If you were less than happy to learn that Facebook might have secretly experimented with your emotions, now you can try an experiment of your own: Quit the site for 99 days.
A project called 99 Days of Freedom, launched by Netherlands-based creative agency Just, invites users to replace their profile photo with a “time off” image, start a countdown clock, and take time each month to consider whether they might actually be happier offline.
“We think that real happiness happens in real life,” says art director Merijn Straathof. “I will always prefer a real compliment over a ‘like,’ just as I prefer talking to people in person rather than talking to them on my phone. Facebook is just a really good example of a digital service that’s very addictive and is known to take up a lot of time.”
The average Facebook user spends 17 minutes a day on the site, which adds up to 28 hours over the course of the experiment. The 99-day program is designed to be just long enough to gather some meaningful information about behavior change, but short enough that people won’t lose interest. And if someone can’t resist occasionally logging on, that’s allowed–the designers decided not to track actions on the site.
“We don’t care if people cheat,” says Straathof. “It’s a personal experience. If people have made it to the 99-day mark and felt the urge to log in, or they just did it automatically, then that is fine. That will be valuable to know for our research as well.”
Some more scientific studies have already shown that using Facebook can, in fact, make us unhappy, and passively browsing the site can make us feel lonelier, though other studies have shown the opposite.
The designers make it clear that they’re not anti-Facebook. They just want to encourage people to think about how much time they spend on the site and whether it’s actually improving their lives.
“I honestly think that in 10 years from now, I won’t remember anything that I saw on Facebook,” Straathof says. “But I will remember the things I have done in the real world.”