Part 2 of 4: Why People Use Facebook
Dr. Brent Conrad, a clinical psychologist for TechAddiction, points out that excessive Facebook engagement can disrupt normal behavior but is not (yet) a recognized clinical disorder.
On the positive side, he says, technology tools such as Skype, Facetime, and Facebook allow us to stay in contact with family and friends around the world. Video conferencing may allow us to work from home. Having a Smartphone with GPS capabilities means that we will never again get lost or have to ask for directions.
Yet whenever we are introduced to new time-fillers or gadgetry there is potential for unhealthy use, abuse, or overuse. Alcohol and gambling are relatively harmless in moderation but cause serious problems for those addicted. Even healthy activities like exercise can cause significant health problems if they become an obsession (for example, compulsively running long hours and distances every single day).
Behavioral researchers studying those who’ve become “hooked” on technology have invested most of their time examining Internet and video game addiction but social media sites like Facebook are gaining increasing attention.
We all know people who must check their Facebook account when they first wake up, obsessively check it throughout the day, and never fail to log in one last time before going to bed. These are signs of obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Many spend hours each day updating their status, uploading pictures, commenting on walls, playing Facebook games, reading updates from others, and searching for friends to add. They may also neglect important responsibilities, commitments, or relationships in favor of surfing the Facebook site. Perhaps their real-world life, career, or schoolwork suffers as a result.
More than a billion people use Facebook now to keep in touch with friends and family. They plan events, receive news, and play games. For most Facebook is a useful and enjoyable only way of interacting with others.
Some users suffer extreme behavioral problems because of their dependence on Facebook interaction. They are obsessed with Facebook to the extent they have difficulty logging off even after having been on for hours.
So, what is it about Facebook that makes it potentially addictive? Why have the behaviors of so many—and consequently their lives the way they live them—been changed by a public chat forum and “community”?
The big reason is the human desire for self-disclosure. Self-disclosure—talking about ourselves—is strongly associated with increased activation in brain regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system, including the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area. Dopamine is the body’s “cocaine,” a pleasant release chemical that makes us feel better. We like its release and seek more.
One study indicated that individuals were willing to forgo money in order to disclose more about themselves. Two other studies demonstrated that individuals place a high preference on self-referential thought when sharing information with others.
These findings seem to suggest that the human tendency to convey information about personal experience may arise from the intrinsic value associated with self-disclosure.
Here is a list of 21 reasons that help explain Facebook’s allure. Not every point applies to every Facebook user but chances are—if you have a Facebook account—you will relate to at least a few.
21 Reasons for Facebook’s Widespread Appeal:
1) Minimal Effort Catch-Up
The format of Facebook allows users to scan headlines with minimal effort to catch up with friends and family. Posts are short to make and quick to read, so engagement is swift. Facebook keeps alive relationships that might otherwise have died.
2) Lets Us Share Controlled Information With Many Simultaneously
Facebook allows users to efficiently share personal information with others with “rules of order” and better “net etiquette” than other forms of online communication. Rather than spam the email inbox of everyone, one posted Facebook message or photo provides coverage for all.
3) Appeals To The Info Junkie In All Of Us
Humans have an inborn curiosity so we constantly look for new information. Facebook reach and data dissemination feeds this never-ending desire. While the Internet can do this in general terms, Facebook presents personally relevant information in a single, easy-to-access portal. Whatever and whomever you are interested in is right there waiting for you.
4) Feeds Our Naturally Voyeuristic Natures
Even stronger than the quest for broad-based information is our hunger for information about others. Humans are social animals, curious about what others do and say. People put out what they want and others interpret what they want.
Facebook reveals publicly bits of information about others that would otherwise be private. In a sense, this allows friends to “spy” on friends and to gain information that they would otherwise not be privy to.
“Facebook Stalking” is a form of cyber voyeurism where people can investigate a friend’s page to see what he or she is doing on a particular day or night, who they were with, who said what, or who they are friends with. People like the ability to snoop.
5) A Forum For Egos
One of our favorite topics of conversation is ourselves. All of us share a human need for self-expression followed by feedback from others.
Facebook provides this ego forum. The minimal effort of posting a picture can yield a large investment return in the form of comments and compliments, which makes this system of emotional reinforcement very seductive.
6) Fond Memories…In Retrospect
One of the initial selling points or “hooks” of Facebook is the possibility of reconnecting with old friends–even back to high school. Memories usually play more of a role in initially establishing a Facebook habit than in maintaining one. After adding everyone you knew from high school, you often remember why you were not friends to begin with, or how now you have little in common or few shared values.
People stay in touch for reasons and drift apart for reasons. While Facebook can trigger old memories, why it sustains users is for different reasons.
7) Makes Us Feel Understood
Sharing personal information means others will learn more about us and understand us better, assuming we are honest about what we choose to share.
Opening up and sharing personal information is an enabler for more meaningful relationships and being understood is reinforcing because it makes us feel connected with others on a deeper level.
While this is fine, Facebook relationships are not as meaningful or as rewarding as being understood in-person.
For others, depending on what they share and when they share it, being understood isn’t always desirable. Remember: Once on the web . . . always on the web. Millions have “post-posting” regrets.
8) Family Contact
A very appealing aspect of Facebook is how simple it makes staying in touch with family, especially helpful for families scattered throughout the world who can quickly chat or receive updates.
Rather than families and loved ones drifting apart, Facebook makes it easier to stay connected to those we truly care about. When used to supplement (not replace) other channels of communication, Facebook is a great family tool. Because of these familial implications, quitting Facebook is not easy for those who may struggle with addiction.
9) My Mood Booster
Some users report that Facebook makes them feel better when depressed, stressed, or anxious. The mood boost may come from feeling more connected, better understood, or more important to others.
Occasionally used as an outlet for negative emotions, venting may be harmless. But if Facebook is a person’s main method of dealing with stress, depression, low self-esteem, anger, or other negative emotions, then this outlet is clearly not healthy.
Coping skills must be developed in real life, not hidden behind the on-line curtain.
10) Makes Us Feel Part of an Expansive Exciting World
Although there are exceptions, most of us lead pretty normal lives. We go to work or school, come home, look forward to weekends and holidays . . . and repeat. Every once in a while we do something a bit more interesting, enjoyable, or exciting that makes the humdrum routine easier to accept.
Facebook allows us to temporarily escape our “normal” lives and be a part of something larger, more exciting, or more interesting. We can live vicariously through others.
For example, we may join a Facebook group for a political group or cause, have a live chat with friend who is at a great concert in another country, or become “friends” with celebrities or people in powerful positions.
Temporary escapes to a more vibrant and exciting world is one of Facebook’s most appealing factors, especially for the ultra-bored.
11) Feeds The Essential Need For Human Connection
This point is obvious. As social animals we need human contact for emotional and psychological health. We are hard-wired to seek connections with others.
Facebook makes establishing these connections easier than any time in human history. Everything on Facebook is designed to establish more and more connections with others: tagging photos, finding and suggesting friends, status updates, “like” affirmations, joining specific Facebook groups, sharing lists, playing games, etc.
Facebook’s strategic goal is always the same: simplify to the process of human connection. This universal need for human joining, belonging, and acceptance is a driving force behind Facebook’s powerful, seductive appeal.
12) I’m Thinking About You But Don’t Want To Talk To You
Facebook allows us to notify others we are thinking about them without the effort of a phone call, a full email message, or the expectation of an interactive text exchange. A one word or one sentence message on someone’s wall fulfills a social contact obligation. In this regard, Facebook is extraordinarily convenient.
13) Social Needs Fulfilled In Digital Form
Psychologist Abraham Maslow once proposed a 5-level hierarchy of human needs. In order of importance these are: 1. Physiological (survival) Needs, 2. Security (comfort) Needs, 3. Social Needs (being loved), 4. Esteem Needs (being respected), and 5. Self-Actualizing Needs (doing what you were born to do).
Most relevant to Facebook’s appeal are Social Needs, which appeal to the sub-needs we have for belonging, love, and affection.
Maslow suggested that social needs are fulfilled though relationships with friends, family, romantic relationships, and other attachments. Facebook makes filling these social needs much easier than the effort required for in-person contact.
The “friends commenting on my life” structure of Facebook also addresses Maslow’s level four Esteem Needs, which deal with respect, personal worth, and gaining social recognition. All of us want to be important and respected.
If Facebook were not a reinforcement vehicle for fulfilling Social Needs and Esteem Needs, would anyone care about it?
Probably not. Countless people re-post affirmations of social worth and beliefs, and then exchange messages with supportive friends about how great they are. Many of these fill voids and gaps, so few would refuse to embrace such support.
14) Peer Pressure: I Can’t Miss Out
Facebook’s growth rate is slowing as it is reaches a point of market saturation.
Almost everyone who is online (especially teens to those in their 40s) already has a Facebook account and having a Facebook account is now nearly as common as having an email account.
Because it is so accepted and pervasive, if most (if not all) of your friends are using Facebook to chat, arrange meetings, plan parties, and generally organize their lives, you must also use Facebook if you want to be included.
Not being on Facebook means missing out on social interaction and real world activities. There is a peer pressure in use principle at play that works quite well to keep people engaged.
To avoid this undesirable “don’t miss out” feeling, millions obsessively check their Facebook accounts dozens of times per day. This fear of social isolation contributes mightily to Facebook dependency.
15) Friendship Quantified
One clever design element of Facebook that may lead to obsession is the quantification of “friends.” This is level three of Maslow’s work, being accepted.
Being socially accepted is a universal human need. Friends make us feel appreciated, validate our self-worth, and boost our self-esteem.
It is easy to understand how the desire to accumulate Facebook friends and watch that number grow could lead to excessive use. There is nothing wrong with using Facebook to supplement real-world relationships, but thinking a bigger number makes you happier will never work. You will experience “real world” problems if the friendship focus shifts from quality to quantity.
16) The Great Justification: “I’m not wasting time . . . this Is meaningful!”
Facebook addiction may be more difficult to spot because using the site is easier to justify than other types of digital addictions.
For example, someone with a video game addiction would have a hard time convincing others that obsessive gaming is productive in any way. And someone with an online gambling addiction would demonstrate behaviors that underscore the negative ramifications of the problem.
Excessive Facebook use is much easier to justify because of its foundational premise: “How can anything as positive as forming friends and connecting with others possibly be a problem?“
Even activities that are healthy in moderation can morph into problems if they turn into obsessions. Facebook’s allure places it in this category.
17) Socializing + Gaming = An Irresistible Combination
Not only does Facebook appeal to our need for social connections and friendships, it is increasingly becoming one of the world’s most popular destinations for online gaming.
As might be expected, Facebook focuses on games that emphasize online social interactions with other players. This reinforcement encourages excessive play, which can lead to video game addiction.
18) How Do I Really Compare To Others?
Facebook not only appeals to our need for social acceptance, it also provides a forum for social comparison.
“Social Comparison Theory” was developed by social psychologist Leon Festinger, who proposes that humans have a very strong drive to evaluate themselves by comparing their opinions, accomplishments, and abilities to others.
This, of course, lives and breathes at Facebook’s core.
Given this drive, the popularity of quizzes and personality tests on Facebook is not surprising. Upon completion they allow the user to compare his or herself to others.
This reaffirms that the basic appeal of Facebook is not driven by creating or exploiting new human desires, but by providing an easy way to meet basic human needs that have evolved over the past 1.8 million years.
19) Facebook is a Boredom Buster
Dealing with boredom is commonly cited as a reason people use Facebook. The convenience of a single, easy-to-use resource for news, games, and social interaction becomes the “go-to” activity whenever boredom arises.
20) Insecurity Response
For some, one of the most addictive aspects of Facebook is the ability to check out what others are saying about them, who others are talking to, what they are doing, and whether this is consistent with what the inquisitor believes to be true.
If someone is insecure in a relationship or questions whether he/she has been told the truth by someone, or has trust issues in general, Facebook may be the source they turn to while investigating “the real story”.
While most people resist the temptation to snoop on their friends’ Facebook pages, others obsessively use Facebook as a tool to deal with jealousy and/or insecurities they have in their real-world relationships.
This “digital spying” is hardly a healthy way to navigate life.
21) I Am Not Alone
Many people experience loneliness. Social isolation should be recognized and encourage us to seek out others. Doing so is the adaptive purpose of the loneliness emotion.
When used in moderation, Facebook interactions provide quick relief from loneliness. But if used instead of real world contact, digital loneliness relief will be neither long lasting nor satisfying.
Spending more time on Facebook to reduce loneliness usually has the reverse effect: It may contribute to long-term loneliness, depression, and an even stronger Facebook addiction.
END of part II
next . . . part 3 of 4: Why People Get “Addicted” to Facebook
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