No one is too familiar with the Facebook rabbit hole. The scenario is familiar.
It’s Tuesday night for me. I am unwinding in bed and scrolling mindlessly, but half an hour later I’m not closer to resting.
I will comment on a friend’s post, and Facebook will suggest friending a former classmate. But instead of that, I’ll scroll through the profile of my former classmate and learn all about their lives… until I find an article that leads me down a research spiral with a comment section that puts my brain on hyperdrive.
I feel drained the next morning.
Perhaps the blue light that lights up our faces while scrolling through our friends’ profiles and feeds is what disrupts our sleep cycle. Restedness can cause irritability and grogginess. It could also be something else.
Perhaps, even though we think we are online to stay connected we may be draining our social energy by not being able to interact in person.
Imagine if every reply, like, heart and response we send to someone online is actually reducing our energy for offline friendships.
Friendships can be made online, too.
Although our brains are able to tell the difference between online chat and in-person social interaction it is unlikely that we have developed more energy or a different set of energy for social media.
There is a limit to the number of people we can truly connect with and have the energy to help.
This means that we lose the energy to care for those we know offline by spending late-night hours online chatting with strangers.
R.I.M. says, “It seems that we can only manage about 150 friends and family members.” Dunbar, PhD is a professor at the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford. Healthline was informed by Dunbar that this limit is determined by the size of our brains.
Dunbar says that this is one of two factors that affect how many friends you have.
Dunbar and other researchers discovered this through brain scans. They found that friends offline and online are related to the size and function of our neocortex (the part of the brain that manages relationships).
Time is the second constraint.
GlobalWebIndex data shows that people spent more than 2 hours per day on social media messaging and social media in 2017. This is half an extra hour than 2012, and it will likely continue to rise as the years progress.
Dunbar states, “The strength of a relationship is determined by how much time you put into it.”
Dunbar’s 2016 study suggests that social media does not allow us to “break through” the barriers of offline relationships, and can help us build stronger social networks. However, Dunbar’s research shows that it doesn’t limit our natural ability for friendship.
We often have inner circles within our 150-limit network that need to be contacted regularly.
Consider your social circle. How many people are you close to? Dunbar concluded that every circle needs different levels of interaction and commitment.
He said that we should interact at least once per week with the inner core of five friends, once per month with the next layer, 15 best friends, and once per year with the main layer, 150 “just friends”.
Family members and close relatives are the exception, as they require less interaction to keep connections.
What happens if your friend count or number of followers is greater than 150? Dunbar claims it is a meaningless number.
He says, “We are fooling ourselves.” You can sign up as many people as you want, but it doesn’t make them friends. We are only signing up people we would consider friends in the offline world.
Dunbar states that social media is much like face-to-face. We give the majority of our interaction to the 15 closest people we know. About 40% of our attention goes to our 5 closest friends and 60% to our 15.
This is a tie-in to one of the oldest arguments for social media: While it might not increase the number of genuine friendships, these platforms can help us keep and strengthen our important connections.
Dunbar states that social media is a great way to keep old friends going.
Social media has many perks. One is the ability to share milestones with people that I don’t know. While I’m going about my daily business, I can become a voyeur for everything, from the most precious moments to the most mundane meals.
However, I am also constantly bombarded with heated commentary and headlines from strangers and connections. It’s not an option.
Engaging in comments can have negative consequences for your energy levels
Your energy and time spent on social media with strangers could be draining.
I saw social media as a way to bring people together after the election. I created what I hoped would be respectful political posts on women’s rights, climate change and other topics.
I was wrong when someone bombarded me with direct messages that were too uncomfortable, making my adrenaline soar. I was forced to reevaluate my next steps.
Are my friendships and I healthy when I engage in a response?
These last years have been, without doubt, the most exciting years of online engagement. URL conversations turned into IRL (in real-life) consequences.
We are often angry or pressured to speak out, especially when more familiar voices and faces join the opposing side. But at what price to ourselves and others?
M.J. Crockett is a neuroscientist who says that people may feel compelled online to vent their anger because they get positive feedback.
She studies how people react to moral outrage in her research.
on social media, and whether their empathy and compassion are different in person. While a single comment or like may be intended to affirm your opinions, they can also affect your offline relationships.
Facebook’s research team asked the same question: Are social media good for us? They found that while spending too much time is bad, actively engaging in social media was beneficial.
“Simply broadcasting status updates was not enough; people had the ability to interact one-on-1 with other members of their network,” David Ginsberg, researcher at Facebook, reports from their newsroom.
According to them, “sharing posts, messages and comments with close friends, as well as reminiscing over past interactions — can lead to improved well-being.”
What happens if these active interactions become sour? Even if you don’t end up unfriending someone because of a dispute, it may alter your perceptions about them.
Nick Bilton, a Vanity Fair writer, wrote that “Years back, a Facebook executive said to me that the main reason people don’t like each other on Facebook is because they disagree about an issue.”
“Who knows? If this continues, maybe we’ll end with people having only a few Facebook friends.”
Chamanth Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive, made headlines when he stated, “I think that we have created tools which are ripping apart how society works… [Social Media] is eroding core foundations of the way people behave between and among each other.”
Crockett says that there is evidence that people are more likely to punish others when they interact via a computer interface rather than when they interact face-to-face.
However, moral outrage can lead to negative reactions from others and people who might not be able to empathize with different views. You may wish to make offline interactions out of polarizing conversations.
Crocket mentioned that “there’s also research that shows hearing other peoples’ voices helps us counteract the dehumanization of political debates.”
Celeste Headlee is a great resource for those who are passionate about social and political posting and can find the resolution to continue using social media.
After years of experience as an interviewer on Georgia Public Radio’s daily talk program “On Second Thought”, she was inspired to write “We Need to Talk” and give her TED talk “10 Ways to Have a Better Discussion.”
Headlee advises that you think before you post. Headlee says, “Before you reply on social media to a post, make sure you have read it at least twice.” Do some research about the topic. This takes time so you are able to slow down and keep your thoughts in context.
Autumn Collier, a social worker based in Atlanta who helps patients with social media issues, is in agreement. She points out that political posting is a time-consuming activity with low return on investment.
It may seem empowering at first, but once you get into a ‘Did they respond?’ cycle, it becomes a back-and-forth conversation that is unhealthy. It’d be better to channel that energy towards a cause or write a letter to your local elected officials.
Sometimes it is better to just ignore the conversation. It is important to know when it is time to stop talking and move on. This will help you maintain your mental health and friendships in the future.
A lonely generation can be made of all the things that are not played.
It’s important to be able to communicate with friends again when it comes to keeping in touch.
Dunbar has acknowledged the positive effects of social networking, but there is increasing evidence of negative side effects, including increased anxiety and depression.
This could be due to the number and quality of people you are able to follow and interact with, whether they are friends or not.
“Social media is touted as increasing our connection to one another, but multiple studies have shown that people who spend more time using social media are more lonely than those who don’t,” Jean Twenge, author “iGen”: Why today’s super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, happier, and completely unprepared for adulthood.
Her article, “Have Smartphones Declined a Generation?” for The Atlantic made headlines earlier in the year. It caused many millennials to express moral outrage.
Twenge’s research has not been without merit. Twenge has done extensive research on the effects of social media usage on teens and found that the new generation spends less time with friends and is more active online.
This trend is correlated with teen depression, feelings of loneliness and disconnect.
Although none of these studies prove that there is causality, there is an underlying feeling of shared humanity. FOMO is the fear of missing out. It’s not just limited to one generation. Social media use can have the same effect even on older adults.
FOMO can lead to a vicious cycle where you compare yourself and do nothing. It can also lead to you living your “relationships” on social media. Instead of spending quality time with family, friends, and significant others, you are watching Snaps and stories of others with their families and friends.
Instead of engaging in hobbies that bring you joy, you are watching others do things you wish you could. Social media “hanging out” can lead to neglecting friendships in all circles.
Dunbar’s study is still relevant. He says that if we don’t interact with our favourite people often, “the quality and quantity of our friendships decreases inexorably & precipitously.” “After a few months, they will be gone and have moved on to the next level.”
Social media is an exciting new world that still requires rules
Star Trek’s opening episode of “Star Trek” is famously titled “Space: the final frontier.” While many people think of it as the galaxy and stars beyond the sun, it could also refer the internet.
The World Wide Web is unlimited in storage, and like the universe, there are no boundaries or edges. The internet may not have a limit, but our energy, bodies and minds can still tap into it.
Larissa Pham wrote in a viral Twitter: “This AM my therapist reminded us that we aren’t made to process suffering on this scale, and now i Pass it on 2 U” — the tweet has been liked over 100,000 times and retweeted over 30,000 times.
The world is intense, and it’s even more so if you’re constantly online. Instead of reading just one headline per day, an average feed will grab our attention with multiple stories, from earthquakes to healthy dogs to personal accounts.
Many of these articles are written to stimulate our emotions and keep us scrolling and clicking. It doesn’t mean you have to be a part of it all.
Headlee reminds us that being connected to social media and your phone is not good for your mental or physical health. Treat it as you would treat candy or french fries. Don’t overindulge. Social media is a double-edged weapon.
Using your smartphone to communicate with others can drain your energy. Social media is not the best way to combat boredom, anxiety, and loneliness. Your favorite people will always be there for you.
Research has shown that friendships are essential for your health. In particular, close friendships are associated with better functioning, especially as we age.
Recent cross-sectional research of more than 270,000 adults revealed that friendships were associated with higher rates of chronic illness. Don’t keep your friends apart, lock your phone and DMs.
Dunbar states that friends are there to offer support when we’re in distress. “No matter how supportive someone is on Facebook or Skype, it is having someone to cry on that really makes a difference in our ability to cope.”