This article, which recently appeared on the website of Men’s Health and has spread across Facebook like a wild fire, references a research study presented at a meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. The findings indicate that those who ranked their satisfaction with life after reading their Facebook news feed were much less content with the state of things than those who did not view their friends’ status updates. Researchers also found that happiness declined significantly when users’ friend count exceeded 354 (the “tipping point”). They concluded that because we often judge personal success in comparison to our peers, and Facebook only offers positive self-generated spin of any given person’s circumstances, it hits our self-esteem hard.
This piece positions Facebook in a similar way as that of Second Life in Life 2.0. That is to say, these platforms are deemed absolutely essential to the everyday lives of certain individuals. In the case studies of the film, those individuals either made their living from playing Second Life, were incapable of overcoming repression in the non-virtual world and so turned to Second Life, or engaged in questionable personal relationships in Second Life that may or may not have happy endings. Among the suggestions made by the author of the study in the Men’s Health article, reducing time spent on Facebook or cutting out the social network altogether are not to be found, because apparently those simply aren’t viable options anymore. One must simply try to adjust how their time on Facebook is spent. Try and eliminate the worst of the braggarts, or stick to only the best of your best friends, and hope against hope that someone’s overly positive (and most likely exaggerated) status update won’t send you into a tailspin of depression, denial, anger and self-pity.
The author does not make a definitive judgment as to whether Facebook is causing an entire generation to morph into hot messes with Woody Allen-level neuroses, or whether our already present neuroses have simply integrated themselves into our Facebook use. Nonetheless, I believe that the current state of our social lives being intertwined with social networks is here to stay. That’s not to say it would be impossible to sign off; of course, any of us could choose to press the button (or in the case of Facebook, five separate buttons, over which Facebook will BEG you to stay and remind you that you are welcome back anytime. Kool-Aid, anyone?). But for someone of my generation, a whole host of problems arise when discussion begins of “quitting” Facebook (I use quotes because it actually is quite impossible to have them delete all traces of you without possibility of return).
I am unsure as to whether the discourse surrounding social networks should be one of an addiction and its addicts, or simply another trend or fad that has spread far and wide. This could be attributed to addicts rarely refusing to admit they have a problem. There’s no doubt I’m ashamed of the time I spend on Facebook and other social networks per day, but I also doubt that, barring some incapacitating and horrific accident rendering my fingers unable to type, I am going to decrease time spent online anytime soon. Dan Hoopes’ “4 Things to Consider Before Deleting Your Facebook Profile” definitely places a point in the pro-addiction theory column. He writes: “Leaving it [Facebook] creates withdrawal not for Facebook itself, but for the aspects of social life it facilitated, and made impossible without it, betting that users will always return just because of the sheer immensity of their existence that is contained within its servers.” The words “sheer immensity of their existence” have haunted me since reading Hoopes’ piece. The amount of time, energy, blood, sweat, tears, stress, anxiety, and money we place into social networks translates into the very essence of us existing solely via these platforms. It’s not even much of a stretch to say we define ourselves (and others) by our social media existence; as I alluded to in my last blog post, it is increasingly the case that if I’m not friends with someone on Facebook (or have at least creeped on their profile), there’s a good chance I’m unaware of their existence entirely. The fact that virtual funerals are held for Second Life avatars points further to the idea that it is a living part of us that exists on these networks.
Hoopes concludes his article by saying, “It’s not that I miss being able to immediately convey any thought or feeling instantly to nearly every person in my life, it’s that I miss the chance, however remote, that they would choose to do the same to me.” Is a mass exodus from social media forthcoming? I think not. I, for one, am far too frightened of the possibilities. I Facebook, therefore I am.