For every Facebook article extolling its virtues, there’s another that warns of its dire social consequences. Do we feel validated by our social media friends, or devastated by them? Does Facebook increase our loneliness, or help us feel connected? The key to determining whether you’re on-line too much or need more face-time is to consider how you use social media, and how you experience the consequences.
Researchers studying Facebook use have identified a number of things you need to look out for as you evaluate your virtual experience.
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• What’s your reaction to the social comparisons? We compare ourselves to others all the time on every possible dimension. Physical appearance, popularity, success and wealth are some that come to mind when you think about the information you see on Facebook. Do I have as many friends? Is my job as good? How does my family stack up? Do I look as young, pretty or put-together?
Some people are relatively immune to these comparisons. If you’re the kind of person that sees posts and feels bad, no matter how successful you felt five minutes ago, you don’t want to be spending too much time on social media. Have a little self-compassion.
While you get similar information in face-time, you also get more of the story. Yes, the job looks great on-line, but your friend tells you at lunch she’s miserable there. The three kids look terribly cute in the profile pic, but when you spend the day with them you’re happy to be going back to your high-power job and a little quiet time at home with your pooch.
• Does it make you feel lonely or connected? Sometimes when we feel lonely we get on-line to get that connected feeling. If it works for you, great. But if getting on-line and seeing all the exciting things your “friends” are doing makes you feel even more alone, boring and drab, then it’s not for you.
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Many people feel very connected and just get on-line to see what people are up to. If it feels good to know, great. But if finding out makes you feel like you’re really not as connected as you thought, as in, “Why wasn’t I invited to that?” it’s not a good idea.
Seeing what people are doing can be a motivator to get you out and doing things, and that would be wonderful. It’s also a way to connect, make plans and join in with things that are going on, also wonderful. When you leave the computer feeling better than when you signed on, you know you’re benefitting from your virtual community.