A Generation of Guinea-Pigs in the Facebook Experiment (first published in Epigram)

Social media is a well- established part of our daily lives, yet our obsession with it remains a novel phenomenon which we are only just getting to grips with. It forms part of our modern-day fixation with technology; we live in an age in which we text while we’re at the dinner table and  feel like a part of us is missing if we do not have our phones on us at all times. Twitter, Snapchat, Vine and YouTube all play a part in this, but none of these things have dominated our lives to quite the same extent as Facebook.
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Facebook not only reflects our desire to not miss out on what others are doing, it also reflects our need to let others know that we are not missing out on the good times ourselves. A recent study titled ‘Why do people use Facebook?’ from researchers at Boston University hits the nail on the head, claiming that we use Facebook for two main reasons: our need to belong and our need for self-presentation. But has this gone too far?
Around 28% of us check Facebook on our phones before getting out of bed. With a spoon in one hand and our news feed in the other, we like, share and comment whilst eating breakfast. We comment on photos on our way to lectures and we spend the rest of the day liking witty posts from our friends, who are also perpetually logged in to Facebook.  We place enormous importance on staying connected with friends and family, on remaining in the loop 24/7. It has got to the point where you  will spend ten or fifteen minutes scrolling through the news feed, only to wonder at the end of it all, ‘what have I just learnt?’ It seems we live in an increasingly narcissistic society, our constant connection to Facebook being fuelled by our need to project an idealised image of ourselves onto this virtual platform. We feel the need to share our every experience with our ‘friends’ online, a desire for recognition, acceptance, and constant feedback on our lives from the online community. Over 140 billion photos have already been uploaded to Facebook and the 2012 Cisco Connected World Technology Report found that 41% of 18-30 year olds update their Facebook at least once a day. We upload pictures and present them as trophies, to constantly inform others of our whereabouts and emotions, to prove our attendance at sporting events or gigs; to say ‘I was there’.
Facebook has become a platform for projecting an online identity, as have the likes of Twitter and Instagram. It doesn’t matter if the image that we put forward is not an accurate reflection of our life or our personality, it just has to reflect the person we would like other people to see us as. It all forms part of our ongoing search for social approval. Whilst researching the topic, I stumbled upon a WikiHow page  dedicated to giving advice on ‘How to get a lot of Facebook likes’ and various websites from which you can buy ‘likes’. Getting that extra ‘like’ and having more ‘friends’ than others seem to mean everything to some of our generation, who use it as a self-esteem boosting method. We have reached new levels of vanity but what is so worrying is that this vanity often conceals deep-rooted insecurities.
Facebook is just a part of the world we live in, and for all the faults that it highlights, it is tempting to say ‘what’s the harm?’ Many argue that this creation of virtual friendships comes at the expense of our social skills, whilst others believe that it enhances them; to be honest, no one really knows. Nevertheless, how we approach this issue as we grow up will be of genuine importance. We are the Facebook generation and so we are the guinea pigs in this experiment. Are our children going to be able to look us up online and find pictures of their parents vomiting at parties and hooking up at nightclubs? For the sake of all of us, I really hope they will not.
I will leave you with the wise words of Baroness Greenfield, former director of the Royal Institution, ‘Think of the implications for society if people worry more about what other people think about them than what they think about themselves.’ Something to mull over next time you are sat at the table, spoon in one hand and news feed in the other.
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