Facebook has turned us into narcissistic creatures
561 friends. 27 friend requests. 854 photos. 38 groups. Welcome to my life. Or one version of it.
In February 2004, Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook. Within eight years, it has over one billion active users, 8.7 per cent of which are fake and 1.7 million of which are children under 13 years old. Within a decade, it has taken the world by storm, to the point where many of us cannot go one day without logging on. As much as this acute mass addiction to social media horrifies me, one must admit that getting over a billion people to do all do the same thing in the same (virtual) place is pretty impressive. That’s one point for you, Mark. But let’s just hold those notifications for one minute and think about, aside from the effect of social media on our collective psyche, the effects that all of this social networking is having on our own minds. Has it had any effect on our own individual outlook of what does, or does not, constitute a successful life?
A few weeks ago, I came across an article – funnily enough on Facebook – about a study outlining the effects of logging onto Facebook on our sense of well-being. The results showed that the more the participants used Facebook, the worse they felt about themselves afterwards. Moreover, use was inversely proportional to the levels of satisfaction with their own lives. Despite this study being cross-sectional and thus shedding no light on causation, I personally don’t find these findings surprising having been a regular victim of Friday-night-post-newsfeed-depression.
After reading this article and feeling relieved that I was not the only one suffering from the urge to shoot myself after opening Facebook, I started to think about the strange new dynamic that social media has created in human interaction. For example, it is apparently now acceptable to: Post holiday photos to Facebook rather than actually enjoying your holiday. Use “likes” as a quantitative measure of success. Tell everybody where you are/what you’re doing/how you’re feeling/what you’re eating/what you’re wearing/where you bought it/who you’re wearing it with/who you like/who you hate/how well your baby slept/how well you slept ALL THE TIME. Substitute real life human conversation involving eye contact and the use of one’s vocal chords (and the physical presence of other people) with “Facebook Chat”. Give new notifications the same measure of urgency as childbirth. Or losing a limb. Or an eye. (This list is not exhaustive.)
Having ignited my curiosity, I decided to do some more research. I came across another study that has analysed the effects of constantly sharing photos on Facebook on one’s social relationships. According to this, the continuous sharing of self-portraits runs the risk of alienating your friends and whoever else you have on your Facebook, including partners. It turns out that not everyone reacts positively to having their newsfeed violated by endless selfies in various locations which cannot be seen behind the countless faces dominating the picture. Weird.
But is what we share on Facebook an accurate representation of how our lives really are? I’m going to go with a profound “no”. Of course not. In the real-life 3D world – which doesn’t require a password to get into – I don’t generally call up my friends to tell them I’m putting marmite on my toast (no matter how incredible I believe marmite is). But if I were to take a photo, Instagram it and caption it with phrases like “#breakfast #marmite #loveitorhateit #iloveit #ilovefood #hungry #themorningafterthenightbefore #instabreakfast #amomentonthelipslifetimeonthehips #YOLO”, it would probably end up with 5-10 likes and a couple of comments talking about how awesome marmite is. And this would make me really happy because everyone loves my breakfast and it’s now the hot topic on my newsfeed. This must be what it’s like to be Beyonce.
Another study I came across investigated the link between browsing one’s own Facebook, productivity and self-esteem. Interestingly, they found that after looking at our own profiles, our self-esteem is much improved. However, it also produced in the participants a reduced motivation to perform well in cognitive tasks. When explaining these results, the researchers likened browsing our own Facebook profiles to looking in a mirror that reflects only our positive attributes (unless Facebook develops its own masochistic streak), where our place within a network of meaningful relationships can be seen objectively. However, this boost in self-esteem may result in complacency, meaning that we don’t think it necessary to try as hard to better ourselves – demonstrated by a reduced level of motivation. Our egos are being given false hope while we sit idly by, waiting for the opportunity to update our relationship status (apparently 43 per cent of us would confirm the end of relationship via Facebook).
The fact that these days, we seem to be constantly connected, combined with the seemingly instantaneous apparent self-gratification that comes from being part of the Facebook community, means there is little scope, opportunity or incentive for introspection, self-reflection, or even just time to think. While social interaction, in any shape or form, is what makes us who we are, it can also be too much of a good thing. Continuously being in conversation, either with an individual or with a community en masse, can be considered a form of escapism. With our minds so constantly engaged with information coming in from the outside, there is no time for looking back on ourselves. Personal development seems to take a backseat. At this very moment, for example, as well as attempting to demonstrate some form of literary prowess, I am also in a Skype meeting and chatting on WhatsApp to four different people. And this is all after having spent a full day at work. I haven’t even had a chance to say hello to myself yet.
Bertrand Russel wrote in his book, The Conquest of Happiness, that we are afraid of boredom, and that it is this fear which leads us towards unhappiness. Boredom is a relative concept, largely seeded as a result of us comparing ourselves to those around us and when we feel like we’re not occupied enough comparatively, we feel bored. But with more and more stuff always engaging our attention, the threshold for boredom is getting lower and lower and we are subsequently becoming harder and harder to please. The trouble here is, who exactly is setting these standards? My frustration with the current state of my life usually peaks after browsing Facebook, essentially after seeing what great progress all my Facebook friends have made and what fun they’re all having. But I’m just seeing what they want me to see, and, because we’re only human, we want the world to think we’re always having a good time.
I asked a couple of my Facebook friends, all from the 18-29 age group, about how they felt towards Facebook now. Opinions were either indifferent, blasé or negative. One friend told me how he felt Facebook has destroyed the art of conversation and makes relationships lazy, that the public nature of status updates and wall posts turns people into exhibitionists and that it most probably started out as a social experiment. Another friend felt its popularity has definitely declined but that we are now too used to it and there’s no going back.
In our rapidly changing and progressing world, maybe it’s worth just taking a small step back and slowing down a little before we start becoming more smartphone than human (I feel this is how Darth Vader became who he is). Healthy social networking is wonderful thing that keeps you in touch and up to date, but used in the wrong way, it can have all sorts of very subtle downsides. So let’s just remember, “likes” aren’t a measure of success, and when Facebook asks “What’s on your mind?”, you are under no obligation to tell it everything and no one cares what you’re eating. Not even if it’s marmite.
Image from: http://favim.com/image/247194/
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