I’ve been thinking a lot about a study that was recently published arguing that facebook use can make us feel sad. I would argue that it’s less to do with facebook, and more to do with our own sense of self, and how we see ourselves in relation to everyone else. I’m a big fan of facebook. I resisted it for a long time, and eventually caved a few years back, but it wasn’t until I started blogging and set up the accompanying page that I really realised the potential it has. But equally, I see how dangerous can be.
Facebook allows us to present whatever version of ourselves we want to the world. Naturally, we want to look fun, interesting and happy. Photos are carefully screened, status updates are carefully thought out. Our relationships look perfect. Of course I realise I’m making sweeping generalisations here, but in my opinion this is where it can cause problems, and potentially lead to unhappiness. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not facebook itself that’s causing the problem, it’s how the viewer is perceiving the already skewed image, and what interpretation they’re making of it. Does that make sense?
For someone who doesn’t have the highest self esteem, they could very easily look at photos posted by friends and find themselves coming up wanting, in so many ways. Or maybe they posted what they thought was a very clever status update, but no one responded – could this lead to feeling rejected? Facebook allows the imagination of the viewer to run riot, creating whatever reality they want based on the images they see. I would be reasonably confident that the actual reality of the lives behind those images could be very different indeed.
The study details released last week argued that ‘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.’ I’m not really sure facebook is to blame here. Direct social interaction is always going to be more fulfilling than a virtual interaction, at the end of the day, we’re social creatures and we need company. But again, is it the time on facebook that’s the issue, or the way the information it presents is interpreted?
There is a flip side to this as well, one I’m very familiar with, and have written about. What about when people are feeling so bad, and so alone, that they physically can’t bring themselves to connect with others in person? In my own case, and I would imagine in the case of plenty of others, the internet in general and facebook in particular was a godsend when I was at my lowest. Rather than looking at images or posts and feeling inadequate, I was able to escape my head for a while and see that the world was still turning, people were still out there. I was able to interact in whatever limited way I was capable of at the time, and it helped me to feel connected until I reached the point of being able to physically reach out. Since I’ve started blogging and using facebook alongside it, I’ve found a whole online community of like minded people, something I had always been really skeptical about. I’ve also come across groups and resources that I had never heard of, and that have proven to be an invaluable source of both support and information.
So what’s my conclusion in all of this? We can blame facebook, or twitter, or whatever other social media people are using to connect, but I don’t think it’s the reason for the sadness and isolation. Yes, it can contribute, but I think there already needs to be a predisposition there. It all comes down to perception.