Facing up to Facebook

Sky News reports: Facebook Linked To Unhappiness

The number one social networking site is strongly associated with declines in well-being, psychologists claim.

Scientists found the more time people spent on Facebook over a two-week period, the worse they subsequently felt.

In contrast, talking to friends on the phone or meeting them in person led to greater levels of happiness.

Study leader Dr Ethan Kross, from the University of Michigan in the US, said: “On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection.

“But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result – it undermines it.”

In think we’ve all felt this. You get on Facebook and view a flurry of posts from people telling you how great their lives are, how their dreams are being fulfilled, how they’ve found love and respect. As a result, you are forced to contemplate your disappointments and lack of fulfillment. You begin screaming at the screen: “Fuck you whores! You cocksuckers! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you all…!” and they drag you out of the Starbucks.

But there’s an interesting point in this study I’d like to contemplate. Hearing your friends blather on Facebook about their achievement is depressing but it appears this is not case when hearing the same on the phone or in person. Why would this be?

I’d suspect it has something to do with the one way communication that Facebook offers. Essentially it’s a virtual soapbox – I get up and yell my point at those beneath me. (They can, of course, reply in comments, but those comments are not on equal footing as the original post.) Facebook is about talking down to people. In person, or even on the phone, you are on more equal footing; there’s much more give and take. As result, I suspect we feel like we can better take vicarious pleasure in someone’s good news. When our conversational partner talks about a “win” (say, they just got a new job) we feel connected to that win, part of the team. On Facebook there’s a great distance between us, because that person is not really talking to us specifically but all of their Facebook friends.

Frankly, I think phone and in-person communication have their own flaws – especially when they involve one person blathering on about their own thoughts while paying little attention to the other people involved (e.g. a lot like Facebook.) But they’re certainly more equal forms of communication.

I like the word “blather.”

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