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We Need to Disconnect from Facebook Right Now

Joao Carlos Caribe

I disconnected for 15 days and it was a gratifying experience...

The smartphone has effectively transformed us into cyborgs, we have in our hands a highly efficient computing device equipped with a photo and video camera, microphone, GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, light and proximity sensors, as well as other features that allow creation of increasingly useful, impressive and addictive applications.

Twenty years ago, when we were still "went in" on the Internet through our computers, the maximum mobility was achieved with cumbersome laptops, with their mobility limited to a physical network connection. Today we literally carry the world in our pockets.

Our devices are connected twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and the whole year, even while we are asleep. We are aware of this new layer, of this new sense  —  our devices can be perceived as a new sense, the eighth sense, since there are theoretical lines that affirm that there is a seventh sense.

We live so connectedly that we do not realize we're always carrying a bionic device, the smartphone, wherever we go, literally anywhere. We are always checking our networks, notifications that jump on the screen with their characteristic noises, and when we are not paying attention, they vibrate in our pocket to get our attention.

This bionic device, through your apps, offers us many free features such as getting the best route to any destination, making it possible to travel anywhere in the world, measuring and recording our physical and physiological data using other bionic devices connected to our body, or monitor our home through connected devices, interact through social networks, surf the internet, plan anything, manage our work, and more, all we have to do is give our data and our autonomy in return.

And the social networks?

They call it social interaction, an individual looking at a color screen, socializing through a kind of metaverse, where he can interact silently in a frenetic and noisy environment. It is undoubtedly a metaverse because all socialization in these networks is mediated by complex algorithms. These algorithms, or better, a set of algorithms, take care of recording everything you do, every click, like, comment, sharing, reading, friend, group, page, absolutely everything they record. These records are compared to countless others that have been collected from other users, creating such a precise profile that only about 300 likes allow Facebook know more about you than your partner. Knowing it so well, the algorithms will offer you such rewarding social experiences, which will keep you ever more faithful, and addicted.

In addition to giving him good experiences, Facebook's algorithms can influence his mood, his opinion, his perception of the world, his main goal is to obtain revenue for his interactions, only from July to September last year he earned 10.14 billion of dollars in advertising, for this he needs you to interact more, and according to neuroscientist Molly Crocket, the most efficient way to do this is to present a post that literally provokes you. By doing this, it ensures that you will react and produce a buzz in your personal bubble of friends. According to Crocket, social networks in this process provoke us into an emotional roller coaster, and the consequences of this are not yet known.

In fact, Facebook is the largest social laboratory in the world, studying and recording absolutely everything about more than 2 billion people (profiles), it has super detailed profiles by segments and even individuals of the most diverse cultures, this gives the social network a power never before imagined.

We are becoming so dependent on algorithm-mediated social relationships that there are already specific pathologies like the FoMo  —  Fear of Missing Out, which is literally the fear of being left out on social networks.

These are just some of the problems encountered, but were enough for me to indulge in an interesting and rewarding experience.

The Experience

It was fifteen days without Facebook between December 18, 2017 and January 1, 2018. I uninstalled both Facebook and Messenger from all my devices and did not access the social network through the computer in the period.

To evaluate the experiment, I used eight subjective indicators:

  1. Anxiety – aiming to measure the level of anxiety / tranquility. Being 10 extreme anxiety and 1 extreme tranquility.
  2. Optimism  – aiming to measure the level of optimism / pessimism. Being 10 extremely optimistic and 1 extremely pessimistic.
  3. Perception of reality – in order to measure how much positive or negative. Being 10 extremely positive and 1 extremely negative.
  4. Happiness  – with the goal of measuring happiness / sadness. Being 10 extremely happy and 1 extremely sad.
  5. Stress  – with the aim of measuring the level of stress as a whole. Being 10 extremely stressed and 1 extremely calm.
  6. Productivity  – Subjective indicator of productivity perception. Being 10 extremely productive, and 1 unproductive to the extreme.
  7. Sensation of social alienation – A very subjective indicator of the perception of social alienation, usually perceived with the number, frequency, and density of social interactions. Being 10 totally alienated, and 1 fully engaged.
  8. Sensation of informational alienation – With the objective of measuring the perception of information of conjuncture and context, usually given by news and news shared by its peers. Being 10 totally alienated and 1 totally aware.

As I knew how to quantify the indicators, I did not bother to create elements for their evaluation, which will become indispensable for the next stage of the experience with other volunteers. It will also become imperative to establish the period and sampling necessary to have a better scientific criterion.

What happened?

The first concern was how I would "survive" without Facebook for 15 long days, I realized that we are so accustomed to accessing the network often that it seemed like too radical a decision to be made. This concern followed for the first two days.

On the first day the anxiety and stress were very high, and fell abruptly from day three.

The feeling of increased productivity came on the second day, and rose rapidly. In search of a justification I realized that the habit of checking Facebook regularly, or simply the idea of doing so leaves us with a state of "semi connectivity"  —  it's like we are all the time in a kind of "sleep mode" and any notification in our devices would "wake" us for it  —  this ends up consuming a lot of our attention. Leaving the phone out of our reach or simply inside the bag with off sound warnings can have a huge impact on our productivity. On the third day, the sensation was already so positive that it realized it had time to spare and it went up to peak on the seventh day and then remained until the end of the experiment.

Optimism and the sense of happiness were other feelings that had a positive and significant evolution from the third day. Already the sense of social alienation grew very much in the first three days arriving at a perception of almost total alienation on the fourth day, and soon fell dizzyingly until arriving at insignificant values. Already the perception of informational alienation was the most difficult to deal with, I realized how much I am informed by my peers on Facebook, but despite reaching the peak of almost total alienation in the first four days, it fell to lower levels, reaching an average perception of informational alienation.

Throughout the experience, I have increased my social interaction face-to-face, and the interaction by Twitter, WhatsApp and Telegram, I believe I have made a substitution that impacted on the indicators of social and informational alienation.

After the fifteenth day, I did not return to Facebook, I was only accessing the social network for the first time five days later. The sense of well-being has taken over me, and the alienation has continued to reduce significantly, I continue to inform myself of my peers, but now I have returned to the old habit of seeking information directly. My way of using Facebook has changed completely, I do not plan to reinstall the applications on my devices, and I do not feel like accessing it more than once or twice a day, and I do not stay for more than 15 minutes. I have posted from external applications, Instagram, Buffer, and Sharing from apps.

Conclusion

The experience was very gratifying and draws attention to a problem that must be taken seriously, our relationship with our bionic devices and especially with our social relations mediated by algorithms. It is necessary and urgent multidisciplinary studies on the subject, in the search for ways to build a society of healthy cyborgs, since not using technology can be as disastrous as using it intensively. First of all, you must set limits, set at least one day of the week to be totally disconnected and use the technological resources in moderation.

Greater care is needed with children, who are learning to be social beings. I have been greatly disturbed by the growing habit of parents that give children devices to take care of, while they are socializing in restaurants and social events. These children are not learning to socialize, they are learning from an early age that they can alienate themselves through their devices, imprisoning them in a future in which they will not have the least autonomy, and will not know how to relate in person.

This text was originally published at Medium.

By Joao Carlos Caribe, Independent consultant and Postgradute researcher on Inf. Science at PPGCI UFRJ
Related topics: Mobile Internet, Privacy
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