What it’s like to unfollow 98.5% of your Facebook friends

A few months ago, I unfollowed someone on Facebook on my phone.

Conveniently, Facebook prompted me asking if I wanted to unfollow more people, leading me to a page with a bubble for each of my friends, groups, and pages. To unfollow, I simply had to tap the bubble of their face.

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And over the next few months, I used this page to unfollow massive amounts of people. In one sitting, I unfollowed half of my friends. In another, I got it down to about 60/70.

But after a bit too much deliberation of “do I really care to know what ______ posts”, on an impulse, I unfollowed  everything: all my friends, all the pages I liked, all the groups I was in. It took about 5 minutes of frantic bubble tapping.

Slowly, I’ve been adding people back in and unfollowing them again, trying to reach some sort of equilibrium for the “ideal feed”. Here’s where I’m at right now:

  • 2 groups – my college class group and my scholar group
  • 2 pages– my high school and the Student Congress page
  • 8 people– 1 friend from middle school, 5 people I regularly talked to in high school, and 2 family members.

Observations:

  • My feed got boring. Fast. It’s hard to notice at first, but soon you’re looking at the same few posts over and over again. I don’t think unfollowing people decreased the frequency with which I checked Facebook, but it definitely decreased the amount of time I spent each time
  • You become acutely aware of how stalker-like social media is. I noticed it the most the few days I decided to only follow one person. It’s creepy to keep up with all the pictures someone likes and people they friend. And some people I wanted to keep for precisely that reason. (I convinced myself to unfollow them…eventually.)
  • I missed seeing stuff. I missed almost all the pictures from my high school graduation and prom. Sometimes I saw a profile picture change a week late (or more). Sometimes I felt awkward liking a post or a picture late so I didn’t. (To those friends-sorry.) But now it bothers me less.
  • FOMO and social media envy died down– Seeing a post with 200 likes on it that’s a week old doesn’t feel that bad anymore. Realizing that I missed a social outing a month ago matters less than it used to. And it doesn’t feel like people are bragging about their social lives anymore, even though I made the conscious decision to unfollow them, not them.
  • I read individual profiles more. Now my new time waster is bouncing around individual profiles. Cue the stalker factor.

I like social media like this- a way to look up profiles of people you’re thinking about, and a way to message them if needed, a reference book of sorts.

Can I undo my choice now? I don’t think Facebook allows you to follow massive amounts of people in the way I unfollowed people. So unless I manually go through all 500 friends I unfollowed, this change is for the most part permanent.

I don’t regret this decision, and with the influx of people I’ll meet in college, it might be for the best. I’d encourage you to try something similar. At the very least, try unfollowing half your friends. It’s easier than you’d imagine, and no one has to know.

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“Hey, I’d like to talk to you more…”

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Someone asked me for my number about a month ago. After I typed in my number into their phone, I failed to reciprocate. And after some other stuff ensued, I’ve been thinking about it.

I haven’t asked for someone’s phone number or email for personal reasons in a reallyyy long time. Instead, I’ve hidden behind Facebook friend requests and other forms of stalking to stay in contact with people.

Maybe that’s just a reflection on how easy staying in touch with someone has become, but it’s also a bit screwed up- to no longer have that in person acknowledgement of “Hey I want to talk to you more. How can I contact you?” 1

I found an old index card in my 6th grade pencil bag with handwritten email addresses on it. 2 This wasn’t for a class project, and these weren’t my closest friends. They were people I sat with during homeroom for 40 minutes a day, people I didn’t mind spending a few minutes to get in contact with outside of school, even if they were stupid conversations and chain mail…heh.

I would never dream of doing something like that now, mostly because I could just find them on Facebook and then message them “Hey what’s your email?”

But when I found those handwritten email addresses, now gone the way of physical contact books, I realized that the way I communicate with people has changed dramatically. Even though my 26 year old brother reminds me that I barely remember life before the Internet (I have vague memories of dial up when I was in kindergarten), I also can’t quite relate to middle schoolers texting on their iPhones and fluent in social media lingo. I do remember what it was like before smartphones and widespread instant messaging.

In late elementary school/early middle school, it looked something like this:

Instant Messaging: IT WAS SO COOL TO BE ONLINE THE SAME TIME AS SOMEONE AND BE ABLE TO TALK TO THEM. IN. REAL. TIME. I would schedule times to IM my friends, or secretly hope that someone I knew was online. Otherwise, I would send them an email. Chat statuses on Gmail were the coolest thing ever.

Calling: I had to get the phone numbers of my friends’ landlines, call them, get through their parents (“Hi this is Amy, one of Julia’s classmates. Can I talk to Julia?”) before asking some question about homework.

Email:  There was a point where I had 20 email conversations going on with a friend. I used to be a chain mail forwarder. (I’m so sorry.)  I could email my friends (or even all of my email contacts) with a draft of a story I had written out of the blue, ask for feedback, and expect them to respond.

Now it looks like this:

Instant Messaging: The assumption is that you’re online more often than not. I take reaching someone almost instantly for granted.

Calling: Many people I know don’t even have landlines anymore, and I can reach them directly, no proxy (assuming that I have their number). I’m more likely to voice/video chat them now as well. But now I feel like have to text someone “Hey is it alright if I call” before I call. Otherwise, it’s too surprising, too spontaneous.

Email: I think this analogy is appropriate:

 Email: IM :: WordPress: Facebook

In other words, email is the older version of the more convenient technology that most people don’t bother using anymore. Yet I use it because it has a degree of formality, the pause when you know that someone has set aside the time to read things, a bit more secluded from the rush.

Even this is a primitive description of modern technology. I still don’t have 1) a data plan on my phone,  2) unlimited text, 3) Snapchat, or 4) Instagram. 3 Regardless, I still talk to people online more than I do in person, and I hear enough about the lack of face to face communication in my generation. I wonder about all the lost subtleties in technological communication- the awkward pauses, the awkward eye contact, the awkward laughs, everything wonderfully awkward and personal.

And is that really worth the cost of not being able to talk with some people at all? In other words, is the missed connection, the missed communication really worth?


  1. But let’s be honest, if I asked for numbers/emails in the way I took pictures, I would constantly hate myself because I would constantly not feel comfortable doing it. Wait that’s why I’m writing this post. 
  2. I used to swear on carrying index cards everywhere like I swear on carrying plastic bags everywhere now. They could serve as bookmarks, scrap paper, straightedges, and uh, I don’t actually remember. 
  3. I suspect that with those 4 things, I would be more likely to ask people to stay in touch. Sharing Instagram/Snapchat handles is a thing, and had I texted more, maybe I’d have a reason to ask more people for their numbers. 

Why I’m not doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

I’ve been nominated for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge 5 times. For 2 of these nominations, the 24 hour time limit for the challenge has passed. This means I’m supposed to donate $100 to support ALS research. Here’s why I won’t be donating to ALSA  or pouring water over my head. 

1) ALS isn’t the best cause to support. I know that thousands of people die from ALS every year and that there’s no cure. Lou Gehrig is one of the few athletes I can name. I read Tuesdays with Morrie before I entered middle school. However, I don’t have a personal reason to donate to ALS. Nor do I have a personal connection to any other cause. Does this mean that I should immediately donate to the cause that’s filling up my newsfeed? I don’t think so. Givewell has a list of the most effective charities, backed by thousands of hours of research. However, most people don’t bother to research before they donate. According to Hope Consulting, only 3 out of every 100 people who donate to charity try and find the “most effective” non-profit. This means charity fundraising has become an advertising competition largely unrelated to the actual work of the charity. 

2) The social media aspect makes me uncomfortable. I’m impressed by the reach of this campaign and how fast it’s spread just through person to person tagging, but I don’t like how it’s largely fueled by people’s egos. (I mean, how could you not “like” an ice bucket challenge video? It’s for a good cause!) In general, I just don’t like the self-promotion aspect of social media. The ice bucket challenge has also caused a lot of people to feel like they’ve done good by dumping water on their head when they could have done much more to help. And by the effect of moral licensing, doing this one act of “good” will make them less likely to do future acts of good will. 

3) I’m a bit of a contrarian. Meaning that, what attracts most people tends to repel me. I don’t see the point in adding another video to the massive stream of videos already on my feed. If the goal is to “spread awareness”, most of my friends have done the challenge already, and I already know a decent amount about ALS. (link to the Wikipedia article)


“But the campaign is still effective!” you say. “It’s raised over 3 million dollars for ALS research!” 

Yes, I realize that. The campaign is also taking money away from other charities that may have used the funds better, which technically gives the fundraiser an overall negative impact. [See: What’s your true impact?]

So. what will I be doing? Not the Ice Bucket Challenge. Not donating to the ALS Association. Instead, I’ll be donating through Givology, the microfinance platform that funds children’s education around the world. I know exactly what their partners have accomplished through working with them this summer, and I know exactly where my money is going and what it’ll be doing, something I can’t say for the ALS Association. 

If you’ve done the challenge, kudos to you for playing your part in spreading the campaign. However, don’t use this as an excuse to avoid charitable acts in the future, and learn how to evaluate the true impact of raising awareness or making a donation.

This post was inspired by the research of 80,000 Hours,an organization dedicated to maximizing impact through one’s career, and whose founder recently wrote this article arguing that the ice bucket challenge has had a negative impact. 

Living Life Too Deep

When I first started posting a little over a year ago, I had the hopes of becoming famous. I’d have a ton of followers, people would love every post I wrote, and perhaps I’d make some money doing something I loved.  That naive hopefulness wore off quickly as I could barely even get people I knew to read, much less strangers. Posting on social media sites felt like narcissistic self-promotion, and although I enjoyed the extra traffic, I already hated that aspect of social media and wanted to do no part with it. (What a hypocritical statement; I posted my last post on Facebook.) Somewhere around the beginning of the new year, I decided that writing solely for an audience was the equivalent of soul-selling, a trait already exhibited too much through the education system and grades, and I sought a new purpose to blogging. Gradually, posts became more and more about issues relating to my own life, although they were still a little detached,  referencing big issues without any of the specific details. I tried to stay away from teenager angst and drama in pursuit of something that I could look back on later without wanting to stab myself. Also, I didn’t particularly have that much angst or drama to write about. 

During this transition (and even today), I had one blog that I admired and aspired to be like. I’m not going to link it here, but I shamelessly stalked it. She started writing in high school, and her blog has been going for 6 years already, creating an archive of thoughts throughout college and beyond. It’s a relatively quiet corner of the internet, but it’s full of theories on life, identity problems, stories of her travels, sporadic outbursts, noteworthy anecdotes, and many long posts on reading and philosophy. That’s the kind of record I want to create with this blog– an unfiltered stream of thoughts through the “growing up” process that outlasts anything I create in school. Although I will probably never align myself with the humanities professionally, the very miracle of consciousness is becoming more and more fascinating to me, and what better person to observe it on than myself? The humanities have become so dry-cut in education–what happened to analyzing the “human” aspect of it?  Learning about the world is a never-ending process, and an blog provides an informal platform on which to document my progress.

However, looking back on all of the posts I wrote for NaBloPoMo, none seem to provide the level of introspection and depth that can compare to the ones on her blog. (Yeah yeah, I know I should be congratulating myself simply for finishing and stop comparing myself to others. Go away.) Perhaps it hasn’t been long enough to draw out any significant conclusions, but I want to demand that that train of thought out of my posts from now on. My young age may make that difficult if not impossible, but I will squeeze out everything I can.

Someone once told me I was “living life too deep,” and I don’t deny it at all, nor am I ashamed of it. After realizing the complexity of the world around us and the forces that shape our surroundings, I don’t see any reason not to take life seriously and be an observer of the universe. Of course, one of the downsides of watching from the sidelines is that I’ll never get to create anything, hence the problems with intellectualism, but that’s a problem to deal with later.

#StuVoice

When I mentioned the post I wrote for StuVoice.org last week, I felt like there was so much more to the Student Voice movement than just a 300 word article I wrote, so here’s a more through explanation of how the organization works and how it’s influenced me.

The mission of Student Voice is to get youth involved in education policy discussions, since students are the largest influencers of their learning and deserve to have their voices heard. Started by Zak Malamed, Student Voice was originally a Twitter chat where people would tweet about educated related issues with the hashtag #StudentVoice, later shortened to #StuVoice due to #140charprobs.

I first heard of StuVoice through a Huffington Post article after they had set up their website, StuVoice.org. At the time, StuVoice seemed like a great initiative, but I was  unsure of how to get involved since I hadn’t created a Twitter yet, so I just let it sit in the back of my head. A few months later, I signed up for Twitter and rediscovered StuVoice through yet another HuffPost article, and I decided to check out a Twitter chat.

One Monday night in March, I nervously sent out a tweet hashtagged #StuVoice and hoped for the best. Immediately, people replied, welcoming me to the chat and favoriting my tweet. This was a huge deal for me. I was still learning the ropes of Twitter, and strangers were already interacting with me and giving me support. I decided to stay.

Everything continued going uphill from there. For the next hour, we bounced ideas off each other about education in 140 character bites, all appended with #StuVoice at the end. A single question would lead to a flood of responses and keep a discussion going for 20 minutes, often with chains going more than 10 tweets deep. I was immersed in a virtual world of people passionate about education.

When the hour (which passed by extremely quickly) was over, I had sent out nearly 50 tweets responding to peoples’ ideas and contributing my own questions to the chat. Not to mention that I had gained a few followers and numerous favorites and retweets.

For the next few months, I set aside Monday nights for #StuVoice chats no matter how much homework I had. It was the one time every week where I could discuss education seriously with a group of people, keeping multiple lines of conversation going at the same time. With the exception of a few people I know, nearly all my followers on Twitter have come from these chats.

However, I would often be left with a sense of emptiness after #StuVoice chats, since we were always discussing such great ideas, yet nothing was being done in real life. I felt uncomfortable bringing up StuVoice among people I knew, especially teachers, since education reform involves pointing out the problems with school, and we had already complained enough about school. I still wanted to start something at my school though.

Unsure of what to do next, I reached out to someone I met during a chat who started an organization at her school called Student’s Say and asked her how she got everything started. After a few back and forths, I felt like my biggest challenge was still informing people about StuVoice. I decided to write a blog post for the StuVoice website and share it on Facebook to see how it would be received.

A few scrapped ideas later, I drafted a brief article about motivation and sent it in to be edited. And for the first time since middle school, an adult actually looked over my writing and suggested a few improvements, collaborating over Google Docs. I have to admit, watching someone point out problems with my writing live was a little embarrassing, even if it was with good intentions. Nevertheless, I was extremely grateful for the feedback, and this was definitely one of the best parts about being published elsewhere.

There was a long gap between editing and publishing, but in the middle of the first week of school, I got a message from Jilly saying the post was finally up, brightening my day. At first, I was scared to read something I had written nearly a month ago on a site other than my blog, but I eventually went over and looked at it again. The post was pretty much as I remembered it, which was a relief, but now it was time to share it onto social media and have people judge me.

This wasn’t like my other posts where I would write about whatever ideas came to my head–this was meant to be a serious post, and I wasn’t sure how it’d be taken. Eventually, I got the courage to post the link onto my timeline with a description and immediately closed Facebook afterwards so I wouldn’t have to deal with any notifications. In general, people were more impressed with the fact that I was published than the actual StuVoice movement, but at least they weren’t bashing me down. I call that an accomplishment.

So what’s next? I’m not too sure  I have an idea that’s brewing in my head, but I’m not ready to share that here yet. For now, please join the #StuVoice Twitter chats. They’re an inspiring experience that makes you think about education differently, and it’d be nice to have more people I know take part.  Join us on Monday nights at 8:30 EST! (Have fun converting time zones.) Go #StuVoice!