Using Facebook for Good (not Evil)

Source: via Lisa on Pinterest


I’ll have a few posts up in the coming weeks on digital de-cluttering and managing your online time. This will be a big focus for me in 2012 as I want to grow my freelance work and spread the word about living with less, while not being tied to my computer constantly. If you’re looking to cut the chain to your laptop/Blackberry/iPhone I hope you’ll find something useful in these posts. For more reading on digital sabbaticals and connection time check out this great article in the NYTs The Joy of Quiet.

A year ago I deleted my personal Facebook account. The reasons were numerous. I was wasting time on updates and photos of people I would never invite over for dinner. I felt a compulsion to check in on Facebook activity several times a day and didn’t like it. So I deleted my account and have made an effort since to see people in person more, call more and correspond by email more. Overall it’s been a positive change and I don’t regret deleting my account.

Recently Daniel Gulati wrote a piece for the Huffington Post titled ‘Facebook is Making us Miserable‘ and outlined some of the same things I struggled with when I was a Facebook user. Daniel says that Facebook is a den of comparison, fragments our time and actual distances us from friends instead of bringing us together. I couldn’t agree more.

What I disagreed with in the piece was that it is Facebook that is making us miserable and that as Daniel says, quitting Facebook altogether is unrealistic.

Facebook isn’t making us miserable – we’re making ourselves miserable.

Facebook is not a requirement. I have yet to see a government request for my Facebook profile so that I can file taxes. I have never seen a Facebook profile accepted as proof of ID. I can tell you that it is possible and relatively easy to have a social life without a Facebook page.

You can quit Facebook if you want to. Life will go on. You will still have friends and be invited to outings, play dates and parties.

But you don’t have to quit it. There is still a lot of good to be had from Facebook. It connects friends and families that live far away. It is an easy way to share news, send congratulations and can be a great way to get relevant media crowd sourced to you from your friends.

If you want to get a better handle on your Facebook usage, if you want to stop checking your account compulsively or looking through a news feed of things you don’t care about from people you never talk to, here are some tips:

  • Decide how often and when you will check your Facebook account. Depending on your current usage this could be once a week or three times a day. If you’re unhappy with how often you are checking Facebook start with tracking your usage. Then aim to cut it in half.
  • Connect. Email friends, comment on a photo or share an interesting article you just read. Use Facebook to plan events, dates and meet ups. The whole idea behind social media is to make it easier for you to connect and share. So stop lurking and use the power of the Facebook platform to start a club, make a date and send gratitude.
  • Cull you friends. I did this a few months before I ended up deleting my account. My rule: if I didn’t have their phone number or wouldn’t think to grab a coffee with them if we bumped into each, they were gone. Go for better connections, not more of them.
  • Use filter and blocking options for your news feed. Who doesn’t have the friend that updates their status seven times a day with nothing interesting? You love them, still want to see them but you really don’t need to hear about their love of coffee every morning. Pare down your news feed to updates from people and organizations that you enjoy.
  • Engage away from the screen. I find that on my best days, the ones where I get a lot of work, rest and play in, my online time is usually a single short segment in the day. If you’re constantly checking Facebook aim to do more single tasking events during the day or set a timer to commit to X amount of minutes or hours for something else. Aimlessly surfing through your friends and acquaintances photos is no match for getting lost in a book, good conversation with friends or an extra hour of sleep.

Since starting this blog I have come to respect the power of social media and see first hand the good it can do in connecting people and ideas. But it’s a slippery slope for some of us that struggle with distracting ourselves with the Internet. I’ve lost some good hours to mindless surfing myself and want to be more present in my online interactions in 2012.

Okay Facebook users – who has it all under control and who is spending too much time looking up old boyfriends to see how the years are treating them? Has anyone set rules for themselves on how often they check Facebook or who they accept friend requests from?

Full disclosure: while I no longer have a personal Facebook account I do have a page for this blog. I try to check it daily and respond to comments, post links to anything particularly good I have read or viewed and link back to posts here. Unlike a personal account I don’t have a feed of updates so there isn’t a lot for me to look at. Which is a good thing. :)


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  • Thank you for writing this post. Such an eye opener. I waste so much of my precious time checking facebook, and every once in a while I find out some great news from a friend far away, but really, it just creates drama in people’s lives, and is a major time suck. I will be watching for ways to de-clutter my life in 2012. You have been an inspiration to me. My life will change in 2012. Thank you!

    • That is fantastic, Charlie, and yes, your life will change in 2012!! I’m still amazed when I think where this decluttering has taken us in the last two years: out of debt, overseas and with more time for family, health and hobbies. Best of luck and let me know if there is anyway I can help – cheers, Rachel

  • I allow myself 3 x 15 minute blocks each day. I have a few different blogs I follow through their facebook connection because I don’t subscribe to a blog reader program thingie and I couldn’t get it in my email. Email has its own 15 min block. Anything more than that has to roll to the next day!

  • I’ve been toying with the idea of ditching my personal Facebook account, but I don’t think I can go that far. With family scattered all over the world it’s an easy way to share pictures, since I don’t keep a personal blog (I suppose email could suffice if I really tried). However, I have seen how Facebook can really mess with family dynamics and friendships. Whatever you say is said in front of everybody, and it’s easy to be misunderstood. For the sake of my lifestyle (and sanity) I’ve had to hide updates from people who can’t stop talking about their spending habits. I did find that I have the option to “use Facebook as” my blog’s Facebook page, so that is probably what I’ll do to break the personal Facebook habit. I am definitely a big part of the problem–I get bored and lonely and therefore get sucked in. I’m going to spend some time this morning culling my friends list, and then I’m going to work on some new rules for myself.

    • I thought I might regret not having a FB account once we moved overseas. But I really don’t. I use Skype to make calls and email and still feel like I am in touch with my family and very close friends. It has also helped me embrace living here. I don’t see updates and photos of people back home and get pangs of homesickness.

      Good luck with the friend culling! – R

  • I log onto Facebook once a day during the week and rarely on Saturday or Sunday. I have family that lives in other states. We upload pictures of my son so that his grandparents can see him more often that just when we visit. A couple years ago, my college friends and I used Facebook to organize our own 10 year reunion in Memphis.
    I try to use it like any other tool. I don’t make status updates very often (maybe 10 a year). I use it as a place to keep and organize pictures and keep in touch with family and good friends that happen to live far away. I don’t accept friend requests from people that I went to high school with and can’t recall their name.

    • Nice work, Tara. Sounds like you have usage under control.

      I always thought those friend requests from high school or university acquaintances were usually just people wanting to see how I married and if I had put on weight. They rarely engaged with me so I am assuming they just wanted to check out my photos, etc. Sigh.

  • As a college professor, I actively encourage my students to disengage from Facebook. I have three main issues with it. Like you you said, it develops a compulsive behavior. I see addictive characteristics in the way a person reacts to others reacting to their posts. This is a damaging compulsion for a young person who is trying to develop his or her studying and learning habits. We use Facebook’s structure or framework for envisioning who we as individuals are. For many of my students and adult friends their Facebook profile is who they are. Their real self is secondary. Lastly, Facebook keeps trying to be the Internet. For many people, it is their only destination – it as all the news, email, photos, videos they want. AOL tried to do the same thing in the 90s. Both are private companies who are only accountable to our inadequate digital laws and policies. This leads to centralized silo of information and communication that is the antithesis of the decentralized open nature of the Internet.

  • Love it! I’ve actually written a bit about FaceBook. I went off it for a month. It was paint-staking at first, but I was fine at the end of the month. When I did go back on, I unfortunately, slowly went back to old ways. I’m starting to cull more–between what I post, who I share with, and what I respond to. It’s interesting once you really look at your subconscious motives behind your own posts.

    Here’s my post on why I posted as I did:
    It was really eye-opening to figure out that I was not displaying who I wanted to be and who I am, but rather a caricature of myself.

  • I ditched facebook this fall, when I started to think “what´s my next update gonna be” I felt disturbed. I don´t want to waste my time first on facebook and when offline, still thinking about it. I had to delete the account, nothing else would´ve worked for me… Now I don´t miss it att all, it´s really nice to have all this time to read or play a game with my children. I´m looking forward to your up and coming blogposts about digital decluttering!

  • I love Facebook and have used it a lot more than I anticipated. However, I feel I was checking it too much, and decided that this year I will only check it in the evenings, and even then not for too long. I want to spend more time reading and doing other things in the evening (I have 3 young children so my time during the day is taken up with childcare/housework), that said I do love using it so would certainly not be able to give it up completely! I also realised that sometimes I was checking Facebook instead of doing things with the children, which really is quite rude to them and not the sort of parent I want to be.

  • I use facebook, but it does not lead to obsessive behavior for me. I almost never check it more than once a day, and sometimes a week goes by without logging in.
    I don’t spend a lot of time on one particular social network, but it’s just everything together: e-mail, twitter, blogs in google reader, news websites etc. All together it’s a major time sucker and I am looking forward to reading your other posts about digital decluttering!

  • Thank you for pointing out that it is not facebook that is evil! I hate when I hear people complain about how dramatic facebook can be and how horrible social networking sites are. I have a personal facebook account, but I only have family and real friends as “facebook friends”. I only check it a couple times a week, and it is mainly to stay in touch with family and friends who live too far away to see on a regular basis. I also make sure I have my page set on the most strict privacy settings and don’t have much personal info on it. The internet is a wonderful thing if you use it right and in moderation!

  • I think “compulsion” is the key word. It started with the telephone – the ringing gives people the compulsive feeling that they must answer and that continues today with cellphones ringing loudly and rudely everywhere, even though it is just as easy to have a quiet tone, vibration or even no tone as the phone will light up as soon as a call or text arrives. Personally, I rarely have my phone-tone on and if I miss a call, it doesn’t really matter, as I can see who called and call back at MY convenience.
    So the same with email programs that loudly call the user to the computer every time an email arrives – something I have never had. I check email when I want to, sometimes several times a day and sometimes not at all.
    And on to Facebook. Exactly the same thing, in my view. I have an account that I look at occasionally, and enjoy seeing what old schoolfriends or rarely-seen relatives are doing, at my own discretion. Sometimes I share photos, despite having a blog – I would rather only my friends and family saw my family photos, rather than the www on my blog. I do not feel compulsion to go onto the Facebook page, nor do I usually post every move I make, every breath I take or every thought I have, play games, take part in activities or use Facebook for anything else than I would a postcard or round robin.
    What is so difficult about resisting compulsion? LOL if only that were true about other addictions, like food!

  • “Facebook isn’t making us miserable – we’re making ourselves miserable.”

    Happy New Year Rachel!
    Yep, your statement just about sums it up!

    Just yesterday I was listening to a colleague quite emphatically express his anger toward Facebook. “So limit the newsfeed, remove friends…” I suggested. He then began to express why he actually needs it.
    You are aware of my minimalist tendencies so don’t be too shocked to hear I have 4 Facebook pages! I have three careers (hence my blog on minimalism from a self-employment perspective!) and I have a separate page for each. This is great for advertising my work, receiving professional notices and sharing pictures of mutually attended events. Although I consider FB to be social media for personal connections, I consider many colleagues to be my friends and therefore I use FB for interaction, rather than LinkedIn (which houses a static professional page on me and I use their discussion boards.) My fourth FB page is dedicated to family. Almost all of them live in different cities and countries so I am glad for FB to see pictures of their activities.
    With four Facebook sites, I don’t consider myself a junkie – quite the opposite. It allows me to manage most of my work connections in one place. (Email is used for urgent communication and bookings, however) Now here is where my minimalist philosophy comes in – Notifications. I receive only FB inbox messages into my email program. No wall updates, photo tags or other activity buzzes me throughout the day. (As well, I don’t permit any games, quizzes or apps into my FB sites) I may go a week without checking into a FB page. I’m just too busy or I’m away from a computer to do so. I have a FB app on my blackberry but that only gets used to reply to a rare urgent inbox message. I just don’t need to check into the world’s activity that often! I will note here that I am reducing ‘friends’ on these pages and plan to merge a couple of them as I wind down some of my work. My life coaching ‘Gowlbowl’ FB page just allows my posting of interesting articles and my blog posts.
    I am a tech person. Read one of my popular blog posts called “No gadget night”. My minimalist approach is supported by my lack of paper in my life because I can do my school work on an Ipad and we read books on a Kobo. We have an Apple TV (no cable) so we tune into specific movies or shows when we want to. But once a week, almost all electricity goes off and we commune by candlelight. No lit back screens and even no music! We sit in one room, window blinds open to allow in city light while other rooms sit in darkness. We share over dinner and turn our brains off as we ‘listen’ to the silent flicker of the candles. We definitely sleep well on those nights!
    It’s really all about balance, isn’t it? And doing what works for you.

    • You hit the nail on the head – it’s all about balance and finding what works for you. The best barometer for me is if I am happy with how much I check my email/accounts or if I am feeling a compulsion out of boredom/being unfocused.

  • I couldn’t do it. I got addicted to Facebook and I didn’t like it, so I closed my account a while back. I would like to do what you did, which is opening a different account, the type that is more like a group? I’m not even sure what they are called. I might do that in the future. Maybe after I get a mac because I have a pc and I got a virus that came from facebook. That left me scared and I don’t like to visit facebook at all. It was a long process to get my computer back in working condition.

  • While I have a personal page and a page for my blog, I don’t open FB every day. I post quotes most days that people seem to like and links to my latest posts via Hootsuite (it also posts to my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts) so I don’t have to open the programs individually and get sucked in. I usually just click on the update numbers at the top to see if I should look at any of them (they’re usually “likes” on my quotes).

    Somehow we all survived without social media most of our lives (I’m 44 so I know I’m not speaking for the younger crowd). I’m hearing from more people that they don’t like how FB operates so they’re dropping FB and moving to Google+. I’ve been resisting learning yet another social media platform. To me it’s more of the same.

    It all makes me think of the progression of processed foods. Companies add extra salt, sugar and fats to the foods to add flavor and because these substances make foods more addictive. While there’s nothing wrong with salt, sugar and fat as they occur naturally and used in moderation, adding large amounts to flavorless food so people will eat more is a problem. I think phone and email are quite enough to keep in touch with friends and family. To me, social media is like the extra sugar that we probably don’t need. As a side note, I now have to look hard for “old fashioned” peanut butter to find some without added sugar. I distinctly remember the Peter Pan peanut butter of my childhood that only contained peanuts and salt.

    While it may be more difficult because of what society/big companies serve up to us and expects of us, we still have the ability to make our own choices – whether that’s to consume in excess, moderation or none at all. Do what’s good for you, not what everyone expects.

    • Do what’s good for you, not what everyone expects.

      That’s at the core of what we’re trying to do as a family and individually. It’s been a long slow learning curve to get to this place (with lots of road in front of me). :)

  • You were my inspiration for deleting all but my cousins in the UK (I’m in NZ…it’s such an easy way to keep in touch) and a few blogs that I prefer to read on FB because they post extras that they don’t on their blog page, about 3 months ago. I totally haven’t looked back!

  • I got rid of my cell phone 14 months ago and I finally deleted my facebook two months ago. I certainly don’t miss being distracted by texts or calls when I am out or wasting precious time compulsively checking for updates! I feel this allows me to live more in the moment and really be aware and conscious of the people around me. It has strengthened my relationships with the people I care for most, especially my relationship with my young daughter. :) I’m not looking back!

    • Wow! Love hearing this. I was thisclose to going without a cell phone when we moved overseas. Luckily I don’t feel tethered to mine at all and often leave it at home.
      Well done :)

  • I’ve given myself similar criteria for keeping/accepting friends on Facebook: If you’re someone I’d reasonably expect to have coffee with when you’re in town, you can be my FB friend. Using that policy I’ve whittled my list down to 39 people, which has the benefit of making my news feed generally more boring — fewer people means less activity. The problem is that I still check way too often. I need to decide on my limits and stick to them.

    Now that everyone uses it, I find that I get a lot of group updates, invites, news through FB. If a bunch of moms are going to get together, they’ll make the plans on FB. If I’m on a music team for church one Sunday, I’ll get a group message about practise times, etc. I guess things like that make me feel like I can’t go a day without checking.

    • It is a great tool for staying in touch and organizing events. Make a plan for how often and when you want to check – like 20 minutes in the evening or morning – and try and stick to it for the week. Good luck!

  • I have a Facebook account under my dog’s name. I only opened it to communicate with my youngest child when he lived far away, had no phone (and I hate phones with a passion anyway) and never checked his email. I just needed to know that he was still on the planet – we only used it about 4-5 times. Other than that, I have one friend whom I check in on maybe 3-4 times a year. I never figured out how to use Facebook and really can’t be bothered – it doesn’t interest me.

    I downloaded Skype onto my laptop because my brother and cousins, who also live far away, kept asking me to do so. We have yet to use it !??!

    I shall be getting an iPad 2 soon to have “face time” with my daughter and new grandson who live 2,000 km. away. That’s about it except for my blog and my nephew’s family blog – my entire family is far flung so we blog to keep family members up to date with news and photos.

    • I just laughed out loud at the Facebook account under my dog’s name!!! That is brilliant.

      We Skype and Face Time with my mom and mother-in-law too. Even with the distance Henry can recognize his grandmas in photos because he sees them a couple of times a week on the computer. :)

  • I quit Facebook the beginning of this year. I found that it was taking too much of my time and I think that people pretty much just spy on each other via Facebook. I might get back on but I need to give it at least a month.

  • I’ve recently cut back my facebook usage dramatically. I’ve been tossing up deleting my account because I felt I was getting addicted, but I genuinely use it to communicate with my family: half of us in one city and half in another. We have our own ‘group’ and kind of all hang out virtually. I also like that I can keep loosely in touch with old friends, yes, the ones I would catch up with if they were in town but I might not necessarily ring or email regularly.
    I deleted half of my friends a year or so ago, because they weren’t really friends and barely acquaintances, and I have all my securities set up so that only certain people can see certain things.
    But the real kicker for me was I just got sick of seeing my group of closest friends ALWAYS on facebook, yet seemingly always too busy to see me. And I didn’t like their online ‘personas’. One friend who constantly shares how awesome she is, one who tells everyone how hard her life is, one who has the most wonderful family ever. I don’t want to live my life online, so I’ve stopped reading their updates and looking at their pictures. I’m concerned about what I’m going to miss when all my friends interact with each other online without me, so it means I’m going to have to work harder at seeing them in person!
    I’ve set up my account so that I get an email if someone messages me through facebook, and that means I only go on when I want to. If I want to go on ten times in a day, I will. If I don’t want to go on at all in a day, I won’t. I feel like I’ve finally started using facebook the way I actually want to use it and that I’m controlling it and it’s not controlling me.

  • i cant say i will be deleting altogether but i will def beusing this post as a guide to cutting down the things that i do online. you hit it on the head for me with the tabs thing.. ive crashed many a browser with my millions of tabs. drives my husband nuts. i need to concentrate on one or two things, and finish them. this will indeed help me in the long run. i just had twin boys and i do feel guilty about my computer usage as it is. i am actually looking forward to cutting back, deleting people that dont need to know my whole life on fb and spending tim with my family and friends more in person. i will use fb as a tool of that not the main connection. thank you!.. but i did share this page and tag your fb in a status just now.. thats not cheating is it?

    • heeheee. No, sharing isn’t cheating. In fact, that’s what social media is all about. It’s the zombie surfing that hurts. I’m guilty of it myself and working on being more mindful about my online time.

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