Some people who don’t do Facebook take the high ground about it, letting the Facebook philistines among us know that they prefer their friends the old-fashioned way, and that they are far too busy for such nonsense.
Then there’s the sky is falling! panic surrounding social networking, from people who believe that society is substituting virtual friendships for real world friendships, and that the Internet is isolating us.
That’s fine, believe what you want and do as you please. If I don’t see you on Facebook, I’m sure I’ll run into you someplace else. I do, in fact, leave the house sometimes.
But you can’t convince me that Facebook is the beginning of the end of civilization, and new research by The Pew Internet & American Life Project seems to confirm my faith in the Facebook scene. This project is an initiative of the nonprofit Pew Research Center, which “ provides information on the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America and the world.” The research was conducted via telephone interviews of 2,255 adults, 18 and older.
The research unearthed lots of interesting tidbits about people who use the Internet, social networking, and particularly Facebook. For example, it finds that Facebook users have more close relationships, more of a support network, and they’re more politically engaged. In addition:
…only 7% of Facebook friends are people users have never met in person, and only 3% are people who have met only one time.
(Of course, people probably were just guesstimating the answer to that question, so maybe the numbers really are higher. )
All interesting and even surprising. But here’s the finding that really got me thinking:
We asked people if they felt “that most people can be trusted.” When we used regression analysis to control for demographic factors, we found that the typical internet user is more than twice as likely as others to feel that people can be trusted. Further, we found that Facebook users are even more likely to be trusting. We used regression analysis to control for other factors and found that a Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day is 43% more likely than other internet users and more than three times as likely as non-internet users to feel that most people can be trusted.
Huh. How ‘bout that?
One interpretation is that trustful people are more likely to trust new technology. If you believe people are essentially good, you won’t fear getting tangled up in some sort of evil web of virtual social networking badness.
But then there’s the finding about how people who check Facebook many times a day (who, me?) are much more likely than non-Internet users to be trusting.
Correlation isn’t causation. Let’s get that out of the way.
But let’s speculate.
People who mock Facebook make much of the triviality and narcissism of status lines. Of course, if the status lines of your friends are relentlessly boring and self-centered, maybe you need more interesting friends.
But I find the Facebook news feed delightfully cozy. I like reading about the ups and downs, the successes and frustrations, the interests and aggravations, and even, occasionally, the lunches of my Facebook friends. Sometimes friends reach out for reassurance, sometimes they need a reality check, sometimes they need an attagirl or attaboy. I like seeing what links they choose to post and reading their thoughts on links I post.
Despite the computer mediation, the Facebook news stream documents our shared humanity. It’s hard to mistrust people who eat tuna sandwiches and visit their mom in the hospital and buy new shoes and lose jobs and find jobs and have bad dates and get head colds and tell knock-knock jokes and recommend movies and go to the beach and start nursing school and post photos of their dogs and and solicit book recommendations and take dance lessons and…you get the picture.
Facebook is new technology, but it’s driven by everyday people. And the more I see of people, the more I trust them. (With the exception of politicians, which is a real pity and another story.)
I believe that as long as you keep a grip on reality, trusting other people is good. Trust opens us up for a rich experience in life. Sure, there are bad guys out there. Liars and narcissists and bullies and bigots. In Facebookland, I hide people when they rub me the wrong way one time too many, I unfriend them if they strike me as malevolent in any way. Sometimes I get sick of everyone and check out of Facebook altogether for a day or two.
But for the most part, I like and trust my Facebook friends. They’re just people, and they prove it to me every day, one post at a time.
Photo by Dan Taylor via Flickr (Creative Commons).