It can be fun to reconnect with old classmates and other long-lost friends on Facebook and other social media sites. The sites are marketed — and often enjoyed — as a way of bringing physically distant people together, at least electronically.
It's unclear however, just how connected we feel to others when using these sites. Some of the more negative impacts of social networking sites are starting to appear. A new study shows that Facebook may actually reduce well-being, rather than improve it.
It pays to recognize that social media — and technology in general — may alienate rather than connect us.
A team at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research asked 82 young adults with smartphones and Facebook accounts, to register their feelings at five random times per day. They were asked, via text message, to answer the following questions online:
3) How lonely do you feel right now?
4) How much have you used Facebook since the last time we asked?
5) How much have you interacted with other people "directly" since the last time we asked?
The people who used Facebook more were less happy directly afterwards than those who used it less. Moreover, ratings of life satisfaction fell over a two-week period for the more avid Facebook users, while they increased over the same time for those who had more “human” interactions — that is, face-to-face or on the phone.
“On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection,” said study author Ethan Kross, in a news release. “But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result — it undermines it.”
Two findings may let Facebook off the hook a bit. People tended to use Facebook less when they were down, making it clear that the site is not solely responsible for people's relative happiness or unhappiness. And although people did seem to use it more when they were lonely, loneliness was independently associated with happiness (or lack of it), which also suggests that Facebook itself does not create loneliness, but lonely people may gravitate toward the site.
The results are particularly relevant given the sheer number of people on Facebook and other social media these days. It pays to recognize that social media — and technology in general — may alienate rather than connect us. Hopefully, the findings will encourage people to seek out more face-to-face contact, and perhaps feel more connected as a result.