Facebook is one of the least meaningful things people do

A recent study on happiness and pleasure by the University of Canterbury in New Zealand got a lot of press for determining what we enjoy most (sex, alcohol) and what we find most meaningful (sex, religion).  But at the other end of the spectrum, another item ranked low on happiness (just ahead of work) and dead-last for meaning: Facebook.

For a place where we spend so much of our collective resource, it seems odd that Facebook is seen as such a meaningless use of time.

Social desirability bias or for realsies?

I wrote yesterday about a recent Pew study that determined that many Facebook users went on temporary hiatus from the social behemoth. I concluding that it is unlikely that two-thirds of users could participate in this type of behavior given the persistent increase in time on site.  I mentioned social desirability bias as a potential influencer in the study, pointing out that Pew had published contradictory findings in an earlier report stating that there was no evidence of “Facebook fatigue.”  In a paper about social desirability bias in Journal of Consumer Research,  indirect questioning is described as an effective tool to mitigate people posturing themselves in the best light.  Incidentally, in the Pew study respondents were asked explicitly, “Have you ever voluntarily taken a break from using Facebook for a period of several weeks or more?”  One assumes the New Zealand study was presented as a closed-ended rank-able list as well.

People are spending an unprecedented amount of time on Facebook (and social networks in general).  People clearly are getting some (probably a lot) of value from their interactions and content consumption on Facebook.  So why are people compelled to diminish their social participation in mixed company?

Is Facebook like online dating

My wife and I met online, and at the time we were irrationally opaque about where we’d met.  From a pragmatic standpoint, it makes a lot of sense to use a tool where all of the users have similar objectives.  But in mixed company it seemed a little taboo to discuss.  I think it has a lot to do with feeling inferior for resorting to something unconventional.  I suspect there is a similar feeling that causes people to diminish their participation on social networks.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably privy to ComScore reports that show Facebook time on site to be nearly an hour a day, and you probably know Facebook has more than a billion users, but I wonder if the general public understands the extent that their friends and neighbors are using social networks?  And I wonder if we diminish our participation in social networks because we maintain an illusion that our social connections should be maintained in a more traditional way?

What do you think?  Is Facebook meaningless or do people tend to diminish its value?  Is there a stigma associated with being a Facebooker?

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at leaderswest.com
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • http://twitter.com/profkrg Kenna Griffin

    It’s interesting that we find no meaning in Facebook, but we use it all the time. What does that mean?

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Kenna! I suspect that we find more meaning than we cop to…. at least I hope so, or we’re wasting a lot of time!

  • socialmediadds

    Wow…what a profound post Jim….I think that the questions that you ask at the end of the post are a bit too “pointed”. Do I think that FB is meaningless? My broad brush response is “No”!. Do people tend to diminish it’s value? That’s an entirely different question and I think that the answer is a subdued “yes”. Subdued for the very same reasons that you and your wife shy away from the truth as to how you met….there IS a stigma (albeit unnecessary IMO) about being associated with online relationships. It goes beyond FB (although that is the platform that everyone can relate to and therefore, make fun of or deride). Sociologically we are still at a time when it is “uncomfortable” to share that we have met friends, customers/clients and, most certainly significant others online. And, FB being the BIG online presence…people feel more comfortable kidding you about FB than supporting you (business or personally) in your relationships. But…I do not plan on dumping FB….I am patient. Eventually (soon) we will realize that relationships that are curated via online platforms (FB, dating sites, etc) are valid and genuine. Until that time, you will find me on FB personally and professionally posting appropriately, relevantly and genuinely.

    Thanks for making me think, Jim!!


    • jimdougherty

      Thanks so much Claudia – as much as I love your comments they leave me with a sense of guilt as I feel like you are much more thorough than me! The Facebook finding was especially interesting to me because that is where I personally know all of the people. I agree with you about the value on online friends versus offline – that said, I don’t think the newest generation of kids feel that way and I’m excited to understand their perspectives as it becomes apparent! Thanks for another wonderful comment.

      • socialmediadds

        Hahaha…oh NO! I’m trying to eliminate feelings of guilt in my life and I certainly don’t want to make others feel guilty 😉 My comments are a function of your great writing making me really stop and think/analyze. I love that! Crossword puzzles and leaderswest are going to help prevent Alzheimers from setting in! 😉

  • http://8pmWarrior.com Aaron Biebert

    Fascinating. Odd that people spend 1/24 of their day on something so meaningless, especially when compared to religion or sex. :-)

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Aaron – you’d think they’d double down on one of those instead…

  • http://www.facebook.com/layla.driscoll Layla Driscoll

    What a shame. I find my Facebook usage to be deeply meaningful. Here’s why https://www.facebook.com/layla.driscoll/posts/10151471311778534

  • jimdougherty

    Absolutely lovely, Layla! Maybe more people would cop to apprciating facebook if they had your perspective! 😀