Your attention is the most valuable thing on the web. It might not feel like it when you’re bored, mindlessly scrolling through your news feed, but it’s true.
Facebook is worth $34 billion – nearly three times the net worth of McDonalds – because of all the time you spend staring at it. Attention is the real online currency.
I point this out not to argue that Facebook, or any social network, is “bad” – blaming problems on technology isn’t productive. Instead, I’d argue that social networks are tools, and we can all learn to use them better.
Sometimes that means unfriending, unfollowing, and unliking. It sounds harsh, but this isn’t about cutting people out of your life: it’s about giving more of your attention to the people and ideas you care about.
Ask Yourself: What Are Social Networks For?
Have you ever closed Facebook out of disgust, anger, or sadness? Have you ever opened Twitter, Reddit, or Pinterest and found absolutely nothing of interest?
If so, it’s time for a cleanup.
We all use different tools for different purposes, but generally I think there are three reasons we look at social networks:
- Staying in touch with people you care about.
- Learning about the world, current events, and your interests – all from a variety of different perspectives.
- Pure entertainment value.
How much you value these three things obviously varies from person to person, as does which networks work best for which things. Facebook, for me, is primarily a tool for keeping in touch with family; Twitter, on the other hand, is for exposing myself to ideas I wouldn’t otherwise see. I use Reddit for productivity, but for plenty of others it’s a source of pure entertainment.
Your lines will vary, but I think everyone sometimes sees things in their various news feeds that are of no value whatsoever.
When You Need To Clean Up
Low-value posts happen, but some people consistently offer nothing but. Sometimes people you care about will post things you don’t like; sometimes people you don’t care about will post things you love. The problem is when people you don’t care about post things you don’t like, consistently.
- Do you have a Facebook friend you haven’t talked to in years, who consistently posts things you find boring, ignorant or even offensive? Unfriend, or at the very least unfollow.
- Do you follow someone on Twitter who makes you angry, hardly ever teaches you anything, and doesn’t even entertain you? Unfollow.
- Do you see regular updates, from a company you’ve “Liked” on Facebook, that advertise to you in a way that’s not even a little bit entertaining or informative? Unlike.
- Do you get email newsletters that you never read? Unsubscribe.
You get the idea: if you’re not getting anything out of a social media relationship, it’s time to end it.
This might sound harsh, but think about it another way: any attention you give to people and entities who give you nothing back is attention you’re denying others. You’re giving less time to people you care about, the ideas you want to learn more about, and the videos and comics you like. If that tradeoff isn’t worth it, it’s time to do something about it.
Facebook: Know Who Your Friends Are
In Facebook, head to your profile, then click “Friends”
Yeah, that “Friends” link, beside the “About” one. You’ll now see a list of your Facebook friends, so scroll through and start cleaning. A few rules of thumb I like to use:
- If you’re not sure who someone is, unfriend them. Don’t give it a second thought.
- If, given the chance to meet with a particular “friend” in person, you’d make up an excuse not to, unfriend them.
The criteria you use is up to you, of course, just put some thought into it.
If you’d rather not completely “Unfriend” someone, you can “Unfollow” them instead. This will prevent their posts from showing up in your timeline, but allow them to keep seeing yours. You can do this from within the timeline: when you see a post from someone you’d rather stop seeing, click the arrow at top-right on the post:
From here you can unfollow, meaning you’ll stop seeing that person’s posts but he’ll keep seeing yours and, in Guy’s case, post dad jokes.
I’d never unfollow you, Guy. Don’t worry.
Facebook: Unlike Basically Everything
It’s hard to unfriend someone, because you’re dealing with actual people. You have no such obligation to the various Pages you’ve “Liked” over the years. Head back to your profile page, then scroll down until you see the “Likes” box in the left panel.
Yep, there it is! Click this and you’ll see a page full of the things you’ve “Liked” over the years. Unsubscribe from anything you don’t enjoy.
Twitter: Unfollow Unfollow Unfollow
Twitter, unlike Facebook, is blissfully free of social obligation. It doesn’t use words like “Friend”, and the following relationship is one way.
Never, ever feel bad about unfollowing someone: it’s the only tool you have to control what you do and don’t see in your regular timeline. There are only so many hours in the day, and if you want to actually follow the people you find interesting you need your timeline to be clean enough to see their posts.
(Matt: I didn’t unfollow you, but remember: you’re always a hamburger photo away from oblivion).
If you can’t keep up right now, it’s time for a cleanup. Head to the list of people you’re following on Twitter, then get slashing.
Email: Unsubscribe Liberally
Email is the one communications tool pretty much everyone uses, which means lots of companies want to dump your inbox full of all kinds of things you don’t care about. We’ve gone over ways to deal with email overload, but you can save yourself a lot of time by simply unsubscribing from newsletters you don’t care about.
If this sounds time consuming, check out our list of apps that automatically unsubscribe you from newsletters. Failing that, there are ways to declutter newsletters without trashing them.
Time For Some Spring Cleaning
Just because you have the ability to keep in touch with everyone you’ve ever met, doesn’t mean you have the obligation to actually do that. Nor does it mean that keeping in touch with everyone you’ve ever met is a good idea. Your time is limited, so it’s important to have a healthy information diet so you can prioritize your time and give more of it to the people and ideas you care about.
I could go on, talking about how this works on different social networks, but the process is pretty similar. Let me know which networks you want to clean out in the comments below, and I’ll fill you in if I can.