…back to Facebook (!?)

Growth Continuum:
(12/20) — Going Deep
(05/21) — Going Deep: Follow-Up Pt. 1
(07/22) — Digital Minimalism Follow-Up Pt. 2
(07/22) — Procrastination Illustrated
(10/22) — Diet as a Primer for Making the ‘Right Choice’
(10/22) — My Morning Routine, Explained
(04/23) — Avoiding the In-Between
(04/23) — Back to the iPhone: The Luddite iPhone
(05/24) — …back to Facebook (!?) (This page)

It’s been about four years since I left Facebook, and in that time… there’s just so much! I’ve learned an absolute ton, I’ve lived so, so much, I’ve grown, I’ve built, I’ve worked… pretty much every facet of my life has flourished. It’s been really, truly wonderful. I credit much of this to faith and blessings, but even the time I now spend in scripture and prayer was time previously tainted by distracting thoughts, time straight-up spent on social media (scrolling), or time poisoned by the malaise that comes with seeing everyone else’s life around you (the consequence of scrolling). It was fairly normal by today’s cultural standards… but I wanted more in life. I wanted to feel genuine accomplishment; genuine growth and wisdom.

So I dove into the digital-minimalism rabbit-hole. I left Facebook, I left all other forms of social media, I began waking up early and utilizing my mornings for focus and learning, and I started working with fixed blocks of real focus-time. I cut out distractions and waged war on self-distracting thoughts. I’ve made lots of changes and tweaks over the years (and tried to write about many of them!) that, each time, allowed me to reach a higher level of productivity, focus, and sense of self-confidence in both who I am and what I do. Leaving social media, distractions, my phone, and all the other things behind radically changed both my personal life and my career forever.

So why would I go back?

Pictures. It’s always been about the pictures 😅. Do you remember that it was the concept of sharing pictures with friends that originally rocketed Instagram to its original success? Before they both turned into advertisement-money-algorithm machines, Facebook and Instagram were, first and foremost, imagery platforms. They were the best way to share pictures with your friends.

But then the platforms grew. On the individual level, friends lists grew. Often into the thousands. On the corporate level, the investor / seed-money started running out and they needed a revenue model. You can’t just lose money forever! And thus, ‘the algorithm’ was born. While it was always pitched as “the best way for you to keep up with your friends (because you have THOUSANDS and there’s no way to see all of that content)”, internally it was “how we hack the human mind to keep you scrolling on Facebook/Instagram as absolutely long as possible… since we make money that way.” Cynical? Yes. True? Absolutely. Terrible? Sadly 😞.

Anyway, I’m not going to get into a whole digital-minimalism spiel here, but suffice it to recall that sharing images was one of the simple, core features of Instagram and (then) Facebook.

I discovered pretty quickly after leaving Facebook and my phone behind in 2020 how much I love taking pictures — capturing moments, colors, places, and things. I grew up with cameras. I shot digital cameras in the early days! My first camera had (seriously) two megapixels. 2. I’m probably one of the last in my generation to have actually owned floppy disks… and used them! I had such a passion for photography as a child. When I left my phone behind and started taking walks and adventures apart from technology in 2020 I realized how much I wanted a camera again. They remain these extremely high-tech devices that can do technical marvels (capture light on a computer chip…) but are totally disconnected from any kind of network or social-anything. They’re perfect for me!

Fast forward four years and I’ve shot close to a hundred-thousand photographs. Less than ten-thousand I’d actually consider ‘good’ shots 😅, but along the way I’ve also reflected a lot on what to do with them. My opinion for a while now has been that taking pictures is pointless if they only ever remain in your camera roll or on a hard-drive somewhere. We take pictures to share them; to put them on the walls; to relive those moments. Photographs bring us joy. They explain a million words in a moment. They’re slices of life! They need to get out. A photograph that languishes in the graveyard of an old hard-drive (or your camera roll) shouldn’t have been taken at all.

So what does your friendly neighborhood software-developer off-social-media do? Develop some software, of course! It started with a photo-roll sort of thing on my own website. I wanted it to be instagram-like, but on my own website. That went… poorly. Then, around the time that we started traveling, it evolved to SullyShoots.com. That site was great and I loved the design, but it’s built on a platform that’s not really made for constantly adding pictures. It got slower and slower the more photos I added. Not ideal. So I migrated to a new solution last year. This was back to my own website, but using some new technologies that didn’t exist in 2020/2021. That yielded the “Pics” feed:


But at the end of the day (end of the years?) none of these solutions ever filled the gap. Because the gap has never been about my ability to host pictures somewhere. Sure, SullyShoots.com has nice ergonomics around uploading images, and sure, I spent some hours on the “Pics” feed making sure that there’d be very little friction for me to update it, but it’s not the point.

All of these systems and tools lacked the most important part: the audience. I can built my own photo-sharing system all day long, but if nobody’s there to see them, did I ever really share them at all? If a tree falls in the forest…

But there is a little more nuance to this, too. It’s not just that Facebook has the audience I ultimately want to target for these photos. It’s that it requires no extra friction on their end to view those photos when I post them. Being cognizant and cautious around causing other people friction is something I’ve tried to focus on with my digital minimalism in general.

If my answer to all of my friends is, “sure come see my pictures just sign up for this newsletter and check my site once in a while,” it does work, but it adds overhead to their life. It’s much, much easier for them if my photos just show up in the Facebook feed they’re already viewing.

So, okay, photos posted to Facebook… what about all the negatives of Facebook? The endless scrolling? The ads? The algorithm that seeks to steal as much of your attention and time as possible?

The short answer is that you have to cut out your “friends” list. And I use quotes here specifically because, like most typical users, my “friends” list was over 2,000-strong, and mostly people that I don’t know anymore. These aren’t friends. They’re people we used to know (Gotye, anybody?).

I went from 2,000+ friends to about 70. Only three classes of friends remain, now. First, people that I do actually physically see and interact with on a regular or somewhat-regular basis that I consider to be friends. These are people whose presence on my digital ‘friends’ list only reflects their actual real-world presence as my friend. They are not my friend because we’re connected on Facebook. And they are physically nearby — these are the people I already interact with in-person.

Strongly keeping this barrier-to-entry will always prevent Facebook from becoming the basis of friendships and instead only ever allow it to be another outlet for existing relationships. I want the posts that I see on Facebook to be interesting updates from my friends that I can chat with them about the next time I see them, not just like-and-comment boards.

Second, family. Even if I don’t physically see or interact with them (even once a decade), I know that aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. all appreciate seeing each-others’ lives unfold. Distance relatives are doors that are always open, not people-we-used-to-know.

Third, there remain a few key individuals on my friends list (less than 5) who I consider to be lifetime (best) friends at the same degree as family. Doors that are always open. It’s a small club, but that’s the point!

Now, I will say, Facebook doesn’t really want you to cut down your friends list. The more friends you have, the easier it is to serve you diverse content and keep you on the site… so they don’t exactly make it easy to pare down. Each friend removal takes 3-4 clicks. And there are two or three separate places you need to look to ensure you got all of them. That, along with removing all Pages liked and Groups previously joined… we’re talking 5,000-10,000 clicks. This took me several hours.

But the results are surprisingly pleasant. There’s so little content generated by my small friends list that my newsfeed doesn’t have much to show. It’s more like the old days of Facebook where you’d hit the point where you remember seeing the same content the last time you logged on and would know that you don’t need to scroll any further! Facebook with a small friends list loses a lot of its addictive power. However, when I do post pictures, people are actually seeing them now!

So, it’s a new chapter in the journey. We’ll see how it goes.

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