September 23, 2013
social networking

Is Facebook a Narcissistic Walled Garden?

I performed an anonymous experiment over the summer of 2013.

20130922-230802.jpgI left Facebook.

It wasn’t one of those celebrated public cries to the masses which normally goes something like, “hey everyone, I’m fed up with social tools and social networks and social sandwiches so I’m going to go into digital hibernation for a while … will you miss me … will I miss you … look at me, look at me, look at me.”

No, I simply stopped using Facebook and I didn’t make a big deal about it.

Well that’s not entirely true is it? People continued to occasionally tag me so it appeared (at times) that my social feed was in fact active. If someone sent me an inmail message via Facebook, I’d also answer those through the social hub feature of my Blackberry Z10. (yes, yes, I know) Furthermore, because I’m trying hard to be an actual author, I would occasionally post links and the like to my Flat Army page.

I’m sure the 100 odd people subscribed to the Flat Army Facebook feed are immeasurably better off. Have I mentioned I’m disillusioned with being an author? No? Ok, that’s for another day.

I didn’t technically ‘leave’ Facebook but what I did do was forego visiting the site to peruse any of the updates from my friends nor did I post anything personally on my own feed.

During the first week of September, now over two months into the experiment no one knew about, I was having a beer with one of my long-time buddies who I’ll call Keith. We got on to discussing Facebook and in particular new social norms. Keith is a 1971’er like me, is raising three young goats like me, is an educator like me and is follicly challenged … like me. Where we differ, however, is with Facebook. Roughly three years ago Keith left Facebook. Not the kind of superficial short-term departure like I did. No, Keith closed up his account and cut the Facebook umbilical cord for good. He didn’t tell anyone either. He just closed his account matter of factly.

Oh, and I lied.

Keith and I didn’t have “a beer” — we had a few — but that is precisely when things started getting interesting. I mentioned to him I was becoming disillusioned with Facebook. (Like with being an author) I argued Facebook was becoming difficult for me to be truthful with my feelings in (or is it on?) Facebook as well as my physical whereabouts. I explained the perpetual happy dance of Facebook status updates from my network seemed like it was a falsehood and even a hazardous form of narcissism. It was beginning to feel fake. I was being digitally twerked. On top of that, if I found people — my so-called friends — who were travelling from afar to visit Vancouver or Victoria (my two habitats) and they hadn’t proactively reached out to say hello face-to-face, were they really my friend? Conversely, I divulged over the past couple of years I was purposely avoiding my physical location on Facebook — I travel a lot — due to my personal feeling of letting ‘friends’ down if they knew I was in town and I couldn’t fit in a face-to-face visit.

Keith said at some point (there were a few Heinekens, so I’m paraphrasing), “Facebook creates a false sense of expectation. Prior to Facebook, we were happy to see someone after a year or longer absence because we didn’t expect to see them everyday in a social stream. We appreciated a letter in the mail or a random email that simply was sent to say ‘Hi, here’s what’s going on in my life’  but these days, with Facebook, our friends are in our face — pun intended — every day through the Facebook social stream. Our expectation is for immediate social gratification, and it’s always happy. We don’t bring up the bad news. We leave no time for separation. We leave no time for distance and thus the expectation is you’re there, everywhere … and happy.”

Like I said, there were a few wobbly pops so it may not be word for word, but you get the general point.

You may recall I shaved my Facebook friends list down from 550 to 350 in a previous post entitled, “I Unfriended You on Facebook. Are We Still Friends?” I unceremoniously unfriended another 120 since the post but I still suffer from this guilt phenomenon; the false sense of expectation as Keith pointed out. Facebook has always been a walled garden — let’s debate the pro’s and con’s of that another day — but to me it seems as though everyone has become happy but somewhat ironically, we’re not. We can’t be that happy … nothing is ever ‘that happy’.

And when we fail to mention we’re in town, or we’re having a bad day, or we’re in need of desperate assistance, or we’re fed up with the neighbour, or we suspect there is fruit rotting in the basement cellar … aren’t we simply using Facebook as a mechanism to lie to ourselves? Are we all that blissful?

And what of envy, or pessimism, or disdain, or ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mentalities? Are we lying about our own Facebook induced narcissism?

Research is still too infant or nascent to prove my point one way or the other. One study suggests Facebook “provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection” yet paradoxically it states “rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result – it undermines it.” (Kross E, Verduyn P, Demiralp E, Park J, Lee DS, et al. (2013) Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. PLoS ONE 8(8): e69841. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069841) Another research paper found “that passive following [on Facebook] exacerbates envy feelings, which decrease life satisfaction. From a provider’s perspective, our findings signal that users frequently perceive Facebook as a stressful environment, which may, in the long-run, endanger platform sustainability.” (Krasnova, Hanna; Wenninger, Helena; Widjaja, Thomas; and Buxmann, Peter, “Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction?” (2013). Wirtschaftsinformatik Proceedings 2013. Paper 92.

20130922-230926.jpgMore data comes from the following:

  • “people who are narcissistic use Facebook in a self-promoting way that can be identified by others. The number of Facebook friends a user has and the manner in which posts are made on their profiles correlates directly with narcissism.” (Laura Buffardi and W. Keith Campbell, University of Georgia, Personality and Psychology Bulletin
  •  “we discovered that narcissists and people with lower self-esteem were more likely to spend more than a hour a day on Facebook and were more prone to post self-promotional photos and showcase themselves through status updates and wall activity.” (Soraya Mehdizadeh, York University, Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking)

After my hibernation I decided to look back at my own posts and examine my personal behaviour on Facebook over the past year or so.

I had become the very thing I am questioning now.

My updates were typically pleasant and not truly how I was feeling. Exhibit A was a three week trip to Europe over Christmas. The photos and updates on Facebook told a completely different story than what was actually occurring. In retrospect, it was one of the top two worst trips ever. So many things went wrong — and to come home to a flood as well — pretty much shredded my own Facebook credibility. The launch of the book? All rosy on Facebook but in hindsight it has been a tiresome, political and brutal experience.  And what of my Facebook travel behaviour? Yup, there were at least a dozen times I’d be in a particular town and omit the fact I was actually in town so as to avoid anyone knowing I was potentially within a latte or beer length away.

At this point in the article, you have either already left or are questioning how insane I actually have become.

My question as to whether Facebook is a narcissistic walled garden remains. My Facebook break has resulted in some solid thinking, good questions and a deep desire to solve the riddle.

I’m not closing down my account, but I am in deep ponderance mode.

What say you?

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