15 Aug 2014

Saying Goodbye to Social Networking

(Disclosure: I work for Google, but not on anything social-related.)

It has almost been two months since I deleted my Facebook and Google+. And I miss nothing.

I find social networks to be useless. They are mostly noise. I don’t feel a sense of connection with anyone on a social network. There’s no meaningful sharing going on, no real human connection, and no relationship being built.

This applies both to people I am close to in real life, and to people I’m not. I didn’t have a meaningful connection on a social network with people who are close to me in real life. Which is a damning indictment of social networks. Neither did social networks help me develop a closer relationship with anyone I’m not already close to. So, if social networks are no good at connecting with people who are close to you, and neither are they good at developing a closer relationship with people who are not already close to you, what are they good for?

The whole idea of sharing things on a social network doesn’t make sense, either. In theory, it’s supposed to help us keep up with important things happening in each other’s lives. In practice, people mostly share trivia. When someone posts a random news article or dumb video or other useless stuff, and other random people you don’t know make various random comments, that’s not a meaningful human interaction. It’s just noise. And social networks are mostly noise.

The people who built these networks have a poor understanding of human relationships. In real life, shared experiences draw us closer to each other. The idea of “sharing” on social networks is posting a link to a random news article. That’s not sharing. That’s a cheap, fake imitation of sharing — it doesn’t result in a meaningful human interaction. It’s just noise. All it does is waste time on both sides.

I’d much rather have coffee with you for half an hour rather than read a hundred of your Facebook posts.

I also found that the obsession of sharing distracted me from the real life, from the unique experiences I was having and may never have again. I was in a beautiful city, in another country, watching a beautiful landscape or an amazing work of art, and all I could think of was, “Wow, won’t this look awesome on my Facebook page? Won’t it win me many ‘like’s?” All this distracts from the experience you’re having. You post eagerly, and keep checking every few hours to see how many more people 'like’d your post.

Though social networks have nothing useful to offer, they draw us in. They are addictive, and when we get a minute of free time, or are bored, or feel the need for a break from what we’re doing, we have the irresistible urge to go check Facebook to see if there’s anything new or interesting. Invariably, there isn’t. Or if it’s there, it’s like junk food — always available, tempting but ultimately doesn’t help us in any way.

A lot of posts on social networks are not interesting to me. They may be interesting to the poster, or to some people in their friend list, but not to me. And probably not interesting to the majority of people who see that post. In that sense, social networks are like spam — you shoot out an update to dozens or hundreds of people in the hope that a few find it interesting. When you look at it from the receiving side, if you’re seeing tons of posts that don’t mean anything to you, then it becomes hard to escape the conclusion that Facebook is a source of spam. Why would you explicitly go sign up to a source of spam? And an addicting one at that, as opposed to ICICI insurance, which wastes less of your time before you click the Spam button?

Not only is Facebook an addictive source of spam [1], but there are intrusive ads in the stream. Nobody gets up in the morning thinking, “I wish I could see more ads today”.

The Facebook UI is also claustrophobic, with the actual content taking up only around a third of the width of the screen [2], and the rest being devoted to junk. Besides, the header at the top sticks to the top of the window as you scroll, making it feel more claustrophobic. You come across intrusive ads as you try to read your news feed. And irritating auto-playing videos of dumb things that people like posting for some reason. I once observed my emotional state as I opened Facebook, and it was a feeling of stress. It came from the claustrophobic interface, the ads, the auto-playing videos, the feeling of yet another thing to check, too many notifications to process and counters to reset to zero.

I also found that the idea of “Facebook friends” unnerving. As someone put it, your Facebook friends are not going to visit you in hospital. Who needs such “friends”? And this was in spite of actively curating my friend list, refusing invites from people who are not friends in real life, un-friending people who don’t keep in touch with me and don’t bother to reciprocate my attempts to do so. Despite doing all that, I’d end up with fake friends on Facebook.

So, a lack of meaningful connection with anyone, not keeping up with the important things happening in your friends’ lives, ending up with fake friends, a news feed with 99% noise and 1% useful stuff, a claustrophobic UI, irritating auto-playing videos and ads, an obsession with sharing trivia and with over-sharing, and a source of stress — who needs social networks?

[1] Which is something none of the spammers managed to do so far, so that’s a big accomplishment, even if a dubious one.

[2] On a 15-inch Retina Macbook.

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