Friday, April 20, 2012

Divorcing Facebook...and Other Thoughts

Shy with big hair...
before Facebook

I'm not a Facebook fan. I have an account, but I rarely use it anymore. At the beginning of my relationship with Facebook, I was thrilled. It was exciting to connect with old friends and acquaintances that I might have otherwise lost touch with completely. But now, several years later, the thrill is gone.

I guess I look at it like this: no one truly cares what I eat for breakfast, if I have a flat tire, my political opinions on taxes, or if I'm having a bad hair day. And Facebook friends: I'm not impressed with the mundane details of your lives, either.

Sorry for the indifference, but I don't want to know when your husband leaves the toilet seat up. I also don't pretend that my young kids will laugh good-naturedly when they find out that I once shared pictures of them in the bathtub with 269 of my closest virtual friends.

Most of my younger "friends" choose to ignore spelling rules, post cryptic messages that I can't decipher, and sandwich every word with expletives. It drives me crazy. One 13 year-old I know posts dark and depressing poetry when she has an argument with her boyfriend. I have the urge to tattle on her.

My mother is the only person I dare bore with my vacation pictures because she's good at pretending she's interested. And I much prefer catching up with my true friends and relatives by phone or over coffee. Like my real world personality, I'm just not that extroverted online.

But it appears that most teenagers feel differently than my 40 year-old self. They can't get enough of constant digital communication. "Young kids look at technology the way I look at air," says Larry D. Rosen, PhD and researcher of teens and social networks. "It's not just a tool to them, they sleep with it, they wake up with it, and it's part of their world."

But this love affair with social media, and Facebook in particular, has its consequences. Here are some excerpts from an American Psychological Association report on Rosen's research:
  • Students who flipped back and forth between studying and [Facebook and text] distractions had worse grades than those who stuck to their schoolwork until they were finished.
  • Those who used more hours of media were more unhealthy across the board, from elementary school age through high school, said Rosen. They reported more sick days, more stomach aches, more depression and worse behavior in school. "You name it, [they had] more of it," he said.
  • Frequent Facebook use among teens correlates...with narcissism, but for young adults, it correlates with signs of many disorders, including narcissism, antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.
There is, however, a possible positive to Facebook use among teenagers. According to Rosen. "...Young adults who spend more time on Facebook than their peers are also better at showing 'virtual empathy' to their online friends and that such online empathy predicts real-world empathy."

Hmmm... maybe virtual empathy is something that I should work on.

To Rosen, parents make the difference between kids that have issues related to Facebook and those that do not. Parents that set limits for online activity and talk about potential negative outcomes have kids with less depression and more overall self-esteem. The psychologist advises that "parents should assess their child's activities on social networking sites, and discuss removing inappropriate content or connections to people who appear problematic. Parents also need to pay attention to the online trends and the latest technologies, websites and applications children are using."

I plan to set limits with my own kids once they become interested in social networking. Thankfully, they're too young to care about Facebook right now. In the meantime, I'll summon the courage to say goodbye to my 269 friends and divorce myself of the site.

It's not that I have a bad attitude about social networking. It can be useful if you're promoting something (a business or a cause-related blog for example). I just don't feel the need to promote my personal life. So I won't miss the old college photos that friends have scanned and posted. (I still haven't thought of an appropriate rationalization for the size of my hair!) I won't miss the online game invitations, the phony quizzes that people take about me, and most of all, the purposeful use of bad grammar. I doubt that Facebook will miss me.

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