Why do we keep using Facebook?

To sum up: there is a lot of research showing that Facebook makes people feel like shit. So maybe, one day, people will stop using it.

John Lanchester’s long essay about Facebook in the London Review of Books has been getting shared a lot in my circles; Wired editor in chief Nicholas Thompson called it “the most intense, critical essay on Facebook that I’ve ever read.”

While it covers a lot of familiar ground (tl;dr: “If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product”) Lanchester makes a couple of points that have been troubling me. One is the statement above, about Facebook use correlating negatively with happiness.

Lanchester cites a number of studies to support his point:

  • American Journal of Epidemiology: ‘Association of Facebook Use with Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study’
  • Computers in Human Behaviour: ‘Facebook Use, Envy and Depression among College Students: Is Facebooking Depressing?’
  • Current Opinion in Psychiatry: ‘The Interplay between Facebook Use, Social Comparison, Envy and Depression’
  • Plos One: ‘Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults’
  • Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking: ‘The Facebook Experiment: Quitting Facebook Leads to Higher Levels of Well-Being’

But here’s the question: If Facebook makes people unhappy, and the more they use it the unhappier they are, why does usage continue to grow? Not only are more people using it, a higher proportion are checking Facebook at least once a day.

My experience correlates with this: The more I use Facebook, the unhappier I am. And yet I keep returning to it: That’s where my friends are. It’s where organizations I belong to post useful information (about my children’s school, for instance).

Using social media makes me feel more connected, albeit unhappier. In a fragmentary suburban environment, with few opportunities to form and maintain long-term friendships; as a parent, with no time for a social life; as a full-time salaried worker and commuter whose job demands constant attention — with all of these conditions social media is often the only social interaction I get outside my family and work life.

This is why, despite occasionally signing off Facebook and Twitter, despite removing their apps and trying different ways to limit my access, despite trying to be mindful about my use of social media and its effects on my mood, I always come back.

Facebook offers a terrible bargain: It gives you the connectedness you crave, but it’s unfulfilling and leaves you wanting more. It’s like drinking Coke, or eating McDonald’s, except you don’t even have to pay for it. No wonder we guzzle it down, when all the evidence, and even our own eyes and hearts, show us how bad it is for us.

Which brings me to the second point I can’t get away from: Lanchester’s comments about how Facebook is effectively “the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in human history.”

What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality.

I am looking for a way to use social media like Facebook that doesn’t make me feel like shit.

Amanda Scurti’s comic-essay on Twitter is a relevant read. She takes a hiatus but finds her way back to Twitter based on the creative communities she’s part of there, and the values they provide to her: Empathy, understanding, communication. She concludes that the secret is knowing when to disconnect, and using Twitter responsibly, particularly if you have a large following.

Scurti’s essay is thoughtful and hopeful but has an unsatisfying conclusion. For me, Twitter is somewhat less troubling than Facebook because Twitter is far less effective at surveillance, thanks largely to the ease with which people can create pseudonymous accounts. But I’ve found Twitter is just as mood-affecting as Facebook is, and I can’t say I’ve found the communities there to be particularly conducive to empathy and communication.

In short, I’m still looking for a way to share ideas, and stay connected with people I like, without feeling like shit.

In the meantime, I guess you can still find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Source: John Lanchester reviews ‘The Attention Merchants’ by Tim Wu, ‘Chaos Monkeys’ by Antonio García Martínez and ‘Move Fast and Break Things’ by Jonathan Taplin · LRB 17 August 2017

Why do we keep using Facebook?

7 thoughts on “Why do we keep using Facebook?

  1. Here is this week’s edition of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with thoughtful opinion pieces, interesting analyses and significant yet under-reported information bits from the digital and technology world. Published and annotated every Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.
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    Want to Really Understand What all the Hype of Cryptocurrency is About? (bothsidesofthetable.com, 3)
    Investor Mark Suster brilliantly analyses both the huge potential as well as the risks and flaws of cryptocurrencies. Recommended for everyone who doesn’t only want to hear about one side of the coin.
    Are ICOs diversification of speculation? (jonathannen.com, 2)
    This was probably obvious to many, but I hadn’t thought about it before: Lots of people are sitting on a considerable Bitcoin value, and investing parts of that value into ICOs (or token sales) is their way of diversifying risk and speculation. That sounds like a reasonable explanation for where the hundreds of millions worth of dollars are coming from that are, in the shape of Bitcoin or Ether, being pumped into startups and projects raising funds through ICOs right now.
    The Apple Watch Series 3 ripoff: how carriers want to charge for zero data use (theoverspill.blog, 2)
    Unsurprisingly, the telecommunication carriers try to use the launch of the Apple Watch with LTE to rip of customers, by charging an additional fee for this connectivity via eSim, even if customers already pay for their smartphone mobile plan. As explained in the text, this is unreasonable considering that Watch users most likely will use less data traffic, and that cellular data use is not additive; it’s substitutive.
    Courage (marco.org, 1)
    The iPhone X will be the first iPhone without the iconic home button. Instead, it’ll have a notch at the upper end of the device. Some people have mocked the notch. Marco Arment suggests that adding it is Apple’s way to ensure that everyone will recognize the device as an iPhone X, now that the home button is gone.
    Will AI become a basic human right? Marc Benioff thinks it should (diginomica.com, 2)
    Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff made a couple of thought-provoking statements in a session at the United Nations General Assembly.
    The International Unicorn Club: 107 Private Companies Outside The US Valued At $1B+ (cbinsights.com, 2)
    A great visualization. Europe doesn’t look too good compared to China. That is, if having lots of Unicorns is a competitive advantage (it probably is). Also notable: “In 2013, over 70% of companies that achieved unicorn status were US-based. Each year since 2013 – 2016, that share of unicorns has gone down, and last year, less than half of the unicorns added to the club (42%) were based in the US.”
    Whole Foods Is Becoming Amazon’s Brick-and-Mortar Pricing Lab (hbr.org, 2)
    That’s a smart way to look at Amazon’s acquisition of U.S. high-end grocery chain Whole Foods: It’s the ultimate large-scale “lab” for experimenting with pricing strategies in an environment which Amazon previously didn’t have access to.
    Starting Your Day on the Internet Is Damaging Your Brain (medium.com, 2)
    One shouldn’t take the headline or message from this post literally, but personally I do think the general point has merit: One’s first activities and routines in the morning do shape one’s mindset, goals and mental energy for the rest of the day. In the same way as most reasonably intelligent people wouldn’t eat a bunch of doughnuts covered with fudge first thing after waking up, it makes a lot of sense not to start the day with the digital equivalent to those doughnuts.
    A convenience truth (jarche.com, 1)
    “Probably one the greatest barriers to positive change is convenience” […] Probably the most convenient form of communication today is Facebook.” Related: Why do we keep using Facebook?
    You Are the Product: It Zucks! (lrb.co.uk, 3)
    If the previous two short pieces were not enough for you, here is an extensive, critical essay on Facebook which, unlike many texts about this topic, actually is fun to read. The headline sets the tone. Some people are simply better writers than the majority.
    In an 8-Hour Day, the Average Worker Is Productive for 3 Hours (inc.com, 2)
    This does absolutely not match most entrepreneur’s and full-time freelancer’s experience. The fact that “reading news websites” and “checking social media” are mentioned as the two most popular unproductive activities indicates how much these industries are aligned with and benefiting from today’s strange mainstream work culture.
    Study: 85% Of Jobs That Will Exist In 2030 Haven’t Been Invented Yet (huffingtonpost.ca, 2)
    Whether you consider this good or bad news probably depends on whether you are the glass half full or half empty type.
    Dating app Tinder can be a tool for journalists (cjr.org, 2)
    Not only that. It can also be a great tool for travelers to connect with locals, beyond hookups. As pointed out in the text, the problem is potential misunderstandings about intentions. The question remains whether something like Tinder for non-dating related purposes should exist, and whether it can exist (would enough people use it?). Or maybe Tinder could just enable a way to indicate what people are looking for: “Dating”, “Networking”, for example. However, possibly the brand is too much associated with dating.
    We have a new word for that feeling when travel makes everything new (aeon.co, 2)
    How do you call traveler’s tendency to pay attention to little, seemingly ordinary things in new environments? Things that the locals, being so familiar with their environment, wouldn’t consciously notice? There hasn’t been a word for this state. By introducing the term “Allokataplixis”, the author tries to change this. Something a bit easier to recall might work better.
    The A.I. “Gaydar” Study and the Real Dangers of Big Data (newyorker.com, 2)
    In the age of Big Data, computers can reveal a lot of information about individuals that are not accessible through a human’s subjective perception. This should indeed be of concern, at least in a scenario in which governments, organizations and individuals haven’t uniformly adopted liberal principles (which, considering human nature, might remain the default scenario forever). Related: Should data scientists sign an ethical code?
    Why 500 Million People in China Are Talking to This AI (technologyreview.com, 2)
    Like a much smarter, more knowledgable and more versatile version of Siri & co.
    Here Be Sermons (meltingasphalt.com, 3)
    If you are interested in sociology and group psychology, then you might enjoy this essay about the mechanisms of sermons and its effect on movements (both in the “analogue” world as well as in the digital realm) a lot. I did.
    Recently on meshedsociety.com:
    The Apple Watch with LTE + AirPods is the futureWhile during the recent Apple keynote most attention was on the presentation of the iPhone X, the Apple Watch with LTE in combination with AirPods is more likely to become Apple’s next revolution.
    Podcast episode of the week:
    Future Thinker’s Podcast: Amber Case on Calm Technology and Human-Machine Interactions
    Very insightful talk with Amber Case, researcher on human-tech interfaces at MIT and Harvard.
    Thanks for reading! If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection in the future, sign up for free for the weekly email.

  2. __ I fully believe that, in spite the -known value- of electronics, it has/had overcome individual common sense, and the development of individual skills; all things are beginning to rely on the control of some app.
    __ I use electronics within my guarded trust and I, the repudiated elder that I am… can still drive my own car. Smiles! _m

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