To Click or Not to Click: A Facebook Survival Guide

As published in The Rye Record December 6, 2013

I’m starting to really like Facebook. I like seeing what people are up to, even if it’s just what they want me to think they’re up to. I like reading the articles they post and watching the video clips that they like. I would have no idea where to find all this stuff without them, so it’s like I have my own personal army out there mining the Internet for content. Man, what a time saver! The trick is to carefully construct a filtering policy so that you only click on the stuff that you’re going to want to see. Here’s mine:

The first hurdle is my personal compatibility with the person who is posting. In the same way that you trust certain people for movie and book recommendations, you need a little experience to vet whose video clip is going to delight you and whose is going to leave you wishing you had your four minutes back. It doesn’t take long to determine which of your Facebook friends has a similar sense of humor to yours and which has a fondness for posting videos of dogs being tortured. I scroll past friends who secretly want to overthrow the government, those who have proof that the end is near and those who think kittens are intrinsically comedic. I’m no intellectual. I like to roll right down the middle.

The next most important factor is the length of the video you’re about to watch. As a general rule, I will not watch anything longer than four minutes. If you can’t get it done in four minutes, maybe it didn’t need to be done at all. Time is money here, people. This is 2013 and, I hate to brag, but my four-minute attention span is thirty seconds above the national average.

I also won’t watch video clips of people’s kids. It’s not that I don’t like other people’s kids in person, but the Facebook community doesn’t generally post bloopers of their kids missing fly balls or tripping in their prom dresses (I’d love that!). Instead they post sort of annoying clips of their kids playing the violin or performing on Broadway or unloading the dishwasher without being asked. In short, things my kids don’t know how to do. These videos make me feel bad and are often too long anyway.

People try to entice you to click by leaving a little comment above the video they’re sharing. Consider this comment to be a warning label. For example, I don’t read anything that’s been marked with “OMG, watch this, it’ll make you cry!” Even if it’s less than four minutes long. Why in the world am I going to risk the click, watch the thing, and then find myself slumped over my computer, crying? Do people have any idea how many hours a day I already spend slumped over my computer, crying?

If you tell me it’s funny, provided it’s less than four minutes and you haven’t let me down in the past, I’ll probably watch it. But you’ve got to mean it. A video accompanied by “this is funny” might not be compelling enough. Lots of things are funny, but I’m guessing that if this wasn’t funny enough for you to use even one exclamation point, I’m not going to like it. For my four minutes, I’m looking for a recommender that confesses to losing bladder control.

I have a hard time not clicking on meaningless lists, no matter who posts them. I see the words “Five Things Happy People Know” and I’m rendered powerless. I’m happy, I think, I bet I know all five of those things. I go ahead and click, smugly, only to find out that I am not in fact happy at all. Or “Twelve Things Your Husband Doesn’t Want You to Know.” Shoot. I can only think of four – click. Likewise for “Ten Signs You Probably Have Cancer.” How can you not click on that? It’s practically medical care. And I don’t want to freak you out, but if you experience occasional bloating, well, never mind.

Here’s what I will watch: Justin Timberlake doing anything, the first four minutes of any Ted talk, videos of people who just lost over 200 pounds, people being reunited with their military loved ones, amateur flash mobs, and marriage proposals gone wrong. It’s a good thing I don’t let Facebook waste my time.