After my 50-something sister Bev told everybody in the family that she was now on Facebook, my son Ben’s astonished reply to her was one line:
“I didn’t see this coming!”
That’s because – unlike Ben’s demographic (age 18-34, over half of whom worldwide are active Facebook users) – in my sister’s comparative old folks group (45-54), barely 12% are. At the time, his Chucha Bev was likely the oldest living human Ben knew personally who was.
Who else is on Facebook? The simple answer is a whole lot of people, says veteran California journalist Tom Jacobs, writing in his Alternet column called Facebook Linked to Narcissism. There he shared some new research from Australia that provides some less than flattering perspectives on the world’s 500+ million Facebook users.
For example, he cites researchers Tracii Ryan and Sophia Xenos of RMIT University in Melbourne who recently reported in the journal Computers in Human Behavior:
“These findings substantiate the proposition that Facebook is particularly appealing for narcissistic and exhibitionistic people. In fact, it could be argued that Facebook specifically gratifies the narcissistic individual’s need to engage in self-promoting and superficial behavior.”
Ryan and Xenos added that one of the most noteworthy findings of their Facebook user research was (perhaps no surprise here) the tendency for neurotic or lonely individuals to spend greater amounts of time on Facebook per day than non-lonely individuals. They observed:
“For lonely people in particular, it appears they are mainly using Facebook to partake in passive activities, instead of providing active social contributions.”
Dr. John Copen, chair of the Canadian Psychiatric Association’s section on media and informatics, adds:
“We share because it’s the nature of being human to want to connect. It’s about sharing common ideas, and that makes you feel healthy, normal, that you fit in. And now people are creating these global tribes: Who’s like me? Who can I relate to? How do I connect?”
You’d think this would be basic common sense, but there are some professionals who seem to lack basic common sense whose Facebook activity has already led to serious career consequences.
Consider, for example, 48-year old E.R. physician Dr. Alexandra Thran who recently learned the hard way that she really shouldn’t be chatting about her trauma patients on her Facebook page. She was fired from her Rhode Island hospital last year and reprimanded by the state medical board last week because she had posted personal information online about a trauma patient. Although her Facebook post did not include the patient’s name, she violated the patient’s privacy rights by writing enough that others in the community could easily identify the patient, according to a board filing.
When we’re on Facebook and other social media sites, we can forget that everything posted is up there for the world to eavesdrop on. It’s like being on a giant elevator, where you just never know who’s within earshot of your whispers.
And we can not only upload flattering 10-year-old photos of ourselves, unearth our Grade 5 playmates or vent about everyday pet peeves, we can also craft our own image so we can be who we want to be. Dr. Copen explains:
“People feel less vulnerable online, because they can represent themselves in the way they see themselves.”
UK neuroscientist Dr. Susan Greenfield, a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University, recently testified to the British House of Lords during their internet regulatory debates:
“My fear is that Facebook is infantilizing the brain into the state of small children. Social networking sites can provide a constant reassurance – that you are listened to, recognised, and important.”
Dr. Greenfield believes that such navel-gazing focus is coupled with a distancing from the valuable skill of face-to-face, real-life conversations, which are “far more perilous, occur in real time, with no opportunity to think up clever or witty responses” and “require a sensitivity to voice tone and body language.”
For some familiar examples of such mind-numbing self-absorption, consider Christopher Muther‘s rant in the Boston Globe:
“If I thought my friends were interesting, Facebook has taught me otherwise.
“Last week I decided that I couldn’t take any more “Sally is just back from spin class and trying to decide what to make for dinner!” or “Scott might have to skip the gym to get a haircut!”
“I wondered why people now feel compelled to share so much about so little. Have Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn turned us into a nation of self-absorbed narcissists who think the world really wants to hear that we just drank coffee or view a mobile upload of that amazing fettuccine we had for supper?”
Muther sought out Patrick O’Malley, an internet communications consultant in Boston, for help in explaining why social media users seem to focus on boring personal details that few other human beings could possibly be interested in knowing.
“There are just no rules on how to use these sites. People see that their friends are putting up these inane posts on Facebook and Twitter all day, and so they do the same thing.”
Full disclosure alert: I too now have a Facebook profile, but unlike its golden 18-34 year old user group (half of whom report that they update their Facebook status right after they wake up every morning to make sure the world knows they’re awake), fewer than 6% of my own demographic in Canada have Facebook profiles. My own Facebook account is automatically linked with publication of each new post here so readers who “like” an article can help direct visitor traffic to this website from their Facebook pages. And it works. (So feel free to “like” this article anytime…)
I don’t update my Facebook status, ever. I don’t share exciting details about my day-to-day life, like what new shampoo I just bought on sale at the Oak Bay Pharmasave. Nor do I post bad party photos of myself (which is what the camera’s delete function is for).
I have no Facebook friends. I have real friends instead. I like to talk to their actual flesh and blood faces, not to their Facebook walls. Compare this with Facebook’s user stats that report 60% of all Facebookers “talk more online than in real life”. Do you not find this just a wee bit sad?
And speaking of old ladies on Facebook, Lisa Earle McLeod, author of Finding Grace When You Can’t Even Find Clean Underwear, once lamented in a HuffPost essay that her own teenage daughter refused to ‘friend’ her when she became “one of those grownups who’s making Facebook uncool” merely by having a Facebook profile:
“Not only does my daughter refuse to friend me, but none of her friends will accept my internet overtures either. Teenagers I have lovingly welcomed into my home for over a decade have now turned their electronic backs on me. Apparently having a picture of your mom, or your friend’s mom, on your Facebook page is social suicide!”
Facebook usage stats are eye-poppingly big, according to the company’s own website:
- people spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook
- about 70% of Facebook users are outside the United States
- those who use Facebook on their mobile devices are twice as active on Facebook than non-mobile users
- the average user has 130 friends
Read the rest of the Tom Jacobs article on Alternet about narcissistic Facebook users. And then just for fun try visiting a real live friend in person to discuss it.
- Is Your Life as Awesome As You Pretend It Is on Facebook?
- Why Some People Should Avoid Social Media Completely
- Why You Should Put That Damn Phone Away
- Vancouver rioters post self-incriminating evidence on their own Facebook pages: I Rest My Case: Facebook’s Appeal to the Truly Stupid
- News Flash: Smartphone Users Obsessively Check Their Devices
- “Distracted Doctoring” – Updating Your Facebook Status in the O.R.
- Saturday Night Live’s recent skit about the new Damn-It-My-Mom-Is-On-Facebook Filter
- 10 Crazy Things People Say Right Before They Realize They’re Completely Addicted to Facebook from Social Times
Did you have time for a haircut today or not? We want to know. Really…