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This is Your Brain Off Facebook - study offers glimpse of unplugging (nytimes.com)
174 points by pseudolus 16 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments



> Expect the consequences to be fairly immediate: More in-person time with friends and family. Less political knowledge, but also less partisan fever.

Well, since lots of my friends and all of my family live in different countries, I'm sure the consequences for me would not be more in-person time with friends and family at all. In fact I may lose the connection to lots of friends forever. I'm sure I'm not the only one in that situation.


> since lots of my friends and all of my family live in different countries, I'm sure the consequences for me would not be more in-person time with friends and family at all

I have lots of international friends and family. Keeping track of important dates–and calling, not texting–on them and sharing pictures 1:1 via iMessage or Signal or whatever is plenty to maintain ties. In fact, it's probably more meaningful than liking each other's pictures on Facebook. With that returned time, you can now focus on your in-person relationships, which study after study show are vastly more important for our emotional and mental health.


I'm in a similar position, and actually found I had more interaction with family once I got off facebook.

It turned out I wasn't actually interacting with them at all. It felt like I was, having consumed what felt like a few thousand baby photos daily - but we weren't actually communicating, just congrats, happy birthday, like.

Chats, messages and the odd skype call seem to work out much better - if I stop responding, so do they, and it's noticeable. Facebook's bucket of noise approach tricked me into feeling like I was interacting with family when I was actually just scrolling past them.


> I'm in a similar position, and actually found I had more interaction with family once I got off facebook.

I completely agree. I used to be a heavy user of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat for years and I have been off all those platforms for 14 months now and I noticed that I am more in touch with friends and family than never before and most of them live abroad with at least 6 hours difference!


can those people afford to have that much 'connection' time one on one with more than you?

i never feel i'm interacting with someone on fb if i 'scroll past' or 'like' something. i do feel like that when i actually post a response and have a back-and-forth, much like in person conversations go.


For personal, 1:1 contact, a little goes a long way. On a couple levels.

First off, it really takes very little 1:1 contact to maintain a deep relationship - no more than 10 minutes a month on the phone for some of my most meaningful and long-lasting friendships, sometimes less.

It's true that, without the Facebook feed, I don't get a play-by-play of every single even that happens in their life via the Facebook news feed. I see that as a positive thing - it leaves us with something to talk about when we do make time for each other.

Second, I definitely am in contact with fewer people than when I was on Facebook. The relationships that I have maintained since then have been more fulfilling, though, so, at least as far as I'm concerned, it's still a net positive. (Think of it as giving your social life the Marie Kondo treatment.) I'd like to think that's a two way street - if I'm getting more out of the interaction, then that means I'm probably giving more back, too.

So the end result is that my friends are not, overall, spending that much time interacting with me without Facebook. I can't speak for them, but, I at least view it as an enjoyable way that we can spend some time together, if not physically in the same space. I'd like to think they do the same. It'd be really weird if they thought of me as a friend but didn't actually enjoy having conversations with me.


Well, less ho-hum barely-invested remote friends and family time.

But there's always the opportunity for more quality remote friends and family time -- talking on the phone, video-conference, writing them in more depth in email form (or even snail mail), chatting for long time (as opposed to scrolling through their posts on FB), using those wasted FB hours as they amass to actually pay them a visit, and so on...


If you truly lose connection to "friends", are they really a friend or just a number in your friends list? What are you considering a "friend?" There are a hundred+ ways to stay in touch with people in 2019, and they're all using the same kind of device that works for accessing facebook.


Well, lots of them are truly friends for sure, and I would certainly see them in person whenever there's a chance. But since we don't live in the same country, those chances don't come up that often. Sometimes it could be many years apart. I won't call/text someone that I haven't seen for years unless there're something particular to talk about. Facebook (and other social media as well) are certainly the best way to stay connected.


I agree with you but I also find myself wondering if I should really keep them on facebook.

I have friends from high-school I see every 5 years or so. They were best friends in high-school and I love them but do I need them in my facebook feed? Before facebook I'd have been content with just seeing them every 5 years and maybe sending a holiday card or birthday note/card/email. Now there's this constant distraction of people in my feed of people that I won't see in years, aren't really a part of my life just my memories.

In the last couple of years I've aggressively unfollowed people that are not really a part of my life anymore. That includes beloved friends from high school. Friends that were part of my life in cites I haven't lived in in 35, 25, 15, 10, years ago.

Does that make me bad for not embracing 2019 and being able to see those people's activities forever no matter how remote and unconnected we now are? Or is it facing reality that by moving far from them they really aren't a part of my life except for fond memories and the occasional visit if we happen to be in the same part of the world? Everyone will have to answer that for themselves.

I feel a little guilty when I "unfollow" them but I remind myself this whole idea of following every person I ever met in my life via my facebook feed is a new thing and that I got by just fine in the past with a few letters or postcard a year and not daily updates. I think I'm down to 25 or less people I'm following out of ~1000 people I've added on facebook.


Friendship strengthen through casual contact. A social network websites gives us that. You can casually take part and share every day life.


Exactly, and if you or they are in town you can actually meet up.


I ended up successfully replacing Facebook with a combination of group text and group LINE message to talk to friends and family,whether they live near me or no. I don’t miss it.


> Less political knowledge, but also less partisan fever.

I'd agree with the second part, not sure about the first part of the sentence... Political knowledge would be something you acquire by direct participation in the political discourse, watching politicians, by reading the news perhaps, by reading books on history and other topics. But on Facebook? Every political post there comes with a blatant agenda. Instead of an informative discussion, you get an echo chamber and often regurgitated semi-educated opinions borrowed from other people, by (mostly) insufficiently educated people, appeal to emotion, etc.


By that logic, you couldn't have had connections to friends and family who lived not-near you before social media, right?


No, but by that logic such connections existed less before Facebook etc. And this is indeed probably true. And I say that as somebody who doesn’t use Facebook any more, and who lives abroad.


What does "connection" mean to you in this instance? That's the sticking point here. If a "connection" is simply "I can see a post written by that person every now and then" well, I'm gonna go ahead and say ridding yourself of that won't actually harm you socially. I absolutely question self-defined "relationships" that are held together by mass broadcasts of carefully crafted messages. For me, that's not a relationship. Granted, that's not a decision for me to make, but regardless. I fear we've all redefined what a "relationship" is without actually considering the ramifications.


By connection I mean any relevant/enriching piece of communication. Furthermore, apologies for being a bit flippant but if the only things you see on your Facebook friend feed are empty fluff then maybe you need to find more interesting friends. The medium itself may not be particularly enlightening but it doesn’t fundamentally prevent meaningful interactions.


Quit like a year ago, it's great. So much less attention drain. Then I quit Twitter not long after. But now there's Instagram, a bit tricky as my whole yoga community hangs there. Back to square one.


I'm always curious when I hear this. How did a social media platform get to the point where you can't use self-control and discipline to simply use it less and within moderation? Why does it have to either be nothing at all, or total immersion?

I see a lot of friends juggle with some sort of internal battle between being off and on with this stuff, and then there are friends who just slowly "cruise" with it without affecting them.


Because social media companies hire people to make them addicting. They are literally programmed to make you come back for more constantly.


Speaking personally, I just don't get enjoyment out of opening up Facebook. I'm either seeing posts from college friends I haven't talked to in nearly a decade, or posts from friends I talk to often and don't really need Facebook to connect us.

So what's the point? I don't like or comment on anything on Facebook. I don't post anything on Facebook. I just open it up to mindlessly scroll. I don't need that. I have other sites that I believe are better uses of time to mindlessly scroll (this site included).


Exactly, I don't understand either. Most of my friends (and myself) just "cruise" social media as a way to keep casual contact with people we meet along our life.


What would you lose out on if you'd ignore the yoga pics on ig?


I'd assume it's more than the pictures.

From my perspective: I'm a photographer and there are DM photography critique groups I wouldn't want to miss out on. Groups with contributors that have seriously improved my work.

Outside the critique groups there are darkroom groups where techniques and tips lost in the digital age are shared -- I shoot analog so I can make darkroom prints (a little non-digital zen after writing code for 8+ hours a day) so re-discovering some of these techniques has been vital to improving my printmaking skills.

I'd imagine there are probably yoga technique groups that are similar. Critiques of form and posture, tips when trying to reach that new, difficult pose, scheduling for impromptu classes, etc.

Any tight knit Instagram group of posters has some longer form discussion on the DM end of things in my experience. All people you want to speak with, but wouldn't do so over text message for whatever reason. I've tried multiple times to lift and shift groups to Slack, Discord, Discourse, etc. Never works. Instagram has a tight hold.


We mostly use DMs amd stories.


Some places, like reddit, are valuable in that you find groups of people discussing niche interests.


Now I'm morbidly curious about mindfulness meditation groups hanging out on SoMe.


It's actually pretty fun. Most yoga teachers use Instagram to share their schedules, it's a lot more dynamic, flexible, and engaging than a website or a mailing list (which some of us still have).

Posts are used as blogging tools. Along with fancy pictures of our latest poses, we like to write about the philosophy of yoga.

We also use DMs to communicate, along with WhatsApp, and stories to share random yoga and not yoga moments.

Yogis aren't just a group of gurus hanging at the top of a mountain :) Obviously, there is a conversation within the community about the usage of social media and addiction thereof.


This won't be very HN favorite view, but I will say it anyways, I enjoy using Facebook and don't find it affecting my productivity.

Not everyone uses Facebook the same way though. I have no family on Facebook, very few friends. I use it mainly for the Groups I participate in - some of them quite useful. The Facebook groups are more personal than sub-reddits and people generally seem to behave better.


I mean, a lot of relatively smart people I know these days have gotten over fb and I don’t see many of people in fb or social media that much. Fb gets old after college and then it takes people a few years in their mid twenties to grow out of it. By late twenties I’d say the majority of smart folks know to keep their distance from fb and such ilk.


Does it really matter what social network it is, FB, Reddit, HN, etc.? The effects are similar - people immerse in the digital while at the same time being absent from the physical.


The difference is the nature of the engagement.

Facebook is primarily organised around the individual. You are following individuals, talking with individuals, and participating on a reciprocal basis as an individual with all the others. There are groups, but it's less prominent.

Reddit and HN are centred around discussion. Be it individual articles of interest (HN) or further grouped into specific topics (Reddit).

I don't think either are benign. The upvote/downvote mechanism does "gamify" the experience and adds some additional meta-effects to participation, which I don't think are necessarily healthy. However, it's not as bad as Facebook by a large margin. There's no pressure to participate; I can read interesting articles, make the odd contribution, and dip in and out as the fancy takes me. It's not nearly as addictive. Though I have to say, I still spent a reasonable amount of time on both HN and Reddit, I could step away for weeks without feeling like I was losing anything. I'm participating on my own terms.


All good points. I wonder if instead of a voting mechanism, a site could crunch things like number of posts, type of posts, length of posts, frequency of posts, replies to posts, and so forth to calculate something like participation/activity/clout scores, assuming this could be used to add value for the community of users. Essentially, mask any gamification of the system so the focus is textual/graphical interaction among users, instead of engaging directly in a ranking/award system.

IME, communities in the analog world engage in ranking, albeit largely unconsciously, and perhaps mimicking this pattern in a digital environment would be beneficial compared to current systems.


> The upvote/downvote mechanism does "gamify" the experience

A key benefit to me is that the points aren't visible to others. Up/Down voting is fine, and there's no real public benefit to the karma given to an individual post, nor any way to even see what it is. Sorting isn't based only on the post score either, and it's not in your face -- it's a much better system that slashdot in my view.


I am in complete agreement that the system is better than slashdot. However, I think even being able to see your own score can be detrimental to the way you behave. Is it healthy to check back and see if your comments were well received, or generally disliked? It's less bad than the alternatives. However, I think that it will still have some effect, and it might still have some negative consequences.


I wouldn't presume the problem is delving into a computer.

I would assume the problem is more along the lines of; treating it as a substitute to talking to friends/family. Only responding in short bursts or assuming a "like" is enough to sate your need for other human connections.

Reddit/HN/fora are _great_ at connecting you to communities across the globe that have a shared interest. You don't talk to your sister/girlfriend/mother via hackernews, therefore it doesn't "replace" actual discussion with them.


I think one of the things that makes HN and Reddit very different, is that the content is not personalized and tailored to maximize user engagement. Facebook seems to constantly show me things that make me more upset or concerned or outraged about something. I remember reading articles documenting this effect, but I can't seem to find them now.

The other type of posts I tend to see are about friends bragging about how many km they ran today or how great their vacation was. Not that it's that bad to post these things, but I wouldn't be surprised if exposing yourself to them constantly increased feelings of jealous and reinforce one's need to compare oneself to others.

On the other hand, I've discovered a lot of interesting books and projects through HN and learned about different topics, since there seem to be a lot of knowledgeable people here that comment on topics I know nothing about. The only type of posts that may be prone to making others feel worse are the ones about salaries / financial issues, but they are not that common.


Regarding the "bragging" posts, according to this Hidden Brain podcast [1], it has a more negative effect than anything and is usually not the truth about people current situation in life. For instance, we might see the great vacation pictures, but turns out they were fighting the whole time and it wasn't fun at all, but it is not like they are gonna share that part on FB.

[1] https://www.npr.org/2017/04/17/524005057/when-it-comes-to-ou...


>I think one of the things that makes HN and Reddit very different, is that the content is not personalized and tailored to maximize user engagement. Facebook seems to constantly show me things that make me more upset or concerned or outraged about something.

This really depends on whether or not you set up your own account with subreddits in reddit. It is just as personalized and outrage generating as Facebook if you self-subscribe to it.


Fair enough, though the separation into categories possibly helps somewhat. If someone is reading r/some-topic-they-are-interested in, it wouldn't also show them stories about, say, cops shooting unarmed civilians in the back 67 times, in between the topic-specific content.

This is probably different on the main page though.


> I think one of the things that makes HN and Reddit very different, is that the content is not personalized and tailored to maximize user engagement

This is the single evil thing about Facebook. And it's evil, evil, evil. It's like an AI Skinner box.

No. It actually is an AI Skinner box.


I believe it matters. For example, here in HN I spend time yes, but it usually teaches me stuff. I read expert opinions, and this is a platform helping me to reach good articles. Reddit is also somewhat valuable in this sense, but I do not think FB is like that.


I'm struck by the almost painful irony of nodding along to this comment whilst I spend/waste time reading Hacker News.


Orthogonal to being physically outside and interacting with people, is the issue of social networks and their effect on mental health. I’d argue that reddit and other anonymous social networks (ahem hn) which allow users to register under any nick and without a forced email or phone verification, are much healthier for people’s mental health. There is a large gulf between semi anonymous and “real-name-enforced” social media.


I only started reading Hacker News when I got a job and left the house and had the combined feelings of "oh geez commuting sure is boring", "I need to stay up to date with technology", and "Reddit users, mods, and admins only know how to feign knowledge and sure make me want to shoot myself"

I'm not using HN as some sort of substitute for social interaction. I'm not on HN all day engineering every post to garner maximal attention and approval like the people who abuse FB the hardest are. I AM getting that constant stream of novelty that is typical of social media. However tech IS constant novelty so that's unavoidable regardless.


I agree that any social network can be used as an escape. People can get addicted to almost anything. The difference is in the funding source of the owners of the social network. How do they make money?

On most social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, etc.) the answer is simple: advertisement. To maximize revenue from ads, they focus on:

1) Getting people to spend as much time as possible on their platform (so they can show more ads), and; 2) Gathering as much information as possible about people (so their ads are more effective).

Which isn't exactly what people want when they go on Facebook. This puts the objectives of the social network and its users at odds.

Compare that to Hacker News, which is in itself an advertisement for Y Combinator (I wouldn't know of YC if it wasn't for HN, or at least it wouldn't be the first accelerator in my mind). I feel the objectives of Y Combinator with HN are much more aligned with my own objectives than Facebook's (the company) with Facebook (the social network).

I'd be worried when/if ads start appearing on HN...


Ironic that participants were initially contacted via FB ads.

In light of the recent "Research" app disclosure, and that in both cases a fee was paid for participation, it makes me wonder what people won't do for a few extra dollars in their bank account given a similar scenario.

The NYT article is almost apologetic about its inconclusiveness. I might wonder - should I happen to be wearing my tinfoil hat - that it is designed as a means of placation, an ode to the status quo, rather than a deterrent for the average consumer.


See also Cal Newport's terrific book "Deep Work".


The problem today, is to even be able to achieve "Deep work".


That responsibility is on us though. We must be the masters of our own minds. That isn't to say it's not challenging, and some companies seem hell bent on making sure their workers are as ineffective as possible.


Agreed. Newport's book makes a strong case that deep work is increasingly rare, valuable, and meaningful. But it goes way beyond the "what" and the "why", providing the "how", in the form of specific, pragmatic, actionable guidance for achieving just that. Anecdotally, it's been working for me.


Looking forward to his upcoming book, "Digital Minimalism".


> Less political knowledge

If you got your political knowledge from facebook, you should probably get off of it right away.


I really hate the use of "unplugging" lately because it implies that Facebook IS the internet.


I know you probably hear this all the time too, but for a lot of people Facebook is functionally "the whole internet". It's incredible how effectively phones and apps have siloed the internet.


Amazing, I made some of these same points last night on reddit and tried to discuss it here as well. Amazing.


I dislike Facebook and rarely use it, but this article and the study were a refreshing change in that they showed both what was and what wasn't for the study participants, without being one sided or appearing to be biased. I hope more such studies are done on a larger scale (payment would be an issue if this same model is followed) and across age groups.


"Less political knowledge" right....


Does someone have an agenda against Facebook on HN? I see four stories a day on the front page.


If facebook wasn't continually mired in controversy, then maybe it wouldn't feature so frequently and so prominently.

Today, I've just read a paper copy of the Daily Telegraph (UK). The front page is a story about how a depressed 14 year girl committed suicide after being led into a downward spiral of despair by being fed a continual stream of self-harm images by a facebook property. Those lovely algorithms could have been made to make positive contributions to people in need of help. Instead, they caused a vulnerable teenager to end their life by making a bad situation even worse.

I do feel that companies like Facebook should have a social and moral responsibility to their users. They are in a position of great power and responsibility. And yet, they have shown scant evidence of any care in this regard, and they do have a case to answer. Not just for the single story I highlighted, but many years of utter callousness and greed in defiance of what most of us would consider acceptable ethical conduct.


Let's generalize:

I do feel that companies should have a social and moral responsibility to their users.

Sadly, companies only have a social and moral responsibility to their shareholders. It's one of the reasons why corporations are not people, they're more often immortal sociopaths.


Facebook has a lot to answer for and those answers haven't been forthcoming yet.


Facebook is symbolic of social media as a whole. They're EXTREMELY large. They're also uniquely entangled in privacy scandals. They're also a company with the gall to create their own internet centered around facebook.


>Does someone have an agenda against Facebook on HN?

Shouldn't everybody have one?


You could also ask if someone has an agenda for nytimes.com. This is the 21st article posted to them in 24 hours.


How would you operationalize this in order to do an analysis on HN's public data?


I wonder what the NYT will write about when FB and Trump finally stop being newsworthy?




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