But when it comes to online interaction, we’re assaulted with the annoying highlights of the lives of every Tom, Dick, and Harry we’ve clicked a button to accept into our lives – whether they’re actual friends, or people we’ve only met a time or two.
If we needed any more reason to believe that social media is doing almost exactly the opposite of what it set out to – making us less instead of more social and more instead of less fragmented – here’s a good one. A new study finds that there’s another element to social media’s growing list of negative effects: A “spiral” of envy that develops when you see yourFacebook friends exceling or enjoying life in ways that you aren’t. The good news is you’re not alone in your bitterness. The bad news is that the solution (aside from shutting down your account) isn’t entirely straightforward.
We’ve all felt Facebook-inspired pangs of jealousy when we flip through the pictures of friends lounging on the beach when we’ve just trudged through the snow to the office. These feelings of jealousy or envy have to do with the comparisons that we implicitly make between ourselves and our “friends,” or in many cases, our distant online acquaintances.
The researchers who headed the new study (which has not been published in a peer-review journal, but will be presented at an upcoming conference) asked 600 adults in Germany about their feelings while using social media. About a third of the participants said they experienced mainly negative feelings, like frustration. And, as the researchers determined, the central cause for feelings of frustration was overwhelmingly envy, above others.
Dr. Hanna Krasnova, who led the study at the Humboldt-Universität, points out how different social interactions in social media vs. real life can be. “By and large, online social networks allow users unprecedented access to information on relevant others — insights that would be much more difficult to obtain offline.”
The idea that (envy-inducing) information is considerably less visible offline is interesting. In a world without social media, we would only be subject to our acquaintances’ tantalizing vacation pictures if they were close friends and sitting down for a cup of coffee. In these cases, the richness of the honest-to-goodness interpersonal communication would probably eclipse feelings of jealousy. But when it comes to online interaction, we’re assaulted with the annoying highlights of the lives of every Tom, Dick, and Harry we’ve clicked a button to accept into our lives – whether they’re actual friends, or people we’ve only met a time or two. Ironically, though we probably don’t have offline relationships with too many of our Facebook acquaintances, their online presence is enough to invoke these negative feelings, as we inevitably compare ourselves to them.
“From a provider’s perspective,” the authors conclude, “our findings signal that users increasingly perceive Facebook as a stressful environment, which may endanger platform sustainability.”
It’s unclear what Facebook’s future will bring. Other platforms may inevitably gain ground in the years to come, as it seems unlikely that the social media monster will be the forerunner for many more. In any event, hopefully, as we realize what a poor surrogate social media is for real social interaction, and how damaging it can be to us in certain ways, we’ll refrain from it a bit (easier said than done, of course), or, perhaps, newer websites with a more “human” element will take over.
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