Three months ago I made the difficult decision to close my Facebook account after being a frequent user for 7 years. I opened the account when I had just moved to a new city and my first child was born and I was socially isolated. I regularly posted photos of our children and myself. I was particularly focussed on posting photos of our/my trips to far flung places like Indonesia, Poland, Bahrain, Colombia, Japan, and Brazil. I would even occasionally post photos of myself in my bikini on beaches, for example in Dubai or Gili Meno. I inspected my motivation and did not like what I found. There can be no honourable intent for sharing photos of oneself in swimwear! If I am brutally honest I suppose that I was showing off. I was sharing so much information that when we would return from our holidays no-one needed to ask us about our trip because they had tracked the whole thing on Facebook. These two motivations for posting on Facebook, belonging and self-presentation match the dual-factor model proposed by Nadkarni and Hofmann (2012).
I watched this TED talk by Alessandro Acquisti on privacy and realised that I was not only living my life in public through my over-sharing on Facebook but I was forcing my children to do the same and leaving a permanent record of their childhood that they may not be happy about when they are older. I thought about my use of Facebook as a social networking tool and realised that with mobile phone, instant messaging and email, I could do without it. I closed my account and it took a few days for the compulsion, to check the Facebook app regularly using my phone, to subside. I no longer think about it much, except when I’m travelling and want to connect with acquaintances. For example when I was recently in Houston I wished I could put a post on Facebook that I was there and keen to meet up. Instead I used my LinkedIn account to send a couple of messages and as a result I had 3 enjoyable and memorable evenings of good conversation with old and new acquaintances, without the aid of Facebook.
The need to belong is the fundamental drive to form and maintain relationships (Baumeister and Leary, 1995) and a major motivator of Facebook use. Facebook is extremely popular, in fact it was the most viewed webpage in 2010 according to Schoon and Cain (2011) and a study at University of Missouri found that 960 out of 1,002 participants (95%) have a Facebook page, and 78% access the site at least twice a day. The researchers conclude that Facebook use appears to be a predominantly positive phenomenon, although not as positive as face-to-face sociality. However, it offers an overly tempting coping device for the lonely, one that feels good but does not actually address underlying feelings of social disconnection in life. In a separate study, Professor James Fowler of University of California San Diego, found that emotions spread on Facebook and posts expressing positive emotions have stronger spreading power than posts expressing negative emotions.
As the numbers of users increase, social media allows interpersonal relationships that otherwise might not have been initiated, resumed, or developed in its absence. Source: World Bank blog
So there are a lot of positive aspects to Facebook, however, not everything is positive, as indicated by studies such as Garcia and Sikstrom’s into links to dark personality traits like Psychopathy, Narcissism, and Machiavellianism. Also, as Sherry Turkle said in The New York Times:
We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places — in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation. In conversation we tend to one another… We can attend to tone and nuance. In conversation, we are called upon to see things from another’s point of view.
My husband once called me an intellectual stimulus junkie and that I was always careening from one book or podcast or conversation, or research topic to another in an attempt to keep buzzing, so obvioulsy I was going to be easily hooked on a source of instant gratification such as Facebook. As Sherry Turkle said in The New York Times:
We use technology to define ourselves by sharing our thoughts and feelings as we’re having them. So, in order to feel more, and to feel more like ourselves, we connect. But in our rush to connect, we flee from solitude, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves.
When we moved interstate just before the birth of our first child I became reliant on long distance interaction with friends to feel connected. A colleague said that when she had moved to the same city she made a conscious decision to stay in the city on weekends rather than flee to more exciting nearby cities and thereby build a social network in her new hometown. I decided to do the same and built my own network. Concurrently however I developed a dependence on electronic devices and was forever checking for new messages. It wasn’t until I became so intellectually engaged and busy with my family, friends, exercise and work that I came to wish to have distance from devices and from there it became easy for me to close my Facebook account. I’ve kept my LinkedIn account because I use it as a digital business card holder but I do not make posts on there. Facebook is great for many people but for me the negatives outweigh the positives.
Kennon M. Sheldon, Neetu Abad, Christian Hinsch, A two-process view of Facebook use and relatedness need-satisfaction: disconnection drives use, and connection rewards it J Pers Soc Psychol, 100(4), 766-75 (2011)
Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529.
Nadkarni, A., & Hofmann, S. G. (2012). Why do people use Facebook? Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 243–249.
Seidman, G. (2013). Self-presentation and belonging on Facebook: How personality influences social media use and motivations. Personality and Individual Differences, 54, 402-407.
Garcia, D and Sikstrom, S. (2014). The dark side of Facebook: Semantic representations of status updates predict the Dark Triad of personality. Personality and Individual Differences,67, 92-96.