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The Chosen Rosen: Shedding light on the Facebook frenzy

Published: March 25, 2011
Section: Opinions


F-A-C-E-B-O-O-K. Facebook: a word that has so many connotations and contexts that people forget it’s not even a word: (it’s a portmanteau!). Who knew that one phrase could embody the heart of contemporary American culture and the manic obsession of our entire generation?

This is nothing new—for the last two years, people have written thousands and thousands of pages on the ground-breaking impacts of Facebook. History textbooks a hundred years from now will look back on our time and marvel at how one social-networking platform could reach so many different people within a society and across the world.

Besides being the most visited website in the world in 2010, Facebook has pervaded every aspect of our everyday lives. You know what I’m talking about—you’ve seen “The Social Network” (four times) and you’ve heard your friends using “Face-talk” on a daily basis, saying they need to “poke” so-and-so back, or “tag” someone in a photo, or “update their status,” or “check out their wall-to-wall” with someone. You know all this and yet you succumb to the allure of the Facebook craze—you hastily type in the eight letters that will calm your mind’s hunger for social connection. You type in your password and hit enter, waiting one extended moment to be accepted into the (not-so) exclusive Facebook universe. And finally, you’re in.

But just like dinner at Aunt Betty’s (or a horribly awkward first date), the problem isn’t getting in, it’s getting out. Upon entering the Facebook universe, you find yourself captivated by all the photos and statuses and applications. Your fingers become click-happy and guide you from page to page, from person to person, as you passively wait on the sidelines for the willpower to leave. And once you do, you’re not gone for long—you find yourself having the urge to check your Facebook in class and in the bathroom and while waiting in line for food. Luckily, like all things, technology has kept pace with your needs, and you can now access Facebook from your Blackberry or iPhone or your TV at home. The frenzy never ends.

I personally have seen people on Facebook at the movies, at the mall, at the dinner table, while doing homework and at sporting events; and even if they’re not checking their Facebook while at these events, they log in the second they get back to a computer. It seems people no longer do things for fun anymore. People now view everything as a means to an end, and that end is Facebook.

Three or four years ago, things were not as dire as they are right now. Facebook was an above-average social networking site comparable to Myspace, Xanga, Tumblr, LinkedIn, LiveJournal or, if you were me as a teenager, Habbo Hotel. Back then, Facebook was just a website that people logged into from time to time to update their profile or talk to their friends when AIM wasn’t working. And not everyone had a Facebook back then. Many of my friends resisted the trend and refused to conform. But they, like most of the world, eventually gave in to the hype. Nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to find a single person in high school or college in the United States who does not have a Facebook. According to techcrunch.com, 85 percent of college students currently have a Facebook page. Facebook has become more than a website—it’s a division of our culture and our lifestyle. Everyone has a Facebook.

The problem with Facebook isn’t that so many people have accounts or even that 50 percent of all active Facebook users log in every single day (as noted by OpenCulture.com), the problem is the amount of time people spend on Facebook. Most of us do not log in once a day—we log in three or four times a day and we spend hours online. According to OpenCulture.com, all the users of Facebook combined spend more than 700 billion minutes each month on Facebook. 700 billion minutes. That’s 4.2 trillion seconds spent staring at a computer screen browsing through photos and typing messages to friends.

Think about all the other things you could be doing with that time. For ourselves, we could be practicing good hygiene (chronic Facebook use is the cause of halitosis!) or watching a movie or playing hand-ball with friends. Or we could be doing things for others like listening to people who need someone to talk to or helping a friend learn calculus. And as fun as all that sounds (especially the calculus part), the point is that these things would be a better way to spend our time than sitting at a chair sluggishly for hours watching the sunshine fade into dusk.

And that’s exactly what people with Facebook do. They wake up in the morning and immediately think: “I wonder if I got any new notifications!” Not: “I wonder if my little sister got over her latest break-up!” or “I wonder if the situation in the Middle East is getting any better!” But they think about Facebook. OpenCulture.com verifies this, stating that 48 percent of 18- to 34-year-old people check Facebook when they wake up.

So what, you say? The pros of Facebook outweigh the cons? Let’s take a look at the components of Facebook, and then you can decide for yourself:

Facebook friends: The number of friends you have on Facebook usually corresponds to the number of social ties people make. And so, the more friends you have on Facebook, the more friends you tend to have in the real world. According to OpenCulture.com, the average Facebook user has 130 friends, but some people have as many as 2,500. This can cause problems, as people will feel obligated to add people they barely know, just to increase their friend count on Facebook. Facebook friendships are also trivial and insincere; they are slowly dissolving the meaning of the word “friend.”

Facebook relationships: Oh boy—we all know the story about Facebook relationships, which are currently displacing real relationships. It’s a common belief among teens that “it’s not real unless it’s on Facebook.” And Facebook is also the cause of many relationship problems. Some couples break up over something as silly as a suggestive comment posted on their boyfriend or girlfriend’s wall.

Facebook statuses: In theory, status updates are a novel idea—they can be used to let friends know where you are at a given time. But people have abused status updates and posted what they’re doing at every single moment. It has made us superficial and constantly concerned about how we can frame our actions to cast ourselves in the most favorable Facebook light. And most of all, some people spend so much time documenting their lives, they stop living them.

Facebook photos: Photos are common on plenty of social networking sites, but Facebook has changed people’s motivation for taking photos. Many of us currently take pictures with the intent to post them on Facebook. At a beach party, we snap shots of us with all our good friends, and instead of keeping it for future memories, we immediately need to post it on Facebook for the world to see.

Facebook chat: Like any form of Internet communication, it has its advantages and disadvantages. Yes, it allows you to talk to distant friends and family without the pressure of having to pick up a phone. And you can also talk to them online while doing 15 other things, which unless you were an octopus would be pretty hard to do while talking on the phone. But the problem with Facebook chat is that it undermines traditional face-to-face communication. According to OpenCulture.com, 57 percent of people talk more on Facebook than they do in real life. Plus, when people communicate on Facebook, they are more dishonest than they are in person. A study in Britain by Optimum Research found that people are much more comfortable lying via Facebook than in real life.

Facebook games: As if the site alone weren’t wasting enough of our time, you can also play Jetman or Snake or Poker to squander away even more hours of your life. Some Facebook addicts even use applications like Farmville, Yoville, Petville, Fishville or Mafia Wars—these people spend an entire day sitting behind their computer growing fake crops on a fake farm taking caring of fake farm animals instead of doing something as productive as going to the refrigerator and pouring a glass of milk. It’s really sad.

For us college kids, this is the time in our life when we should not be using Facebook every single day. The college experience is about experiencing real life for the first time NOT typing about experiences that you either have or have not went through on a Facebook status! Instead of playing Jetman, wouldn’t you rather seek out a jetpack and actually play with it? And instead of playing Snake, wouldn’t it be more enjoyable to play with a real snake? And instead of playing Mafia Wars, why not have real mafia battles (I was kidding with that one)? But you see my point.

And there are so many other disadvantages to chronic Facebook use. Facebook is the single most significant form of procrastination and leads us to do worse in our academics. An MSNBC study found that Facebook use can lower grades by 20 percent.

Facebook also makes everything about our lives public knowledge—our relationships, our friendships, who we talk to, what we’re thinking—all things that were once private are now known to the entire world. Why bother keeping secrets anymore?

In addition, Facebook-stalking is unhealthy and encourages all sorts of obsessive behavior. It also generates a ton of unnecessary judgment—seeing someone’s profile picture and “About Me” section becomes representative of their entire character. It can lead you to love them or hate them within seconds, before you can even meet them in person.

Now before you discount this entire argument and return to your Facebook page with a derisive grin on your face, take a moment to answer this question: How much time do you spend on Facebook every day? Add up the half hour before class in the morning, the 45 minutes in the afternoon, and the hour and a half you spend on it at night while simultaneously listening to music and attempting to do your homework. That amounts to two hours and 15 minutes per day on Facebook—and it’s probably more than that on average when you add up the weekend and everything. So if we extrapolate that during the course of a year, we will spend 821.25 hours per year on Facebook, or 34 ¼ days. And that’s just in one year. Think about everything you could be doing with that time. You could complete an entire bucket-list (100 things to do before you die). You could audition to be on “American Idol.” Or scale a building. Or grow a beard. Or catch a home run at a baseball game. Or learn to juggle. Or talk to animals. You could do anything you want with that time.

And believe me, the Facebook addiction is rough. Psychologists have coined it the Facebook Disorder (FAD), according to SickFacebook.com. But a lot of people are recognizing the detrimental effects that Facebook has on their lives and are either decreasing their use or deactivating their accounts.

I am not saying Facebook is useless, and I am not saying that all of us should delete our Facebook profiles (Charlie Sheen losing would be more unlikely). What I am saying is that at the rate we’re headed, Facebook will completely obliterate our real-life experiences and leave us with nothing but images on a computer screen.

We just need to realize this before it happens. And most importantly, we should recognize that there is a world beyond the blue and white vortex.