How many hours a day do you spend on Facebook? One? Three? Five? Do you take advantage of every “spare” moment to check Facebook on your smart phone? When you walk into your house at the end of a long day, do you head straight for the computer to see what your “friends” have been posting?
And if you answered “yes” to any of those questions, do you recognize that those are all seriously obsessive-compulsive behaviors?
I confess: I am one of those people — sort of. I don’t have Facebook on my smart phone, for the simple reason that I don’t have a smart phone, but I do find myself obsessively checking my account anytime I can get to a computer, including times when I ought to be doing something else, like writing. Or sleeping.
As long as you’re in a reflecting mood, ask yourself another question: What did you do with all those hours back before there was Facebook? (You remember that, don’t you?) Did you read a book, maybe? Daydream? Actually talk to people?
And were you any less content then because you didn’t know what your old high school buddies were up to on an hourly basis?
Modern science offers us an answer of sorts. Researchers at the University of Michigan have actually found that the more people use Facebook, the unhappier they feel.
That sounds like a contradiction, because most of us jump onto Facebook with great anticipation, assuming it will lift our spirits. Unfortunately, according to John Jonides, co-author of the Michigan study, the opposite usually happens:
“When you’re on a site like Facebook, you get lots of posts about what people are doing. That sets up social comparison — you maybe feel your life is not as full and rich as those people you see on Facebook.”
I enjoy Facebook because it helps me stay connected with people I love but hardly ever get to see, like family members and old friends in other parts of the country. Before Facebook, I had limited contact with them — maybe Christmas cards and occasional visits — so keeping tabs via social media seems like an improvement.
But I can see that Facebook clearly has a downside, in that it caters mostly (I’m afraid) to negative emotions — such as the one Jonides mentions, envy.
There’s also the rampant narcissism that has become as much a part of the Facebook landscape as the ubiquitous blue logo. Sometimes I think if (name of distant relative deleted) posts another selfie, I’m going to scream.
Finally, spending time on Facebook tends to make me angry — mostly because of all the political memes people post. Whether I disagree with the poster’s politics or agree and think our way of life faces imminent destruction, either way I’m angry, often for hours afterward.
Assuming I’m not unique in that regard, no wonder Facebook makes us unhappy.
Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and the author of “Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility,” available at Books for Less and on Amazon. Email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @FamilyManRob.