’ve kept the inspirational memes and bogus personality assessments to a minimum.
Here I am, bragging about my Facebook history, in true millennial fashion. You didn’t really need to know that, but that’s how easy it is for us to clutter each other’s consciousness with mostly worthless information.
We think our garbage is treasure to be shared with the world. But in the words of parody master Weird Al Yankovic:
Yeah, you keep on telling me life is short,
And it’s hard to disagree with what you say.
But, if time is so precious why you wastin’ mine?
Cause I’m always reading; always deleting
Every useless piece of garbage that you send my way!
Every stupid hoax, all those corny jokes,
Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me.
Well I don’t need tons of cringe inducing puns,
Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me.
Of course, it’s not garbage to everyone. You have a close circle of friends and family who love to hear what you think and can’t wait to see what you’re up to—what you cooked today or who you visited or what new gadget you got for Christmas. They might actually click on that article you sent them because you have an ongoing political dialogue with them, or watch the trailer you posted because you have good taste in movies.
You don’t have to throw your thoughts and data down the virtual garbage chute to see if someone picks it up. You don’t need to scroll through hundreds of other people’s information to find a few bits of value, only to have precious time sucked away into the Facebook vortex. You know where your treasure lies, and that’s what Facebook walls are for—or, better yet, communicate through private messages.
In 2016, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Facebook
This New Year, clean out your Facebook by unfriending and unfollowing accounts you know are just littering your feed. It may seem callous to click through your friends list and wipe dozens of people from your cyber purview, but remember that you won’t miss them. If you really want to check in on somebody you don’t usually keep up with, visit his or her profile.
If you’ve got something to share with a real-life friend, text or send a private message. Post memories from important events in your life to Facebook (such as wedding photos), changes of relationship status and the like. There’s probably a wide circle of friends and acquaintances that would love to see a picture of your brand new baby, or the moment you popped the question to your girlfriend, or, on rare occasion, your dog being especially adorable on a Christmas-card level.
What they probably don’t want to see are political rants from obscure blogs, requests to share a post if you care about saving the planet, the ten scariest pictures from around the web, or the ten-thousandth meme of life advice on a nature backdrop.
Instead of just sharing anything and everything with everyone, be deliberate and thoughtful with your online presence. Keep your audience in mind and stay connected to the people who matter.