The Hard Facts: Shocker! Stalking Can Be Bad For You

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“A study published last month in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking found that the more time people spent on Facebook, the happier they perceived their friends to be and the sadder they felt as a consequence.” (“Don’t Tell Me, I Don’t Want To Know” ; New York Times 2/12/2012)

I have admitted here to hours spent Facebook stalking. I’ll poke through online albums, checking out people’s pregnancy photos (“She’s the size of a large jicama! An ear of corn! A chinese cabbage!”), baby photos, vacation photos, party photos. I’ll assess who’s still BFF with whom, who broke up with who, etc. All of it. I’m totally guilty.

And while I get a weird buzz from mindlessly clicking though picture after picture, there is that moment when you think, “Wait, why didn’t I have 45 people at my birthday party? Should I, too, be zip lining through Costa Rica? How can I get a picture with Barack Obama???”

In this interesting article in the New York Times, Pamela Paul explains all the reasons why we are being bombarded with too much information about our friends these days. “Unless you are my best friend or my husband, I don’t need to know the macabre symptoms of your gastrointestinal virus. I don’t need to know about how much candy anyone, other than me, has eaten,” she writes. “As for my ex-boyfriend, I don’t need to hear about his wife’s ability to Zumba.”

But what struck me most was this quote from psychologist Sherry Turkle: “People pay a psychological price for seeing information about former friends and spouses and colleagues that they really shouldn’t be seeing.” It speaks to the idea that you probably shouldn’t know that your co-worker got wasted last Saturday, or see your ex-boyfriend cuddling with his new love. It’s kind of creepy, and  totally unnecessary. Facebook messes with your head, and the worst part, Turkle says, is that “it makes people feel bad because they know they shouldn’t look at this stuff — but they can’t help it!”

It speaks to the very loose definition of friendship that comes with Facebook. I want to see the wedding pics of my friends, but not those of my “friends.” And yet I keep looking. It’s not just a time suck. It makes me feel less fit, when compared with an old sorority sister’s marathon photos or a former classmates flying crow. Or less fashionable (see: photos of home-made adorable scarves or dresses I could never pull off). Or just less fabulous (weddings in Jamaica! Great seats at the Super Bowl!)

No surprise: That Facebook, it’s a blessing and a curse

Do you ever feel worse about yourself after perusing others’ lives on The ‘Book? Do you, too, find yourself looking through photo albums when you know you probably shouldn’t?

Does your book club want to read MWF Seeking BFFCheck out the discussion guide for questions. And let me know if you’d like to do an author chat via Skype!


Filed under The Search

13 responses to “The Hard Facts: Shocker! Stalking Can Be Bad For You

  1. I used to be a huge facebook stalker, but it was draining me. It got to the point where I got nervous when I was about to go on facebook thinking: “Damn, what I’m I going to have to worry about now, what am I not doing, why am I not as pretty.” I knew, every time I logged in, that I was about to ruin my day. I got fed up and as part of my happiness project I decided to delete everyone that I hadn’t talked to in over two years, hide everyone else but the people I really care about from my news feed, and make my privacy policy so that I only share personal information with close friends and family. The funny thing is that some people get offended if you put them on limited profile! But, not surprisingly, I am much happier. Does it worry me that I can’t be happy that some people are happy/happier? A little, but all I was doing was nurturing that feeling so now I am only in close contact with people for whom I want not but happiness. And…I use my time more productively haha.

  2. rs

    Hey I am currently reading your book. Love it. I just actually started my own blog..thanks to you. Funny how I comment on the post about you not wanting to be a “facebook stalker” anymore..and here I am..basically stalking you :/ Not really I swear. Anyway.. Just wanted to give you the FYI on how much I am loving your book and I definitely get what you mean with Facebook. I’ve had several of those private messages starting with “hey how are you. Did you block me from seeing your page?” ps.. if you do check out my blog, dont get turned off by the basics of the design. I’m doing all this at work so I cant put my full potential at it. =/

  3. Oh my gosh, this is so TRUE! I’ve actually written on this twice, on why Facebook and I are not friends:

    and on finding security when you feel insecure thanks to seeing your friends hanging out without you on twitter:

    I think insecurity is already a big problem, and since social networking is such a new thing, the impact it had on or self-image and psyche has only just begun to be explored. Thanks for the article!

  4. Usually I just go on and off for a reason/ 10 minutes or so but when I do mindlessly surf, I definitely get into that envy mode, and it’s mostly about friendships, like why are x and y friends only commenting on each other’s posts and not on mine. That kind of thing.

    ugh, I hate it.

    I have a post in drafts about this very thing actually – I will try to post on Friday 🙂

  5. Guilty!

    But everything gets old at some point. Comparison is the root of all unhappiness, or some such thing. It sort of ran its course, and now I just really like Facebook, because I have relatives and friends in faraway places and can keep in touch with photos and updates, etc.

  6. It seems just as easy to find bad things about facebook than good things. Here is a question – is there anyone that you are actually better friends with because you interact with them on facebook, than you would be without it? I don’t think so. I think to actually be friends you need to get together. It fools you into thinking you have lots of friends, and then you resent it secretly because it isn’t actually real.

  7. omg! Totally relevant to me right now! Wish I hadn’t seen my ex get engaged last month… because we all know it’s a competition, right?! And I’m SINGLE. Ugh. Ruined my whole month…

  8. i don’t feel worse about myself, per se, but i feel bad about missing out on certain facets of someone’s life. i’ll lose touch with someone for a while and then see that they had a baby ages ago or i missed out on the fact that they got married. there’s also people i never hear from at all but can see what is going on with them on fb and i feel bad about missing out on those parts of their lives, even though it’s not like they were sharing with me to begin with.

  9. Anonymous

    I really found this post interesting…I am not on FB, and when I get asked ” Are you on FB?”..and I say “No”..I have actually had people get very defensive of being on Fb…when i explain why we have choosen not to have a FB page, I nearly always get a negative reaction…it almost feels like someone defending a guilty habit, Or the other most common reaction, I get is “O’ yeah we have a page but never check it”…
    I do not tell people this when asked about FB but, my husband and I definately believe “Don’t go digging up the past, all you get is dirty”…if you are not in my current life, I hope you are well, but there is a reasonwe are not in contact…and whatever the reason, good/or bad…it is ok…

  10. Yes, and yes. I’m so guilty of this and I *know* that it makes me feel badly when I do it, but I can’t help myself sometimes. Oy.

    I’ll stop. Tomorrow. Probably.

    (Great Post!)

  11. So true! I find myself mindlessly flipping through albums of friends of friends particularly when I’ve had a bad day or I’m upset about something. It’s crazy how virtual strangers can impact our moods. I’m making an effort to curb the mindless surfing and do something in real life instead!

  12. I hate it when people comment on everyone else post and not on mine. I hate it when i sit there online for the chat and not one person PM’s me. I see all others having comments on their posts. Only time people talk to me on there is if I start it. Why can someone not start the conversation with me? Is that they hate that I no longer live where all my friends are? Even family is pretty much the same. But here I am still on facebook, trying to keep in touch with friends and family.

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