You could call it a massive social media mistake by social media itself. I think it was an admirable moment of honesty between Facebook and the world. Maybe it’s both. But this week Facebook’s official Facebook Page shared this: “Birthday cakes are made for people to be together. They give friends a place to gather and celebrate. But too much cake probably isn’t healthy. So birthday cake is a lot like Facebook.”
Facebook seems to have had a moment of clarity. Years ago its official stats page touted how much time users spent on the site. The last official statement before it IPO’d was 10.5 billion total minutes per day in January. But it eventually realized that’s not necessarily a good thing. Now Facebook prefers to describe itself by how many things people share on the site rather than the hours spent there.
Great products are efficient. It should take the minimum amount of time to get the maximum value. Trying to simply increase the amount of time spent on the site can lead to poor design decisions. It can also lead to unhappiness and unhealthiness.
The fact is that we find information addictive. We love to seek, to learn. It’s an evolutionary trait. The more we know, the more likely we are to survive. But with such vast amounts of information at our fingertips thanks to the Internet, that addiction can really hurt us. I know I’ve been late to get-togethers with friends, or grabbed a seat in the corner at a party because I couldn’t help but browse Facebook, Twitter, news, and other web content.
I truly believe there are benefits to the ambient intimacy of the Facebook news feed. It lets us stay in touch with distant acquaintances we might have drifted away from, gives us a support network, makes us more open and tolerant, and can help us organize real-world interactions.
But it can also alienate us, pulling us out of the present to read about the past of others. And it can erode our relationships if we use it as a substitute for a hug, a handshake, or a hearty laugh in person. Some studies link Facebook use to unhappiness because it makes us think everyone else is more beautiful, out having more fun, and are more popular than us.
Most of these negative consequences come from excessive usage. We’d probably feel better after a good phone call with one friend than browsing the news feed stories of one hundred.
Perhaps the Facebook Page’s status update was the work of a single employee who didn’t think it through. But even still, it indicates a sense of sympathy at Mark Zuckerberg’s company.
One day maybe Facebook will directly confront the issue of Internet addiction of which it’s certainly a part. But for now, Facebook has confessed that it can hurt us. That may show that the people behind it feel a touch of guilt about the excessive time the service has sucked away from us. That’s better than it cruelly cackling about the 200 lifetimes it swallows up each day.
[Image Credit: NetAddiction]