Moderation, Guilt, and Social Media

It’s been clear to me for several months that I haven’t been putting in the work reading and writing longer pieces which give me a deeper satisfaction than the momentary pleasure of an @ reply. In thinking about how I might make more space for that kind of reading and writing, I realized I was spending more time than I was comfortable with scrolling through tweets and reading Facebook status updates. Not bad practices, but best consumed in moderation.

The problem is I’m bad at moderation. I’m an “eat the marshmallow” kind of person. (See Joachim de Posada’s TED talk below) But I’m also a person powerfully influenced by inertia. If the marshmallow’s in the other room, I’m not likely to get up to go get it.



These aren’t traits I particularly love about myself, but I have found I can use them to my advantage, primarily by acting in bursts of self-control that then make action or abstention (whichever I’m aiming for) more attractive and easier options down the road.

So, I decided to limit the number of people I followed on Twitter and to reduce my friends on Facebook. I recognize that’s a controversial action, especially given its potential for hurting others’ feelings, but it seemed a good way to achieve the goal I was aiming for while reducing the amount of self control I would have to consistently exert.

I even thought about deactivating my Facebook account altogether, but when I did this popped up.

I find the ways Facebook taps into human emotions to encourage users to stay members and to friend as many people as they can fascinating and maddening. Facebook benefits from having people participate in the site, and they’ve tapped into human emotions- guilt, loneliness, desire to be part of a group- to try to retain members.

Un-friending people on Facebook was hard, since I’d already culled through my friend list earlier in the year going from 800 to around 350. I consistently found myself asking, but what if I need this person in the future? I realized this was probably a bad standard because a) I was trying to address interactions in the present and b) It reduced my friends to what they could do for me.

I started to ask instead, Do my interactions with this person make me think? Do those interactions regularly bring me joy, rather than just distraction or amusement? Those questions helped me cut the list to under 200.

I emailed a friend about my social media pruning. Her response has me wondering if guilt around connecting or not in social media was more prevalent in women. Ideally, I’d be the kind of person who could resist distraction on her own accord, but I’m not and so I’m trying not to feel guilty about creating the external structures to get the work done that I want/need to.
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Do you feel guilty about the ways in which you limit your social circle online?

Do you think guilt over limiting one’s circle/interactions on social media is more prevalent in women or felt more strongly by them? (I recognize the potential for gross over-generalizations in this question, but I still think it’s worth asking.)

What strategies help you interact online without doing so at the detriment of other areas of your work and life?

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5 thoughts on “Moderation, Guilt, and Social Media

  1. As one who does not facebook or twitter I don’t know about the guilt aspect, but I find the fact that these sorts of questions are possible fascinating. The change in the grammar of “friend” that facebook effects and will continue to effect is already momentous. There are already friends that could not exist without the internet. I wonder if the computer-person’s emotions are the same way. Are there emotions that are part of the computer or that the computer has? Awfully fun stuff.

  2. People unfriend one another in “real life” all the time. It strikes me that a major difference is that 1) being “friends” online requires very little if any intentional maintenance but also 2) that the distinction between being “friends” or not online is binary (there is a button that unfriends someone). There are no shades of gray on Fb. In contrast, friendships offline tend to be more fluid. In a quirky way, unfriending someone is the more intentional act in Fb land, while offline it takes effort to remain friends. I think Colin is right that these sorts of inversions are fascinating in how they change the grammar of friendship. It might not change offline friendships fundamentally, but it is certainly a new dimension for “friend” that brings up all sorts of strange ethical dilemmas. For example, how do you feel about an algorithm designed to make you feel guilty?

    Just some observations from someone who knows very little of Fb and its ways.

  3. Very interesting conversation. I don’t tend to unfriend people on FB – I prefer to leave the connection open, especially if the other person was the one to initiate it. If I find that a particular person’s activity on FB is not helpful for me, I just “hide” the person’s activity so that it does not show up in my news feed (you can do this by clicking on the “x” to the right of any item). That way, the connection is still there if someone needs or wants it to be, and nobody gets their feelings hurt.

    I also believe that FB is not a good indicator of friendship, it’s more of a personal network (Twitter I use as a professional network). Most of the people that I interact with on FB, I would never interact with in real life. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have common experiences, or could help one another out, or could provide some perspective that I wouldn’t normally get. Sometimes the person who I feel the farthest from (and who I might be tempted to cull) is the person who could offer me something that others could not.

    Anyways, I completely understand your need to cull and think it’s great that you are identifying ways to make your time spent on the computer more efficient. Goodness knows I need to do that!! However, I am not an “eat the marshmallow” person, so I think that the strategies might be a little different for me. You’ve got me thinking!

    Thank you for starting the conversation.

  4. @JR I think there are shades of gray on FB, limiting status updates to particular sets of friends for example, but they’re difficult to be consistently cognizant of.

    @Elaan I definitely considered the hide strategy and tried it for awhile. I found it difficult to keep track of who I had in all my different groups when I was trying to limit who saw particular status updates. Now I’m down to 3- trusted (about 15) and limited (about 20 people I still feel too guilty to drop).

    I guess I never made the switch to truly thinking of FB as a network, which is definitely the way I think of Twitter. Un-following people on Twitter was much easier because I knew we can still interact through @ replies.

  5. I wanted to reply to this since my partner and I decided to deactivate our FB accounts last night and block our access to the site through some tweaking in the Mac Terminal. We also deleted the apps from our devices. It was a big step and we both commented on the way Facebook tried to tug at our heart strings through photos of us with our friends as if leaving this social network meant we could never come back or, worse, that we would lose those real life connections by disconnecting from this virtual world.

    I was a little hasty in the decision to deactivate and decided this morning I needed to get back in to get some contact info I’d saved in my messages. Turns out it’s very easy – you just log back in – and all those friends and pictures and wall postings are still there. I’ve since decided to leave the account there but to remove wall postings and just leave a message saying “I’m not here, but here’s how to find me.” I also still have my blogs and flickr connected to FB so people can see when I’ve posted something and find me to comment if they so choose. But I’m not going back. Not for a while, anyway.

    This morning when my partner and I woke up he said “Wow, it feels weird not checking my Facebook.” There’s something wrong when that’s the first thing we reach for on our devices in the morning. I’m still staying active on Twitter because that’s where I get most of my challenging discussion and personal learning, as well as other social networks, but the longer I’m away from Facebook the less I feel like it was ever truly of value.

    I wish I had more will power and control and could take things in moderation, but I can’t. It’s humbling to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses and work with them rather than deny them. So what if I have to block myself like a child? It works!

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