– Graeme Gordon, staff
Most of us are part of the 845 million active users that make up the worldwide phenomenon that is known as Facebook. We use the site for a range of different activities: staying connected with friends, stalking exes and acquaintances, bragging about our accomplishments, posting pictures of weekend parties, playing mindless games, just to name a few. Yet, for all the great (or pathetic) things that have come from the inception of Facebook in 2004—uniting rebellion in the Arab Spring, bringing us closer together—there are some glaring negative side-effects that have also come from the social networking giant.
Addiction may be the primary negative side-effect associated with Facebook. In lecture halls and in the library, one can see students sucked in by the allure of the website instead of focusing their attention to class or to studying. Studies showing a correlation between Facebook and addiction, which can eventually lead to depression, are still in their infancy because there has not been enough time for more extensive research to be done in the relatively short time period that Facebook has existed.
A recent preliminary study on the issue was conducted at the University of Florida. The study surveyed over 300 undergraduate students that use Facebook on a regular basis to see if over-use had negative effects on individuals’ well-being. Andrea Spraggins, a former PhD student, wrote her dissertation on the study and came to the following conclusions: “…our study found evidence for a link between problematic use and well-being. Increased symptoms of problematic use were associated with decreased self-esteem, happiness, satisfaction with life, and increased depression and loneliness.” Although just one of a few studies of its kind, it sets an alarming precedence.
Alexei Varakin, a fourth year psychology student at WLU Brantford, agrees that the social networking site can be addictive. “I do check it every few hours. I do spend about half-an-hour a day on it,” admits Varakin.
Although Varakin’s use is minor, he has noticed others who are much more obsessed: “There are some people [I know] who spend hours on it, looking at every photo, going through everybody’s profile, commenting on everything. I know a lot of people who are constantly posting videos every couple of hours. I guess it’s a way for them to feel included in that world.”
Dr. Sharma, a psychiatrist practicing in Brantford and the contracted psychiatrist for Health Services, says he does not know much about the Facebook phenomenon but he does deal with addiction. Dr. Sharma believes that the word addiction is misunderstood outside the medical profession because it is over-used and not clearly defined, but he said he could see the medical definition being expanded to include the overuse of internet in the future.
“I’ve had people complaining that they are spending a lot of hours on the computer, for various reasons,” says Dr. Sharma. “If you look at the definition of addiction…it’s an activity, which the person recognizes is harmful to them, and despite recognizing that it is harmful to them, they continue with the same behavior over and over again. It has to lead to some sort of social, or occupational, or academic impairment [under the psychological definition].”
Academic impairment is a category many of us undergraduate students fall under to some degree. Facebook becomes just another procrastination tool for the student avoiding schoolwork. It has become especially easy in this day and age to put off work with social sites like Tumblr, Pinterest and Facebook providing new content by the second. This constant distraction can take a real toll on the academic achievements of those who choose to focus on the websites over school.
On a campus where contemporary issues are at the forefront of our studies, it will be interesting to see what consequences and ramifications sociologists and psychologists will learn about Facebook as time goes on.