A Case Study of Facebook Use

Dude and Daffodils

Why I took a break from Facebook and what happened next.

Facebook doesn’t make any direct promises, but at first “scroll” the social media site has potential to help people stay connected. I was intrigued by Facebook when a clever friend told me to think of it as an online cocktail party. The analogy being that Facebook is a space where you mix and mingle with different people you know, keep it light, and basically put your best foot forward with good news.

Once I got the analogy I really started to have fun with it . . . until it wasn’t fun anymore. Sometimes a hobby can become a bad habit, and so I decided to do a case study.  In Psychology, we have case studies where the behavior of one subject (person) is closely observed. Here is my case study of one, the one being me. First I observed changes in my behavior that motivated me to take a Facebook break.

Baseline:

Technology and Time Management

In my world, technology was advancing at a rate far exceeding my time management skills. Sitting down for a quiet minute to “see what my friends are doing” on Facebook quickly became a lost thirty minutes . . . I didn’t time it but I need to confess that this is a gross under estimate.

Dr. Karla Murdock is a leading technology and health researcher who is highlighting growing evidence that night time cellphone use results in sleep problems and poor quality of sleep. Poor sleep then leads to less productivity during the day.  Most of my social media use was at night and I noticed that it kept pushing back my bedtime. Before my Facebook fast I even had a dream where I was “scrolling through” the images. Ouch!

Watching Kittens while ignoring my dog

In November, many of my Facebook friends began posting pictures and videos of puppies and kittens. I assume this shift was a valiant attempt to cheer up the Facebook feed during a stressful election cycle. At one point I looked up to share a particularly darling kitten video to my husband and noticed that my dog “Dude” had his head on my lap.  Dude was looking at me with incredible devotion and was way cuter and softer than the kitten on the video (I have allergies). He didn’t judge me, but I wouldn’t blame him if he did.

The American Psychological Association conducts a survey every year on “stress in America.” In January 2017 fifty nine percent of Republicans and seventy six percent of Democrats reported that the future of the nation was a significant source of stress for them. I noticed more tension and anxiety within myself interacting on Facebook during and after the election. Fake news versus real news posts added to the confusion.

Plugged in but feeling Dis-connected

On my personal Facebook account, I have friends from conferences, work, church, and professional associations (psychology and writing). There are friends from past and present neighbors, some of the kids of my friends, and even friends of my kids! At last count, I had 326 friends which feels like a very big party. In the beginning, I enjoyed catching up with others and their good news and sharing about my life. I felt updated, but not necessarily closer to my friends with this format. There was so much information on my Facebook feed I frequently forgot things that I read. It also seemed that conversation among my friends was being influenced by what we posted, or what others had posted. I observed myself “skimming the surface” in conversations off line as a reaction to the Facebook posts that I remembered.

Face to face relationships have significant emotional benefits: Improved immunity, increased sense of belonging and purpose, stress management support, and reduced symptoms of depression. For me, I experience more investment and reciprocity off line than online, and the bottom line was I couldn’t keep up.

So I took a break.  For 30 days.

What Happened Next:

My Facebook abstinence was scary at first. I chose to remove the app because my habit was ingrained to the point that my thumb naturally “clicked” when I picked up my phone. I asked friends and family to contact me through alternative sources (calling, text, email, and snail mail) and they did! I did not have as frequent contact, but the connection was more enjoyable to me overall. Getting mail was especially fun!

I am a better researcher than a scientist so I apologize for the lack of hard data in my case study. But here is my impression of behavioral change in the subject based on calendar notations and Fitbit feedback .

During my break from Facebook there was an increase in:

  • Sleep
  • Writing
  • Brunching
  • Dog walking (possibly dog petting also)
  • Conversation
  • Reading

Summary:

When I said no to Facebook for 30 days I said yes more frequently to activities that typically decrease my stress and increase my daily gratitude. My subjective opinion is that I felt less anxious, happier, and more connected when I discontinued my Facebook use.

Conclusion:

This case study gives me good information to consider for my personal self-understanding, but it is limited in its generalization to other people. What works for me may not apply to you.

What about you? Are you feeling the gain or the strain of Facebook? Take some time to monitor your online behavior to see if you need to make changes.

In conclusion, the side effects of Facebook outweighed the benefits for me. Until I figure out a way to balance this form of social media with other activities, I am taking an extended break from Facebook.

I just can’t “like” it for now.