21st Century Aging

Living longer and better.

Facebook Depression

Real Friends Vs. Social Media Friends

A recent article suggests that Facebook use is associated with a lower sense of well being. 

In this clever study, the authors,

“Text-messaged people five times per day for two-weeks to examine how Facebook use influences the two components of subjective well-being: how people feel moment-to-moment and how satisfied they are with their lives. Our results indicate that Facebook use predicts negative shifts on both of these variables over time. The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them; the more they used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time.”

I have never really been a fan of Facebook.  I signed up a couple of years ago as a way to link all of my social networking—but for me, this has largely meant promoting my books or articles. 

Yet, I found it could become easy to check Facebook as a way to see what is going on, particularly when I am feeling bored or stressed.  Keep in mind that many of my “Facebook friends” are those with whom I have not had an actual conversation in many years.  I try to respond to the sad posts-- for example, when a dog has died, or even worse, when someone has an illness.  I try to be a good “friend” and let people know I care. 

Among many of my “friends,” I would not know who may be experiencing diffiuclties if it were not for Facebook.  I then experience a curious guilt:  If I realize that something unhappy is going on, I feel I must respond, or at the very least “like” a post.  But then I feel another kind of angst: When I like a post, am I saying that I am empathic?  Or just responding to social pressure to seem so? 

Social media may lead us to a less genuine kind of empathy.  

My real friends and I get together for drinks and dinner. Or we go for a walk, talk on the phone, or even email one another.   During those times, our hardships are discussed. We do so alone and without the big brother of social media watching us.

I get why people can feel more sad when they check Facebook all of the time. I check Facebook when I am missing those with whom I would rather have real contact.  To me, relationships are the most important thing in life, and I don't consider Facebook to be a gratifying surrogate.   

Social media complicates interpersonal relationships in that it can seduce the user into thinking that online and in-person communication are the same.  

   

Tamara McClintock Greenberg, Psy.D., M.S., is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.

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