There is this video circulating YouTube at the moment from one of Jerry Seinfeld’s standup routines featured in his big ‘90s show, Seinfeld. The video is entitled, “Facebook In 90’s.” Check it out:
So, clearly, he’s not directly mentioning Facebook, as Facebook wasn’t invented yet (think about that for a second), but he is talking about talking on a landline telephone and leaving a message on an answering machine. What is that madness? But yes, you could apply what he’s saying about that, if you wanted to, to Facebook. Jerry talks about how, as people, we need to see the red flashing light on the answering machine (or the red notification in the upper corner of our Facebook page) to feel good about ourselves and realize we are popular and well-liked “among a group of people we don’t care for.”
To be sure, I thought it was a funny clip and bit of standup. That said, the application to Facebook and the underlining criticism therein of Facebook is what I take issue with. It has become quite normal to criticize Facebook these days, to the point where, I find it an unoriginal criticism. Oh, you’re criticizing Facebook? How hip and cool. I don’t know, I think Facebook needs a counterargument. And it’s not just people decrying Facebook in this manner or saying we’ve subjugated ourselves to the Facebook gods over normal social interaction, but also, mainstream news outlets keep publishing stories about how depressing Facebook is making us. What’s going on here?
First and foremost, let me be up front. I like Facebook and I like using it. It’s fun to interact with people I wouldn’t normally interact with if Facebook didn’t exist. I’ve also met a plethora of people that I wouldn’t have met without Facebook and I think that’s great. Is my friend’s list comprised of a bunch of people “I don’t care for,” as the implication goes from the Jerry standup? Of course there are people on my friend’s list that I don’t care for, but I think you’re going to find that in any social context; it’s not specific to Facebook, but even so, they aren’t the majority.
Personally, for the most part, I think it’s awesome to see what’s going on in other people’s lives. Not in an enviable way or a smug way, but in a genuinely curious way. And if people like to hear some of my musings throughout the day, as I update them to Facebook, then that’s pretty cool too.
But isn’t Facebook detracting from real social interaction? I think there’s a larger social commentary on the new technology as a whole rather than something that ought to be specific to Facebook. These new technologies with our phones, our computers, etc. are enabling that which we’ve never seen before or experienced. However, I’m not yet sure if we can gauge what the social implications are therein. Just, again, speaking personally, I interact with people in so-called real life, face-to-face, on a daily basis while also interacting on Facebook. Surely, the two aren’t mutually exclusive concepts? We’re multi-faceted social creatures; I think we can handle it…
Finally, there is the whole issue of these reported studies saying Facebook is depressing us. What gives? Check out this one from NBC. The study says the average U.S. resident spends thirty-two minutes a day on Facebook. I’m not sure what the metrics are for other sites on the Internet on a day-to-day base for usage, but thirty-two minutes? That doesn’t sound like an awful lot to me at all. Maybe because I do spend far more than thirty-two minutes a day scrolling through my feed or whatnot, but that doesn’t seem “unhealthy” to me.
Then there is this:
“The more people reported using Facebook, the more negative they were feeling following Facebook use,” Oscar Ybarra, a psychologist at the University of Michigan and one of the authors of the study, told NBC News.
Yes, I’m not a scientist or a psychologist, but there is so much wrong with this, as I see it. First, just because people reported feeling negative after Facebook use, doesn’t mean it was related to Facebook use. Maybe they were just feeling particularly down at that moment regardless? The real kicker here is: without Facebook, would we still be seeing studies of people “feeling down,” as is the case here? I think so. Moreover, this says nothing about the interaction itself. Was it Facebook itself that made them feel down or a particular interaction they had on Facebook that made them feel down? There’s just not enough information here. And of course, there is the issue of human beings giving feedback. How honest are they being? How well are they evaluating their own emotions and feelings?
These studies get trumpeted out for what, to discredit Facebook or is it just a slow news day? I don’t know, but these studies aren’t exactly revealing, but “studies” is a buzz word in news articles that draws people’s attention. I’m personally skeptical.
I like Facebook and if I could like the “like” button for liking Facebook, I would like it. Are their times when I feel down after using Facebook? Yes, but there are times I feel down before using Facebook too. How much is mere correlation (and loose correlation at that) or unrelated at all? At the very least, I see no causation yet.