Monday, March 14

Human Ethology: On Social Networking

I dislike the Facebook (tFB) - that's no secret. One reason is because of this fascinating article about demographics of populations who use different social networking sites. But the real reason is because I'm not on board with the "social networking is the future (of innovation/interaction/huuurgle/etc )" crew is that I just happen to think that its unproductive and unhealthy. Don't get me wrong, I'm from the Internet, and I even am willing to agree that moderate levels of internet browsing helps with work. Hell, I won't even deny that maybe tFB is the future. But that doesn't mean I'm going to say its a good thing. Have a look back at my previous Human Ethology writings: in short tFB isn't friendly with our ethology. Sucks, I know.

The reason I bring this up is because a short while ago, I was linked to an article about how tFB is bad news for people's self-esteem. Aha! I thought to myself, Now that's what to see, meaning either my hunches are getting confirmed, or tFB is not only meritless, but a legitimately negative insitution!

Then I was reading one of my blogs the other day, and was surprised to find myself reading an article which spoke of a recently published paper which indicated that tFB improves one's self-esteem. Now this provides a bit of a conundrum worth investigation, I thought.

Well, let's first have a gander at the more recent of the two. This "mirror, mirror" article is obviously about self-esteem derived from looking at images of one's self. The real-life test is, incredibly enough, having subjects look at themselves in a mirror. Okay. And on theFaceBook? Looking at your own profile.

So the results imply that one gains more self-esteem looking at one's own self-generated profile than ones "physical" profile. This immediately comes back to the dichotomy of stated versus revealed preference. A person's tFB profile is stated information, it is written by the individual according to their choices and beliefs. A mirror reflection is revealing information, it tells no lies, unless one is wearing makeup.

That's all well and good, but the authors, or at very least, the press, would argue that these findings suggest that tFB use in general is better for one's self-esteem than living in the real-world.

Slight problem: I may not be an average tFB user (in fact I hope that I am not), but I don't spend a lot of time looking at my profile. Particularly under the newest layout, its awfully difficult for anyone to easily see the complete contents of one's profile. What's allegedly the best part about tFB, and certainly what takes up most people's time, are the status updates, photos, quizzes, games, etc. Dealing with other people is what takes up the majority of time spent on tFB.

Which is where the original paper comes back into play. Except not as much as you would think. The TIME article, from which I was lead to the scholarly paper, strongly implied that people were more miserable on tFB.
Yet,the actual overview of the paper tells a different tale:
"In a series of five experiments, the study— which was inspired by the Facebook envy experience though does not explicitly address it— identified several intersecting psychological factors that underlie the grass-is-greener phenomenon. The first two experiments showed that people consistently underestimate how often other people have negative emotions, while overestimating how often they have positive ones."
Emphasis mine. Well then.

Blogger seldom angers me in a substantial way, but when it deletes my whole post for reasons I do not comprehend and refuses to let me undo, I get mad. And delayed. Everything should have a built in revisioning system.

By the time I realized what was going on while I was reading the articles and writing this post the first time around, it was "too late." There's not more to be said on the relevance of these two articles. "Mirror, Mirror" is limited by its odd assumption about the importance of profile information and viewing, and "Misery," while a solid paper in its own right, doesn't actually gather any evidence directly related to tFB activities.

The two can hardly be compared under the circumstances. Thus, the moral remaining with us: the press is a difficult creature to interact with.
Read the actual papers, and if you can't do that, at least real the abstracts. I skim a lot of papers, read quite few, since so many pass across my desk, but I will always read the abstracts. From the abstract of "Misery":
"Taken together, these studies suggest that people may think they are more alone in their emotional difficulties than they really are."
That's quite a finding, regardless of not being directly tied to tFB. Ehh, it didn't deserve the attention anyway.

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