You don’t need me to tell you that Facebook is big. It’s huge. Every month over 1.7 billion people log into their accounts, with well over a billion checking in every day. If you fall into the 18 - 24 age group, there’s a 50% chance that you checked your Facebook account before you even got out of bed. In fact, that might be what led you to this article.
But what you might not know, is that Facebook could be contributing to feelings of stress, anxiety and general daily worry. Surprised? Here’s why.
OK, let’s start from the beginning. I’m no hater of Facebook, and social media has an incredibly important role in our daily lives.
You can - and will - use it to build your network, for social and professional purposes. Used well, Facebook, like LinkedIn and other networking tools, can help you get connected with recruiters, and allow them get to know more about you. As a more informal tool, it’s a good way to curate a personal presence online which prospective employers can access (as long as you think about the tone of your posts and keep them appropriate).
And of course it can be an amazing tool to keep in touch with friends around the world, and get actively involved in social activities.
But Facebook isn’t without issues. Research carried out by the Happiness Research Institute has recently looked into the ways Facebook usage can cause us unforeseen problems.
By taking a sample group, who typically used Facebook on a daily basis, and forcing half of them to stop checking their account for a week, researchers were able to see the impact on mood and overall wellbeing. What they found was stark:
- After one week the group who stayed away from Facebook reported a significantly higher life satisfaction (8.12/10 versus the control group at 7.75/10)
- Those taking a break from Facebook felt less sadness. 22% of the non Facebook group reported feelings of sadness, compared to 34% of the regular users.
- Ditching Facebook actually makes you feel less lonely. 16% of those who stayed off Facebook felt lonely, compared with 25% of the control group.
- Those who kept off Facebook became significantly more active in their ‘real world’ social life, to compensate.
Because we tend to be extremely selective in what we post on Facebook, it can appear as though everybody else is living a life full of picture perfect excitement. Nobody posts about the regularities of life, the days when it’s hard work or we face challenges.
This puts a pressure on us all. We end up feeling like our daily life is mundane, or competing with others to showcase only the most successful and thrilling things we have been up to.
It’s worth remembering that, while Facebook gives us a glimpse of others’ lives, it is not the truth. What we see here is highly selective. Take it with a pinch of salt, and develop genuine (real life) friendships where you feel comfortable talking about the challenges of daily life as well as the successes.
And the Ugly
So Facebook can leave us with an unrealistic view of life, thanks to the stream of glamorous pictures and self indulgent updates. However, what might be even worse, is that spending time on Facebook negatively affects users’ concentration, making them more likely to struggle to focus.
After only a week on a ‘no Facebook’ diet, the research group reported a significant increase in their ability to concentrate. The group who continued to check in daily reported very little difference.
With a competitive employment environment, being focused and efficient in completing your academic work while at uni is crucial. Only then will you make the space to develop the ‘extras’ that employers are really looking for, by taking on additional opportunities, doing internships and voluntary work, for example.
Given the number of productivity killers we face anyway, limiting Facebook usage might be a smart way to make sure you get the most from your time. It’ll feel good if you do, according to the study. Those who ditched Facebook also reported feeling significantly less like they had wasted their time over the past week.
For most of us, deleting Facebook entirely is not a realistic option - and, used wisely, social networking is a useful tool. But this research is food for thought. Perhaps limiting the time spent on Facebook, and treating it as a tool and not a necessity, will leave us more focused, productive, and happy. It’s worth a shot.