When I was a little girl, I used to fantasize about what it would be like to live in the future. Now it is here. We are living in the future! Perhaps the cybernetic implants and teleportation devices are scarcer than I had imagined and glamourized in my mind at a young age but the means of communication surely has evolved beyond fantasy. In a downward glance, at the click of a button, we can transcend distance almost as if we were teleporting and connect with another person. The electronics are not implanted into our bodies but our hands willingly create and utilize countless machines, which keep getting smaller and more efficient, easier to transport. It is almost if they are cybernetics with how often they touch our flesh, they might as well be implanted in our bodies.
One thing that has stayed the same here in ‘the future’ is the innate human desire to connect with other people and maintain good relations. There is a reason for the desire… People who have good social support are less likely to become either physically or mentally ill. (Cohen, 2004) Countless studies have shown that people with positive social ties are happier and a lot less stressed which invite more relationships in turn. (Baumgardner & Crothers, 2009) Misery may love company but so doesn’t joy, you become a beacon for others who wield the light as well.
So what constitutes a genuine social tie or bond, one that strengthens subjective well being and happiness? There are a lot more options and instantly gratifying means of communicating with another person in this day and age. In this past decade, the internet gave birth to social networking sites, which ask users to share their thoughts, photos and other personal information with each other picking who they show and who they see, a “friend”. Options are given to search for people by name, school, personal interest, etc. “Friends” share links to news sources, music videos and other forms of media as well as blogs and general status updates which can range from telling everyone what they had for breakfast to announcing the death or birth of a family member.
While many have come to be and still exist, the most popular networking site by far is Facebook, which is available in more than 70 languages with over 500 million users. (Facebook 2011) It is also the 2nd most popular website, second only to Google. (Google 2011) That alone surely says something about how important we find social interaction.
Some question the sincerity of socializing online through such sites saying that it is not the same as face to face interactions. People create themselves how they want others to see them by striking unusual poses in their photos which give an unrealistic image of what they look like and make almost a caricature of themselves. It has been said that Facebook actually detracts from genuine social experiences because people can so easily access the site on their phone, while out enjoying a real time with others or turn down outings to stay at home on their computer. Stalkers don’t even have to leave their homes anymore and bullies don’t even have to dirty their hands. It zombifies children and teenagers worse than video games! I hear it all the time from people who shun Facebook and chastise me for my use of the site, about how depersonalizing it is and cold and even dangerous.
I decided to dig in and indulge my “Facebooking” a bit more for the purpose of this paper and focus my attention on outweighing the ‘cons’ with the ‘pros’. It wasn’t as hard to do as one might imagine.
For one, it has been found that “geeking out” online for younger people may be more beneficial than not doing so, especially with our culture beginning to lean more and more towards interacting via the internet. Social networking sites and other media viewing trends, allow teenagers to cultivate new friendships based off of similar interests, as well as increase their technical skills to prepare for the future. (Goff, 2009)
Most important, is the undeniable increase in social capital that is felt from Facebook usage. Facebook allows people to get back in touch with high school buddies and maintain recent friendships with little ease. Increases in esteem, subjective well being, and bridging social capital have all been verified. (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007)
There is countless proof from conducted studies to news articles that show just how genuine social interactions on Facebook can be and their connection to subjective wellbeing, but I decided to test the waters a bit on my own and create a survey. It contains 10 questions looking to see how people use Facebook and if it allows them to have personal, meaningful interactions with others outside of the site, as well as questions about frequency & availability. I posted it as a Facebook status and encouraged my 500+ friends to take it and share it with others. I had over 70 responses in two days. If that alone isn’t incredible, I went a week without reposting the survey link and took note of the random folks who still were taking the survey (bringing it up to 76 answerers) then on the last day really began encouraging people to take it to bring my number up to 100 by midnight, acknowledging everyone who said they did, and barraged everyone I could think of. I got up to my 100 mark in under 2 hours and met my midnight goal! It seems that I was far from the only one awake so late on a Sunday evening.
All of my participants are from the US, many of them living in a New England state. 68 users out of the 100 access Facebook from a mobile device (text messaging feature or a smartphone application) 3 of them do not access Facebook any other way! (Bisson, 2011) This shows that many people have the community of Facebook instantly accessible to them at any time. 97 out of my 100 also admit to logging into Facebook at least once a day. (Bisson, 2011) So, information has the capacity to spread pretty fast considering the frequency and the “at your fingertips” portability aspect of mobile devices. Perhaps that is why 85 of the 100 say that they have heard major breaking national and/or world news first on Facebook, through a friend posting a link to a news story or video. (Bisson, 2011). That is a nice quality, because you can then instantly share your reaction with others who which to discuss their feelings about it.
94 people out the 100 can state that for a solid fact, they know (or have met) at least 75% of the people on their friend’s list. (Bisson, 2011) 72 people proclaim that they have got to reunite with a friend from the past that they now interact with outside of the site. (Bisson, 2011) So for all of those who complain that Facebook robs people of genuine social interaction, think again. This is reflected in the 75 who answered that they never met anyone new who they now interact with off the site. (Bisson, 2011) Apparently, most people use Facebook to keep in touch with people that they already know. …and 71 of those people also have used Facebook to organize events/parties that take place in person. (Bisson, 2011)
Most important to my research is that 79 out of 100 people stated that they have more frequent interactions with people that they care about than they would otherwise. (Bisson, 2011)
Personally, I can say that I have lead a bit of a gypsy life being highly nomadic and adventurous, prior to becoming a Mother. I now prefer a more sedentary life. I have met so many incredible people through my travels who I wondered about over the years and Facebook allows me to reconnect with them again. I also consider it a great means of social interaction these many nights I am not able to go out in person to mingle with friends because I am at home with my children. There is no denying that social networking sites like Facebook can soften the feeling of isolation one may have when they are not able to interact as socially as they would like in “real life”. It can also be just as helpful in keeping your ‘off the screen’ social life more organized and even bump up the amount of people who show up to gatherings in person.
Like any tool available to us, there are downfalls and benefits to online networking site usage. There have been negative events related to cyber bullying and stalking but those occur in any community where people gather and interact and would continue to plague humanity regardless of if social networking sites were available or not. Ultimately, the boost to subjective wellbeing in being able to maintain social capital and keep up friendships at the click of a mouse, should prevail in determining just how important online social networking is, with how important socializing is to us humans in any form. We are living in ‘the future’ after all, so let’s continue to utilize this great new tool that we have created due to our need to connect and improve it even more! Who knows, maybe next we actually will create shiny teleportation devices to send us our friends instantly! For now, we have social networking!
Baumgardner, S. R., & Crothers, M. K. (2009). Positive Psychology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, INC.
Bisson, C. L. (2011, May 9). Facebook User Survey. http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ZC3YZ8D
Cohen, S. (2004). Social Relationships and Health. American Psychologist, 9. http://www.psy.cmu.edu/~scohen/AmerPsycholpaper.pdf
Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The Benefits of Facebook “Friends:” Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4). http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol12/issue4/ellison.html
Facebook. (n.d.). Statistics/Facebook. Retrieved May 8, 2011, from Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics
Goff, K. G. (2009, January 28th). Social Networking Benefits Validated. The Washington Times. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/jan/28/social-networking-benefits-validated/?page=1
Google. (n.d.). Top 1000 sites – DoubleClick Ad Planner. Retrieved 9 2011, May, from Google.com: http://www.google.com/adplanner/static/top1000/