Facebook and Loneliness
“The ties we form through the Internet are not, in the end, the ties that bind. But they are the ties that preoccupy … We don’t want to intrude on each other, so instead we constantly intrude on each other, but not in ‘real time.’” – Sherry Turkle, “Alone Together”
Why do you use Facebook? It’s a question businesses and individuals have been asking since its inception. Because, after all, the unexamined life is not worth living, let’s examine why more than one billion of us use this particular social channel.
To begin, I’ve chosen to explore “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” – an in-depth article in Atlantic Magazine. The article established the concept of loneliness with assertions such as these:
⁃ social interaction matters [for mental health and general well-being]
⁃ the number of people with “nobody to talk to” doubled between the 1980’s and now
⁃ psychiatrists are now overwhelmed with “the work of everyday caring”
The author, in journalistic form, presented two sides of his argument.
1. Facebook promotes loneliness:
“Back in the 1990s, scholars started calling the contradiction between an increased opportunity to connect and a lack of human contact the “Internet paradox.” A prominent 1998 article on the phenomenon by a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon showed that increased Internet usage was already coinciding with increased loneliness.”
In this decade, “researchers [Moira Burke] also found that lonely people are inclined to spend more time on Facebook: ‘One of the most noteworthy findings,’ they wrote, ‘was the tendency for neurotic and lonely individuals to spend greater amounts of time on Facebook per day than non-lonely individuals.’ And they found that neurotics are more likely to prefer to use the wall, while extroverts tend to use chat features in addition to the wall.”
2. Loneliness promotes Facebook:
“Critics of the study pointed out that the two groups that participated in the study—high-school journalism students who were heading to university and socially active members of community-development boards—were statistically likely to become lonelier over time.”
While “‘neurotic and lonely individuals” spend more time on Facebook, “the effect of Facebook depends on what you bring to it.”
3. The research conclusion:
“Facebook can be terrific, if we use it properly,” Cacioppo continues. “It’s like a car. You can drive it to pick up your friends. Or you can drive alone.” But hasn’t the car increased loneliness? If cars created the suburbs, surely they also created isolation. “That’s because of how we use cars,” Cacioppo replies. “How we use these technologies can lead to more integration, rather than more isolation.”
This conclusion correlates nicely with earlier research about another medium: Television. “The Effects of Television on Human Behavior” (Comstock, G & G Lindsey) was one focus of my graduate studies. The most quoted conclusion from this massive collection of research is almost always summarized by one delightfully concise, yet maddening quote from Wlibur Schramm: “For some children, under some conditions, some television is harmful. For other children under the same conditions, or for the same children under other conditions, it may be beneficial. For most children, under most conditions, most television is probably neither particularly harmful nor particularly beneficial… .”
So what does this mean to you, as a business practitioner?
More to come.
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