Why are We All so Obsessed with Facebook?
When MSN instant messaging first came out and all my friends signed up, my parents answered my pathetic pleas with a stern “NO!” I pouted for days as my social status plummeted to absolute zero. For weeks, when the phone rang, I still jumped up like I used to, expecting it to be for me. It rarely was. No one made phone calls anymore; MSN served as the major mode of communication. It wasn’t long before My Space overtook MSN and again I took my pleading eyes to my parents. What led me to believe that the answer would be a smile and a nod, I will never know. So once again, I found myself on the social fringe, begging my friends to let me in on the secret of this awe-inspiring social media, and allow me to live vicariously through their profiles. But like all social trends, MySpace had its moment and then the newest fashion overtook it. Facebook arrived. I didn’t even bother to beg my parents this time. I would not be accused of insanity. Instead, I adopted a new mantra “If you can’t join them, hate them mercilessly.” I became the anti-Facebook queen, and all through high school I laughed at all those people who lived their lives behind their computer screens, updating, and scrolling, creeping and stalking. I refused to become enraptured.
But I quickly realized that Facebook created a deeper and more complete social exclusion than any other social network had. I was truly on the outside. Parties came and went, birthdays went unacknowledged and acquaintances I would have liked to be friends with, became strangers again the minute they walked away. So early October, 2010, I jumped into the vortex that is Facebook. I shamefully admit that I have become an addict like so many of the Facebook users I laughed at and condemned. I checked my page several times while writing this even though I promised not to log in at all. But don’t call it obsession, call it research.
Facebook takes social interaction and explodes and magnifies it. I compare it to a subway station, an information hub that people pass through, some slowly, others in a hurry, some daily, and others only once in a while. With every visit to your profile page, you can find out what your friends are thinking, doing and planning to do from their wall posts, statuses, and picture uploads, and you can share your own thoughts, experiences and plans with others. Sharing this information with close friends is all a part of normal socialization. But the average Facebook user has 130 friends, and it seems very unlikely that any user would have that many people in their inner circle. So what is it that drives so many users to post their lives on their profile for everyone to see?
Facebook fulfills three inherent human desires: to be acknowledged and approved of; to explore and understand the thoughts and interests of others; and to feel certain that we are never alone. Many of the site’s features feed into one or more of these desires.
One example is the “Like” button which appears beneath photos, videos and wall posts and gives Facebook friends an opportunity to show their approval of how you look, what you do, and what you say. Not long ago, I read a wall post and corresponding comments that demonstrate how much these silent affirmations mean to some Facebook users. The post read, “I’m Ready for Love, Are You?” Intrigued, I scrolled down to read the comments. One of the poster’s friends responded to the quote with surprise. The poster’s response: “lol. trust me..theres no meaning behind it...eff love :/ i just want likes.” These “likes” offer a sense of relevance and affirmation. But unlike offline interaction where only a few people are available to give feedback, Facebook provides an audience as large as your Friend List.
Facebook also reverses the roles. The user becomes the spectator and their friends provide the show. The site allows for an intense version of people-watching. All the curiosities about others that go unanswered in offline interaction are often satisfied by just one look at profile pages, pictures, videos and statuses. A user can discover common interests and ideas between themselves and others. Finding these commonalities reassures the user that they are not alone in their thoughts, feelings and actions. In fact, Facebook is used by many to avoid loneliness. I myself have embraced it in this way. When I struggle with insomnia, I log onto to Facebook and even at 3:00 AM there are always other lonely insomniacs logged in as well. Other users collect friends like stamps, perhaps to compensate for a lack in their life offline.
But Facebook is only a social tool and should not replace true human interaction. Many users have become so immersed in networking on Facebook that their face-to-face social skills have suffered. Yes, networking permits communication and sharing, fundamentals of relationships, but the value of eye contact, body language, and physical touch cannot be reproduced online. So next time you log in, don’t get carried away. Remember to smell some roses that aren’t pixelated.