Facebook makes me lonely!

A lot of interesting studies on the psychological/social/emotional impact of Facebook have come out lately.  I think I intuitively suspected some of what the studies have revealed, but it is still fascinating to see it empirically quantified.  Bad or good, Facebook (used here as synonymous with all social networking generally) has completely, fundamentally, and permanently changed the way we interact.  Is that good or bad?  And if bad, then what? 

One of these studies comes out of Stanford.  This particular study focused on how students evaluate moods, both their own and those of their peers.  The study revealed that their subjects consistently underestimated how dejected others were, and likely wound up feeling more dejected as a result.  So what does that have to do with Facebook?  Well, the study revealed that people seemed to feel particularly bad after logging onto the site “and scrolling through others’ attractive photos, accomplished bios, and chipper status updates.”  “They were,” the study found, “convinced that everyone else was leading a perfect life.”

Is that true?  Do people really do that?

As one article, Libby Copeland’s “The Anti-Social Network” on www.slate.com, pointed out, the human habit of overestimating other people’s happiness is nothing new.  Quoting Montesquieu, the article proclaims: “If we only wanted to be happy it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, which is almost always difficult, since we think them happier than they are.”

And apparently Facebook is making this worse.  Continuing, the article recognized that, “[b]y showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people’s lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles’ heel of human nature.”

Many of the studies and related articles I have reviewed have focused on a virtual “keeping up with the Joneses” phenomenon that Facebook apparently inspires.  One reference comes from a kid named Jake Reilly and an article on Yahoo! News about his 90-day so-called “Amish Project” wherein he went 90 days without a cell phone, email, or any social media.  Reilly said:

Yeah, for sure. I think that Facebook is the biggest waste of time, because everyone is just presenting such a filtered picture of themselves. You only put up your best pictures. People only check in when they are at the fanciest restaurant in the city. They only keep things up there that are flattering to themselves. I just think it’s like keeping up with the Joneses, but for life. You’re never going to get on top of it. Someone’s always going to have a better job than you, go on better vacations than you, have a better looking wife than you, or whatever it is. So, it’s superficiality on top of superficiality. You never get to see the real parts of people.


One of the most profound (for me) points made was back in Copeland’s article, and focused on parenting.  She said:

Any parent who has posted photos and videos of her child on Facebook is keenly aware of the resulting disconnect from reality, the way chronicling parenthood this way creates a story line of delightfully misspoken words, adorably worn hats, dancing, blown kisses. Tearful falls and tantrums are rarely recorded, nor are the stretches of pure, mind-blowing tedium. We protect ourselves, and our kids, this way; happiness is impersonal in a way that pain is not. But in the process, we wind up contributing to the illusion that kids are all joy, no effort.

I can definitely identify with what she is saying there.

I do feel, though, that I have kind of accounted for this all along.  Of course people only post their best pictures.  Of course most people only report the cool and fun and happy things they are doing.  Just because everyone looks great in their pictures or only reports going to killer concerts or on awesome vacations doesn’t mean their lives are perfect.

More sad to me are the mundane posts that seem like so many desperate cries for help, for attention.  Posts about sick kids or cereal preferences or feeling tired or, more candidly, flat out admitting to being alone/sad/depressed.  What is most interesting/disturbing to me is the suggestion that Facebook and the easy “connection” that it seems to provide could, in reality, not only not be alleviating these feelings, but could actually be causing them.

It’s lonely on Facebook.  And a poor substitute for actual, quality interaction.  Who hasn’t posted something they thought was interesting or cute or funny and been met with a massive wall of cyber silence?  If you shared that with someone in person and they responded that way, that would be rude and unacceptable.  But by “sharing” on these social networks, you are, in effect, offering it to everyone and no one.  No one feels compelled to respond because you have sent it to 247 other people.

I miss letters.  Like actual letters.  E-mail is nice, and a thoughtful e-mail, with it’s delightful corresponding “(1)” in your “Inbox,” is a similar feeling.  But only a small fraction of the joy that comes from an actual, thought out, handwritten letter.  Nothing truly compares.

I miss phone calls.

Most of all, I miss quality, face-to-face interaction.

Does anyone else feel this way?  Is it my age?  Is it my lack of techno savvy?  Is it too ironic to post this article on a blog, with a link on Facebook?

And if Facebook/social networking is really bringing us down, what are we going to do about it?  Are we willing to unplug?

13 thoughts on “Facebook makes me lonely!

  1. Great points, Dunce Two. What a good load of material for wicked fiction stories. Taking it to the limit, we are facing a potential future where reality would be optional. The other side of the coin is the idea of reality we get from the news on TV, where everything that happens in the world is always bad.

    • Pushed to the extreme, absolutely it is good fodder for some wicked fiction. Had you asked me 10 years ago what the likelihood of everyone just sitting in a room, not leaving their house, and thinking/living/working/existing from that one spot, without any “real” interaction, I would have thought it pure science fiction. But now, it is completely conceivable.

      I love your juxtaposition of the pure artificial happiness of Facebook confronted with the opposite extreme of a sensationalist, all negative, tragedy-driven media. We all just need to flee to the mountains, grow our own food, and commune with nature, like in Hatchet.

  2. No, it is definitely not just you. I think a lot of people feel this way. And I think that everything you said and quoted is spot on. I got into blogging several years ago and even in the short time that has passed it seems to have evolved into something much less attractive. I have fallen victim to the comparison battle too many times as I browse blogs of others, women/mom’s in particular. My kids don’t measure up, my house isn’t decorated well enough, I didn’t make it to the salon that day, I’m eating the wrong food, my crafts aren’t as good as theirs….the list can go on and on.

    I was actually considering last night about revamping my bloglist on my blog. I don’t like it as much as I used to. It’s funny how something that seemed like a really good idea a long time ago, has turned into something negative in a lot of ways. I have even considered getting rid of my blog altogether.

    In November I read a book called “An Amish Christmas”. I really enjoyed the glance into the Amish world it gave me. I found myself wishing for a week’s vacation with an Amish community. One of the lines in the book I really liked and made me think was this: “As she headed back toward the Lutz house, she briefly pondered if it was truly possible to eliminate all desire to show off, even the tiniest bit.” pg. 183

    This made me think about my blog and everyone elses blog too. Because at the root, isn’t much of what we (women) post, a form of bragging??? I think so, even if our intentions are good.

    And you’re right. People don’t call each other very much anymore. Only for ‘business’ purposes, it seems. I can think of only 3 people who I call “just because” on a regular basis. I’ll admit, it’s hard to talk on the phone when you have kids. Not impossible, but just a slight challenge, I guess. And I think it has been over a year since I wrote my last actual “letter”.

    I’d offer to be your pen pal, but I’m not sure my other half would appreciate that too much 🙂

    So are you going to unplug?

  3. In my experience, hardcore Facebook fanatics fall into two general categories: (1) “Look at me, look at me, I’m so hot/sexy/awesome, doesn’t everybody want to look at me?” and (2) “Look at me, look at me, I’m so bored/lonely/unfulfilled, oh won’t somebody please look at me?” Not to say that’s everyone; I am talking about fanatics here, and this is not authoritative or scientific at all, but just what I have observed.

    I think blogs are, or at least could be, something different. I have (passively) noticed tendencies like those you reference in what I (in probable political incorrectness) refer to as “mommy blogs.” The competition seems VICIOUS! But I think some of the realizations addressed above with respect to “perfect” Facebook profiles could definitely carry over and apply. No one’s house is as cute/food as delicious/kids as adorable as it seems on these carefully crafted blogs. So don’t beat yourself up.

    Obviously I am in favor of blogs as a general concept. And I don’t know that you or anyone needs to get rid of their blog completely. I guess only you know what is in your heart. What is your motivation behind your blog? If it truly is to compete or show off, then maybe it is bad. But if it is to share with people you care about or have quality interaction with people you couldn’t otherwise connect with, then I think it’s great.

    This causes me to question why I write this blog. I don’t think I’m competing. I don’t think I’m trying to show off how hot or sexy or smart I am (okay, maybe a little bit how smart I am. And of course I do think I’m sexy, but that’s not the point). In my heart, I write this blog because I like to write, I like to think and talk intelligently (I hope) about the topics I cover, and most of all I like interacting with people that find this same stuff interesting. But I’m not competing or keeping up with proverbial Joneses.

    In terms of “limiting all desire to show off,” I definitely appreciate that concept. I’ll confess to liking to show off (some), but I hope it comes across in a good-natured, humorous, and self-deprecating (but not contrivedly so) way.

    Yours is not the only other half that would not appreciate that. But why is that? What is the practical difference between that communication and this one? Is it because all internet interaction is less meaningful/significant? I don’t disagree with you, but I ask (everyone, not just you) as a broad, academic question, what’s the difference? Is there a difference? Why?

    You kind of touch, perhaps even unintentionally, on another interesting component of all of this. Another article I read talked about a guy that would go to the gym, with his smart phone, and refresh his Facebook page literally between every single crunch. Now that is dedication (i.e. C-R-A-Z-Y!!!). But I bet you this guy was single. Because this whole social-media-addiction-craze is not just determined by age, but by status.

    You and I weren’t “born into” this new-fangled internet technology, but we are young enough that we definitely “get it.” All social interaction, not just social networking, but everything (work/school/church/play) changes completely when you get married, and then again when you have kids. Being married and a dad and employed full-time, I don’t have the luxury of the overabundance of free time a true Facebook addiction requires. But in addition to that, even if I had the time, I still don’t think I would be refreshing between crunches because, not being single, I don’t care. Does that make any sense? Do I need to play out the relevance of that? Maybe that should be the topic of its own post.

    Am I going to unplug? Well, part of me would really like to. But then, I am not as “plugged” as a lot of people. I don’t have a smart phone (nor do I ever want one). I don’t text much, maybe a couple times a week on average. I don’t Twitter. I don’t do much with my Facebook account; I haven’t uploaded a picture in probably over a year. I don’t have an i- anything. I do do this blog, but then only sparingly, and I like to think dunce academy doesn’t suffer from the same superficiality and detachments that a lot of these other media do. I think, in substance, dunce academy would be just about the same if it was a Xerox-copied newsletter hand-delivered to each of its four participants. I like it, but could live without it. I’d much rather meet in person and discuss these things with all of you.

  4. A cheeseburger sounds great! Your blog is definitely different than what I (in my limited circle) am used to reading. And that is why I like it so much. But also because you are a friend. Your blog is very refreshing and I never have to worry about what your house or kids look like, although I am sure they are both darling. The only thing I worry about (but not really) is my grammar and vocabulary.

    I think facebook fanatics come in lots of different forms. I have married friends who are constantly posting all day long and I have single friends-okay mainly my sister-who posts things sometimes hourly. I always harass her for this. Do we really need to know that you just made a left hand turn?

    Good question about internet interaction. I think the difference is that with interacting on the internet, on facebook, or on this blog for example, the interaction is more out in the open. This isn’t necessarily a private conversation. Anyone who reads this post or a status update has the option to get in on the conversation too. Email is a little different, more private. But the idea of getting a hand written letter…I think that is much more personal and intimate, especially in this age of technology. And unfortunately, once we marry, those aren’t options for mixed gendered friends.

    I probably won’t get rid of my blog, but I have stopped reading as many “mommy blogs” as I used to. {Which reminds me, I was thinking about the mommy blogs and I wonder if a lot of them come across the way they do because we (women) are seeking some kind of validation that doesn’t always come with the territory of being a full-time stay at home mom. Just a thought. } However, since reading the book I mentioned before, I have given more thought to what I am posting on my blog and am trying to make some adjustments, hopefully for the better.

    And I’ll take a Diet Coke with that cheeseburger!

    • All great points!

      No one should worry about grammar or vocabulary (or anything else, for that matter) here. This is just a fun, open forum for everyone.

      Like Socrates (via Plato) the only thing we here at Dunce Academy know is that we don’t know anything: “scio me nihil scire.”

      I agree that putting Facebook fanatics into just two categories is probably too general. But I think there is a definite divide between single and non-single. You can both be fanatics, but the driving motivations are single.

      Not being a woman or a mom, I’m scared to venture into the territory you allude to. But I don’t think you’re wrong. The slate article I reference above actually went into how these issues are different for women. If you have any interest, you should check that out.

      I think single people are more the center of their own universe, and they have more free time, so that is the perfect formula for more frantic Facebook time. But I also think a lot of them are actively trying to become un-single, hence the social media frenzy.

      I definitely think it’s possible that other people could be seeking connection/validation/fulfillment they are not getting elsewhere.

      Diet Coke??? It’s like you read my mind. I have a “Soda Fast- Part II” follow up, just for you. Stay tuned!

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