I have a confession to make. Last week, much to my mortal embarrassment, I reactivated my Facebook account.
I had turned it off for months. I was convinced it was evil, bad for my mental and social well-being and full of all the things I hate about modern technology: personalized advertising, pretend interest in the nuances of strangers’ lives and the opportunity for others to get all up in my business. I read a story on CNN about how it brings grades down a full GPA point, according to one study by Ohio State University. But in the end, I couldn’t argue against Facebook’s usefulness.
To be honest, I was a die-hard Facebook fan during high school. When they opened its use to the general public, instead of just college students, it was as if everyone was given access to the most exclusive club on the Internet (The backwardness of this logic escaped my 15-year-old self). But in the last year or so, a few events transpired to make me re-evaluate my ardent use of Facebook’s ubiquitous web of connectivity.
I studied abroad in England last year, and Facebook was my singular connection to the life I left in the states. It was my constant background, my homepage. It was a substitute for my actual relationships. I stayed up-to-date on the comings and goings of all of my friends and family across the pond. But I had an unsettling realization last March as I refreshed my sister’s profile in the browser. I hadn’t actually spoken to her via Skype or some other free instant messenger in months. Facebook had excused me from maintaining real connections with the people that mattered most to me. I was letting relationships deteriorate and allowing a pseudo-connection to take their place. I was also spending a worrying amount of time stalking my fifth-grade crush.
So I deleted my account, and I didn’t miss it — until last week, when Google searches and Facebook-by-proxy (using someone else’s account) yielded no picture of the sought-after old acquaintance. In a fit of frustration, I reactivated my account. My brain didn’t melt, my relationships didn’t evaporate, my grades didn’t plummet; but still, I’m wary of my renewed subscription to the Facebook machine.
A recent study out of Utah Valley University did nothing to allay my concern. It found a positive correlation between amount of time spent on Facebook and their self-reported happiness in comparison to their social network. Hui-Tzu Grace Chou, the head of the study, told ABC News, “Those who have used Facebook longer agreed more that others were happier and agreed less that life is fair, and those spending more time on Facebook each week agreed more that others were happier and had better lives.” Additionally, the less time people spent face to face with friends, the study reported, the more likely they were to report being unhappy.
So why do I keep my account? Why, in the face of science that says Facebook is bad for me, do I keep my account online? Am I — are we all — strangely addicted to the ease of letting cyber connections replace phone calls and coffee dates?
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org