As Facebook rises, guess what falls?
Now that most of us are all back from our vacations, are you happy to be back on your social life on screen, specifically your Facebook page as it is connected to 1.87 billion other Facebook users?
After spending time renewing your connections with natural life and of course, with the humans who make our lives joyful, spicy and interesting by actually being with them, you may once again have realized that glorious as your own set of friends of let’s say, 200, is on Facebook, in the way it explodes and spreads information (including yours), there is nothing like spending time, in person, with about 5 of them.
But beyond your gut feel and your right to have your own view as to what social media does to your personal state of mind, what do studies of lots of Facebook users, tell us?
This is important because we already know, without a doubt, that even if there are very few among us who thrive best alone, we have evolved to be social beings. As far back as the earliest humans, there was a clear advantage to being social when they connected with other humans because it made them survive. Being social meant staying alive and the genes for this sociability was passed on to modern humans. Fast forward to the information age, where connecting with someone need not mean having had a whiff of her/his scent or the shake of her/his hand. Now it means, your online self is out there with other online selves and you can all connect in many ways and one major way is by FB. So what does science say about your sociability through Facebook use and your well-being?
Previous studies have found that it could harm us; some found that it seems to be doing us some good and some said it depends. This variation is understandable as we are talking about something as complex as our social lives and its effect on our individual well-being. But a new study tried to improve on the loopholes of previous studies by doing a longer study with more than just one period for comparison. The new study also did not rely only on self-reports but actual Facebook data that they were authorized by the participants to pull and it also included information on the real world network of the FB user.
The study wanted to see what is the link between Facebook use and well-being. By “well-being”, they meant life satisfaction, self-reported mental health, self-reported physical health, and even body-mass index (BMI). By “Facebook use”, it meant posting (including updating your status), “liking” and clicking links on your feed.
Not surprisingly, the current study found that connecting to real world networks was linked to having a positive well-being while the use of Facebook was the reverse. Who would really prefer to do a Facebook posting-fest with close friends than spending time with them even on your run-down patio gorging chips and chocolate?
What was surprising in the study’s results was that you can decrease your state of mental health even only after a year of Facebook use. It is important to remember that this was based on “self-reports”. These are Facebook users who already voluntarily invest time on the social newtworking site regardless of their participation in the study. They themselves reported a decrease in their measures of well-being. And contrary to a previous study which said it was only the quality of Facebook use that negatively affected well-being, in this current study, both the quantity and the quality of Facebook use were linked to the fall of one’s reported “well-being”.
The researchers were also surprised to find that posting/updating one’s status and clicking links were also associated with a decline in all the measures of well-being. They thought that “liking” others’ posts would be the run-away predictor of the decline of well-being compared to those two. This was because “liking” other posts exposes you to the “best” of what others put online, making you think your life is worse than everybody else’s. Therefore, the researchers thought it would be the easiest put-down of well-being. All I can say is if you lend yourself to comparison with 1.87 billion others, you should steel yourself for a beating in every imagined category. Somebody is bound to be better than you every posting moment, given all the configurations of what a “moment” could be.
But I think the question of whether or not we should be on social media has already left the station. The train is running and morphing. The better question I think is how can social media tap into what really matters to us instead of the “easiest” algorithms that encourage us mostly to feed our primal common denominator traits – selfish, impulsive showboats - chatty without really saying anything?
It won’t be easy but nothing worthwhile is easy. We could start with what we know. For instance, how could social media have built-in corrections so that it can tell whether we are ignoring actual people needlessly by being on Facebook too long? How could it notice that our language is getting too impatient or when our desire for self-seeking attention is way out of the cool meter? How could it make up for the smells that we emit when we are disgusted or afraid but are not inhaled by the ones we interact with when we post with those emotions? Those are emotions that are crucial in navigating our social lives and they should not be left out of social media if it were to be truly “social”. And how about body language? Social media apps should find a way to represent our whole bodies because body language is hardwired in all of us to express and read.
I think Facebook is already rousing itself in a corrective direction with configurations to keep fake news out of Facebook. We humans are innately social and despite the films about the rise of robots, it would take the social equivalent of a lobotomy to make us resist connecting with others. But we can’t just be zombies dragged by the wide net of indiscriminate algorithms. It would be one of the most tragic ironies if we let our sanity fall prey to our own desire to reach out. We should pool our wits to figure out how social media could make us discover interesting, meaningful ways of being alive without being volunteer prisoners of our virtual social circles. – Rappler.com