Art Carden  

Facebook: So Long. Sort of.

Rector, Poverty, and Immigrati... Sanctions and Boycotts in an I...

In response to precipitous increases in the opportunity cost of my time and my wish to Avoid News, I've scaled back my presence on social media. I still maintain Economics in One Meme and a still-nascent "professional" Facebook page, where my posts, articles, and stuff like that will still appear, but I'm in the process of cutting my "friends" list on my personal page down to family members.

I wrestled with this for a long time: I've enjoyed Facebook, I've met a lot of very interesting people through Facebook, and it has challenged me in a lot of ways. This wasn't a free lunch, though: Facebook can be digital crack for the impulsive or for people who are easily distracted. Too often, I would find myself chasing various rabbits and engaging in interesting discussions, but I would be doing this at the expense of something more important. Too often, I would see something in my feed that would frustrate me and ruin a solid fifteen or thirty minutes. In the lingo of introductory economics, I found that Facebook was a source of accounting profits but economic losses. I have a lot on my plate right now, and something had to give. That "something" was Facebook.

So what will I be doing instead? Now that I've freed up so much mental energy and so much time by ditching Facebook, what will I be doing with that time?

First, there's family. Ditching Facebook frees up more time to spend with them, but most importantly it makes it easier to be fully and completely engaged. It makes it easier to be "there." I try to avoid this, but I sometimes fall prey to the siren song of the internet when I'm out and about or when I should probably be doing something else. Home schooling our kids will take a lot of time and energy. Dropping Facebook silences one of the loudest voices shouting for my attention.

Second, there's work. For all I learned from Facebook, my engagement with Facebook came at the expense of plowing through stacks of unread-but-important books occupying various nooks and crannies in my day-to-day life. Like cable news channels, Facebook (and not only Facebook, obviously) provides outlets for very strong opinions that are backed by superficial (at best) engagement with the main ideas. Given the choice between spending more time scrolling through my Facebook news feed and re-reading Smith, Keynes, Buchanan, Hayek--and reading books on my shelf like Oded Galor's Unified Growth Theory or brushing up on theoretical and empirical skills that have grown rusty through neglect--I choose the latter. In short, I'm trading quantity for quality with respect to my information intake. And I haven't even mentioned the multiple book projects and papers to which I've committed myself and which have been on the shelf for far too long.

Third, there's personal stuff, church stuff, and community stuff. I think I'm on year three of my venture through the One-Year Bible. There are a lot of important theological, scientific, and philosophical questions I understand only superficially. Once again, I'm trading quantity for quality. Less Facebook means more time to peruse resources from organizations like the BioLogos Foundation and the Veritas Forum.

Here is where I'm genuinely conflicted. Steve Horwitz once described Facebook as being sort of like a wedding reception that never ends. I've really enjoyed that, and Facebook has been a source of inspiration for articles, posts, and all sorts of other things. I think it's time to edge away from the bar and back toward the library, so to speak. This could be a terrible decision, and I might go running back to Facebook next month. At the very least, it's at least going to be an interesting experiment.

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COMMENTS (5 to date)
F. Lynx Pardinus writes:

I read the Avoid News piece with interest, since I go through period where I try avoid news (with various degrees of success).

How do you think blogs written by experts in a field (like Biologos for religion or EconLog and Marginal Revolution for economics or Volokh Conspiracy for law) fit into an Avoid News mentality? Are they worth reading, or better off avoided?

Michael Stack writes:

I have stayed on Facebook, but I keep my interactions to a minimum. I've learned to avoid arguing politics/economics and to instead focus on a core group of people I really care about. That approach has worked well for me.

I also avoid Twitter because I find that it interrupts me too often, and it's difficult to consume Twitter in 'digest mode', while I can do that more easily on Facebook.

Best of luck with your Facebook Freedom!

Brad D writes:

I listened to a recent Econtalk with Russ Roberts and Esther Dyson on the "Attention Economy." In short, much of our time spent on social media aims to garner more attention (perhaps for our own ego), and that ain't always a good thing.

You are wise to trade time spent on FB for time in the Word and other more meaningful activities.

BTW: thanks for sharing the Veritas link. It's heartening to know the Kingdom is being advanced, once again, on campuses across America and beyond.

Art Carden writes:

Everyone: thank you for the comments. I'm trying to use social media sites like Twitter and my "professional" Facebook page as outlets for my research, stuff I write on EconLog, etc. I'm not avoiding everything completely, but this is definitely an experiment in using my time more wisely.

@Lynx: That's a great question, and I think the answer is different depending on the person. Most of the stuff that comes through news sites is probably irrelevant over the very long run, and I've wondered before about whether I should keep up with more blogs or fewer. I have a pretty slim RSS feed.

In my case, I have the luxury of access to a University library and online access to scholarly journals, which means I face a different set of constraints than most people. For a lot of topics, I use blogs to serve as a filter for things outside my main areas of expertise or in areas I'm considering exploring. Bloggers like Tyler Cowen, David Friedman, and Steven Landsburg are great filters for stuff I'd otherwise have to spend more time trying to find.

F. Lynx Pardinus writes:

Thanks for your reply!

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