Monday, December 09, 2013

FB isn't all about loneliness

Many of you probably saw the study several weeks (months?) ago that found that using Facebook increases feelings of loneliness.  The premise of the study makes a lot of sense and is a replication of a lot previous research on social interactions and loneliness.

People have a natural tendency to post the good things in their lives rather than the bad ones.  We vent on social networks a lot, but most of the time we are bragging about our cute kids, funny cat videos, job successes.  But very rarely do you read a post like “Wow, I did a lousy job at work today and I was mean to my kids.” 

The problem is that when most of your interaction with a whole lot of people is just on FB (how many of your 564 Facebook friends do you hang with in real life?), you just hear about their positive news and you get a warped sense of what a typical life is like.  For your own life, you know about the good and the bad.  So in comparison your own life might seem kind of deficient.  If you were explicitly asked, you would know that they have bad things happen to them also.  But subconsciously, this can increase our feelings of having a substandard experience.  When our contacts posts also include social interactions, we can feel more lonely. 

But a new study finds that posting more can be your antidote.  Posting has two main benefits.  It increases your feelings of connectedness with your closest contacts.  Even when they don’t comment, we usually imagine them reading and reacting to the post when we are typing them in.  And our imagination is good enough to create the perception of connectedness. 

Second, studies show that self-disclosure increases feelings of intimacy and trust.  So posting information about yourself makes you feel more intimate with your contacts and thereby better about your social life. Again, this happens even if you don’t get any reply. 

The problem is that if you start posting more, you are going to fill up your contacts’ feeds.  Your attempt to be less lonely is going to make them more lonely.  And back at you when they read my blog post.  I can think of two solutions.

One – we can commit to posting negative things about ourselves, and in a legitimate and honest way so that the reader sees them as negative.  But nope, this just ain’t gonna happen.

Two – FB can create better filters.  I have been hoping for this for years for many other reasons, so this is just another excuse for me to beg for it.  Right now, we can filter people pretty much all or nothing or using whatever algorithm FB invents.  I want to be more specific.  Filter out all photos of pets.  Filter out all posts with more than one exclamation point.