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Facebook is a breeding ground for negativity

Reed Schneider, Opinion Editor
February 6, 2013
Filed under Opinion

A joint study conducted by two German universities has found Facebook isn’t only the world’s largest social network, but also the world’s largest source of envy.

The researchers discovered one in three people felt worse and more dissatisfied with their lives after visiting the site, according to the Huffington Post. With a network that now has more than one billion users, one third is a huge number. It’s worth considering whether we should keep staring at our screens, or find a different means of socializing with our friends and family.

The report, “Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction,” shows the negative experience is more common with people who browse the network without contributing. Berlin’s Humboldt University researcher Hanna Krasnova said they were surprised how many people had a negative reaction.

“Passive following triggers invidious emotions, with users mainly envying happiness of others, the way others spend their vacations and socialize,” Krasnova said.

According to Science Daily, the study revealed coveting Facebook friends leads to a vicious spiral. After envying another person’s profile or vacation pictures, a person will try to improve his or her own profile or upload pictures, causing envy in someone else and continuing the chain.

This is relatively depressing and far from the first research done on social networking. According to CBS, the University of Gothenburg in Sweden surveyed 1,011 people with the average age of 32.6 years. One of their most interesting findings was the direct correlation between Facebook usage and low self-esteem, not at all surprising considering the German study. A low self-esteem can prompt the feelings of envy for others’ seemingly better lives.

Another study by Newbury College assistant professor Daniel Hunt, University of Connecticut professor David Atkin and Yale University communication research associate Archana Krishnan found social network users utilize it for the cure of one simple ailment — boredom. Huffington Post writer Britney Fitzgerald good-naturedly jabs at the possibility of Facebook turning us into a “Brave New World” society. Sadly, I don’t think she’s that far-fetched.

Has society become so dependent on technology for a means of entertainment that Facebook becomes a default option to keep from the dull grasp of boredom? What happened to reading books, playing board games or simply being outside?

Without an active imagination, boredom will stick around like a shadow at sunset. It’s not just the younger generations either. All three studies surveyed people around the age of 30. Educator Neil Postman suggests an increase in technology has caused us to amuse ourselves to death.

“Most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action,” Postman said. “What we desire will ruin us.”

While Facebook may now be a relatively dark world filled with low self-esteem, envy and boredom, there’s a lighter side. According to the Huffington Post, users’ attitudes toward Facebook may be its undoing. The Humboldt University and Darmstadt’s Technical University researchers believe Facebook could be reaching saturation point in some markets.

“From a provider’s perspective, our findings signal that users frequently perceive Facebook as a stressful environment,” the researchers said. “It may, in the long run, endanger platform sustainability.”

If the realm of Facebook collapsed, I don’t think I would have a problem. There would be a lot less useless information learned on a daily basis. Events and relationships wouldn’t need to be made official by Facebook. Maybe people will wish their friends happy birthday in person instead of relying on the network to remind them to write a short line on their wall.

Hopefully we’ll be able to take off social media’s blindfold before we run into something we didn’t expect.