I Won Best Table Topics at Mountain View Toastmasters!

I won Best Table Topics at Mountain View Toastmasters!

Best Table Topics at Mountain View Toastmasters
Best Table Topics at Mountain View Toastmasters

 

(C) 2018 by John F. McGowan, Ph.D.

About

John F. McGowan, Ph.D. solves problems using mathematics and mathematical software, including developing gesture recognition for touch devices, video compression and speech recognition technologies. He has extensive experience developing software in C, C++, MATLAB, Python, Visual Basic and many other programming languages. He has been a Visiting Scholar at HP Labs developing computer vision algorithms and software for mobile devices. He has worked as a contractor at NASA Ames Research Center involved in the research and development of image and video processing algorithms and technology. He has published articles on the origin and evolution of life, the exploration of Mars (anticipating the discovery of methane on Mars), and cheap access to space. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.S. in physics from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

How to Reduce Facebook Distractions

I find Facebook useful for keeping in touch with friends and family that I can’t see in person regularly.  I live in California and many of my relatives live on the East Coast of the United States.  Similarly my busy life makes keeping in touch with some friends and acquaintances even in California in person difficult.  However, Facebook became very distracting for me the last few years, primarily due to political posts during the 2016 Presidential election and even worse after Donald Trump won.  I found Facebook was contributing heavily to distractions and wasted time.

Here are the steps that I have taken to largely eliminate the Facebook distractions in my life:

  • Remove the Facebook and Facebook Messenger apps from my smartphone entirely; only check Facebook on my laptop and desktop computers.
  • Configure my Facebook account to only send absolutely essential email and other notifications.  No marketing or promotional notifications, no “someone liked this post” notifications, etc.
  • Install Matt Kruse’s Social Fixer add-on for Facebook and enable its’ built-in politics filter as well as add some custom filters for “Trump,” etc.  I’ll say more about Social Fixer below.
  • Use SelfControl on the Mac and ColdTurkey on Windows to block Facebook entirely during my work day as well as sometimes at home.

Social Fixer

I have been using Social Fixer for about three months with a dramatic reduction in mostly political distracting posts.  Social Fixer is a Javascript add on for Facebook available for both the Safari web browser on the Mac and the Firefox Web browser on a number of platforms.  It comes with a built-in politics filter as well as user customizable filters and many other features to enable fine control over what Facebook shows you.

Social Fixer Web Site
Social Fixer Web Site

The politics filter proved quite good although occasionally something will slip through.  This enables me to keep in touch with friends who are freaking out over Trump (for example) or other hot button topics without being inundated with a continuous stream of distracting political posts.

Social Fixer Add On for Firefox
Social Fixer Add On for Firefox

At least so far, I have found Social Fixer is a better option than unfollowing a friend on Facebook, where you lose all of their posts whether distracting (e.g. politics) or not.

Don’t Get Your News from Facebook

Facebook, YouTube and many other social media services appear to be using recently developed — we might say unproven, mostly untried — methods such as Deep Learning and Machine Learning to recommend, prioritize, and otherwise manage a wide range of posts, notably posts with political content.  As I discussed in my previous post on reducing YouTube distractions, what these methods appear to do frequently is promote posts that generate strong often irrational instinctive reactions such as our “fight or flight” response.  This often overrides our higher cognitive function which we need to use for most (not all) political issues.   If you really care about politics or humanity, as I do, you want to avoid this sort of content so that you can think calmly and rationally about important issues.

What Should You Do Instead?

IMHO

  • Set aside some time each day or week depending on your schedule when you are calm and collected to study current events and the issues dispassionately.
  • Avoid your “Ideological Echo Chamber.”  Identify a range of web sites or other sources that discuss the issues deeply and carefully from many points of view, not just your own.  If you are a conservative, you should be following at least a few liberal and left-wing sources.  If you are a liberal, you should be following at least a few conservative and right-wing sources.  You should also be following some “fringe” sources that don’t fit neatly into the traditional right-left paradigm.
  • Fact-check and check the context of quotes and “facts” on all sides.  A genuine fact can be highly misleading if other facts are omitted.  Search engines such as Google and other Internet services make this much easier than years ago, when access to a top-notch library was generally needed.
  • Remember that Wikipedia is not reliable on “controversial” subjects.  There are many examples of interest groups and activists capturing Wikipedia pages or bogging them down in flame wars.
  • Wherever possible use primary sources: read the actual memo, watch the unedited long form video, etc.  Wikipedia is not a primary source.
  • Consider finding or organizing a dedicated forum — online or real-world — to share your concerns with friends, neighbors, colleagues and others rather than broadcasting your concerns with posts on Facebook or other general purpose social media platforms.

Conclusion

In my experience, it is possible to largely eliminate the distractions from Facebook using these methods:

  • Remove the Facebook and Facebook Messenger apps from my smartphone entirely; only check Facebook on my laptop and desktop computers.
  • Configure my Facebook account to only send absolutely essential email and other notifications.  No marketing or promotional notifications, no “someone liked this post” notifications, etc.
  • Install Matt Kruse’s Social Fixer add-on for Facebook and enable its’ built-in politics filter as well as add some custom filters for “Trump,” etc.
  • Use SelfControl on the Mac and ColdTurkey on Windows to block Facebook entirely during my work day as well as sometimes at home.

(C) 2018 by John F. McGowan, Ph.D.

About the author

John F. McGowan, Ph.D. solves problems using mathematics and mathematical software, including developing gesture recognition for touch devices, video compression and speech recognition technologies. He has extensive experience developing software in C, C++, MATLAB, Python, Visual Basic and many other programming languages. He has been a Visiting Scholar at HP Labs developing computer vision algorithms and software for mobile devices. He has worked as a contractor at NASA Ames Research Center involved in the research and development of image and video processing algorithms and technology. He has published articles on the origin and evolution of life, the exploration of Mars (anticipating the discovery of methane on Mars), and cheap access to space. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.S. in physics from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).