The University of Salford has released the outcome of recent research in partnership with the charity Anxiety UK, concluding that social networking sites like Facebook, are causing raised levels of anxiety in it’s users. The report comes replete with a number of disconcerting facts reported by much of the UK press. The Metro reported that ‘Over half of those asked felt the sites had altered their behaviour, or changed it for the worse. Sixty per cent of users said their sleep pattern was disrupted as a result of accessing the sites’. The Independent continued: ‘55 per cent of people [said] they felt “worried or uncomfortable” when they could not access their Facebook or email accounts’. Some pretty unsettling stats. How is it possible that over the past eight years Facebook has become such an integral and addictive part of 21st century living that it stops us sleeping, and why are we allowing it to do so?
Of course, this research isn’t telling us anything we didn’t previously know. Grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, teachers and anyone else over a certain age take pride in telling the younger generation how they ‘just don’t think it’s right, all this social networking malarky’. And indeed the reports in the papers yesterday are similar to those that we’ve been seeing over the past five years – in 2010, research conducted in China found that teens using the internet excessively are more likely to suffer depression since they were found to have poorer communication skills and less tolerance for social activities. Definitely not news to me. My fourteen year old sister spends all her time at home on Facebook, MSN and Skype simultaneously and, despite her baffling ability to hold involved conversations with three people at the same time, she seems totally unable to convert this practise into anything other than a silent scowl outside the walls of her bedroom. Last year, NY Daily News reported that those who use social networking sites are more prone to narcissism. Check out antiduckface.com for a wealth of examples.
The evils of Facebook and other social networking sites are well documented but despite it all, 901 million people, including myself, are still hooked. So I decided to talk to someone on the other side. My flatmate did the equivalent of dropping off the face of the earth last June when he deleted his Facebook page never to return, just as we all left our student digs in London for our home towns at the start of the summer. After reading Yevgeny Zamyatin’s ‘We’, a dystopian novel in which everyone lives in glass houses, peering into one another’s lives, he finally bit the bullet and got rid of his account, along with all the friends, contacts and photos from his gap year travelling around Asia and Australia. A brave move. But he insists that it’s been a good one. Honestly, is there a dire need to allow that guy you barely spoke to in school access to photos of you contorting your face in ways you didn’t think possible at your mate’s new year’s house party three years ago?
I asked my flatmate how it affected his relationship with friends. Surprisingly he said being off Facebook actually makes him feel closer to his mates, rather than cut off –conversations are between the two of you, down your local, talking face to face, not just incessantly bombarding the whole of your Facebook fratenity with news of what your cousin’s cat ate for lunch. No more conversations where ‘oh yeah, I saw that on Facebook’ is repeated more often than ‘Whose round is it?’
So if leaving Facebook has had a positive impact on one friend already, why am I still unable to do the same? I actually think, despite the wealth of research out there, that we need to take it all with a pinch of salt. My advice: choose when you peruse. Photos of James skydiving in South America, whilst you’re stuck doing the nine to five having just emptied your bank account on a huge heating bill due to this incessant crap weather is never going to make you feel great. But browsing through photos of your mate’s trip to Barcelona last year, knowing that you are flying out in three days time will put you on top of the world.
We are the social networking generation, and that’s not going to go away anytime soon, just make sure that if you are using it, it’s not at 2am whilst you’re wearing the same pants you’ve been in for four days, sobbing into a tub of Carte d’Or. If you’re having a bad week, stay away. But alternatively, if you’ve just landed that dream job, finally got enough money together to buy that festival ticket, or even just had a particularly good caramel latte, then go for it. Get stuck in, but don’t forget to pick up the phone and talk to the people you are cyber poking. Go and visit them – face time is as important as Facebook time, after all. Take joy in the happy moments in everyone else’s life and take pride in the fact that, although you are having an amazing time too, you are NOT pulling duckface.