I post less and less to Facebook than in years past. There are a variety of reasons why. Having joined in 2005, the novelty has long since worn off. The quantity and prevalence of social networks has made it tiring and burdensome to keep up, especially as my life gets busier. And then there is the pressure I feel to post content worth sharing. Just recently, a friend of mine had looked back at what she posted eight years ago and felt embarrassed. That certainly resonated with me. I post less and less to Facebook because of escalating self-imposed criteria for what’s worth sharing, the result of a greater sensitivity to how my digital presence reflects on me now and will in the future.
All of these theories hold true in some regard, but I’ve found there is another reason why I post less to Facebook. While I impose criteria for what I consider “worth sharing”, I feel another limiting pressure emerges from the nature of the Facebook platform and others’ expectations of the kind of content they expect to see. The Facebook platform encourages content that’s quickly created and quickly consumed, which is precisely the sort of content that I feel is not worth sharing.
When the aggregate newsfeed replaced the individual’s wall as the Facebook landing page, the conception of Facebook was fundamentally shifted away from one where everyone had a webpage—a personal space—to one where everyone was posting to a single forum—a public space. The implications for what kind of content is appropriate to share are drastic. To visit someone’s personal space is the act of seeking information about them. The more information they provide, the deeper your understanding of that individual. Even disagreeable information of a political or religious nature is valuable because it helps the visitor answer the question, “who is this person?,” a question embedded in the act of visiting another’s personal space.
Contrast that personal space that you sought out versus the newsfeed where information comes to you. Rather than information being (first) about a person and (second) organized by time, the newsfeed reverses that structure. It presents the most recent content from across your network. You’re not given an understanding of any one person, you’re given brief status updates across your network. One gets a broad sense of what is happening amongst their friends, not a deep understanding about anyone in particular.
Following that the medium is the message, the structure of content consumed dictates the nature of the content posted. Viewed in a feed surrounded by the content about others, each post is isolated from the context offered by the poster’s history. Each post must now stand on its own. In this format contentious political or religious beliefs weren’t sought out, they’re now being shouted at you. They are unwelcome. Likewise, personal celebrations of accomplishment can appear in a public forum as attention-starved boasting.
Long-form content in general is discouraged. Where one might have spent several minutes “catching up” on each friend by visiting their personal page, how quickly now do you scroll through a newsfeed? How much time is given to each individual? If this article appeared on your timeline, would you read it? The newsfeed encourages quicker-to-consume updates.
And here is the reason why I post less and less to Facebook: I seek to curate the content I post so that my digital identity is not defined by trivial and ill-thought-out content, but the newsfeed encourages content to be short, frequent, and sanitized. At least for me, the space in between is quickly vanishing.
Where to go?
Blogs are an obvious platform for sharing one’s thoughts in full. But personal blogs are for the most part disconnected from meaningful social networks. How many personal blogs have you come across with any comments? One could ask whether the comparative lack of dialog on personal blogs indicates that people just aren’t very interested in knowing that much about each other, but I suspect that if blog content had the same exposure to a network as the content on Facebook, it would be appreciated.