Really interesting article about Facebook in the latest Atlantic. All sorts of fascinating nuggets, but I found the following most compelling:
Moira Burke, until recently a graduate student at the Human-Computer Institute at Carnegie Mellon, used to run a longitudinal study of 1,200 Facebook users. That study, which is ongoing, is one of the first to step outside the realm of self-selected college students and examine the effects of Facebook on a broader population, over time. She concludes that the effect of Facebook depends on what you bring to it. Just as your mother said: you get out only what you put in. If you use Facebook to communicate directly with other individuals—by using the “like” button, commenting on friends’ posts, and so on—it can increase your social capital. Personalized messages, or what Burke calls “composed communication,” are more satisfying than “one-click communication”—the lazy click of a like. “People who received composed communication became less lonely, while people who received one-click communication experienced no change in loneliness,” Burke tells me. So, you should inform your friend in writing how charming her son looks with Harry Potter cake smeared all over his face, and how interesting her sepia-toned photograph of that tree-framed bit of skyline is, and how cool it is that she’s at whatever concert she happens to be at. That’s what we all want to hear. Even better than sending a private Facebook message is the semi-public conversation, the kind of back-and-forth in which you half ignore the other people who may be listening in. “People whose friends write to them semi-publicly on Facebook experience decreases in loneliness,” Burke says.
On the other hand, non-personalized use of Facebook—scanning your friends’ status updates and updating the world on your own activities via your wall, or what Burke calls “passive consumption” and “broadcasting”—correlates to feelings of disconnectedness. It’s a lonely business, wandering the labyrinths of our friends’ and pseudo-friends’ projected identities, trying to figure out what part of ourselves we ought to project, who will listen, and what they will hear. According to Burke, passive consumption of Facebook also correlates to a marginal increase in depression.
Not surprisingly, I am a very active user and feel that FB has significantly enhanced my life and feelings of social connectedness. I have a number of real-world relationships that I know are better than they otherwise would be because they are enhanced and cultivated via FB. I also know a lot of people who are just lurking as passive users. Clear message: get active or just get off FB.
I’m sure somebody’s looked at it, but I also wonder about the relationship with extroversion/introversion. I’m an extrovert who loves FB and my wife is an introvert who loves FB. I suspect extroverts use FB more (definitely fits the bill for the most active friends in my feed), but that it is not quite the clear relationship many would think. Anyway, the whole article is definitely worthy your time.