Does Facebook Stress You Out?
By Becky Lang
I was already skeptical when Path, the somewhat creepy photo-based social networking system, capitalized on the idea that your intimate circle should contain no more than 50 friends and your larger circle just 150 acquaintances. Of course I was thrilled today when even more social networking poo-pooing started happening. The U.K. Telegraph’s story “Popular Facebook Users Feel More Stress” is spreading the nets today, surely making technophobes everywhere shudder for the social lives of youngsters on Facebook.
The story says that the average student has about 75 friends on Facebook, and ones that have a large circle of 177 tend to get more stressed because they feel the urge to “perform” for such a large crowd. First of all, is 75 really the average amount of friends people have? That seems suspiciously low to me. Most people I know have about 600 friends. Maybe that’s because I live in the city, but my first reaction is that people with 75 Facebook friends need to get out more.
But that’s not the point. I think these studies are all missing out on a few important factors that are fairly obvious:
1. Not all your Facebook friends are your actual friends. People don’t just use Facebook to plan sleepovers. I was an arts journalist in college, and I had at least 100 contacts on Facebook that simply existed to make my job easier. It helped to know faces in the art, music, foodie scene, and was a godsend at helping me remember last names.
2. Social networking is just that – networking. Having a large audience gives you exponential chances of spreading whatever message it is that you want to spread. For every new friend, you gain a secondary audience, who might soon become friends themselves, bringing in more secondary audiences. People might feel stressed out at the urge to “perform” for such a large, growing circle of friends, but the urge to perform is probably more a symptom of the recession. When jobs are hard to come by, people try harder and harder to network and impress a large circle of people.
3. Our friendships are more in flux than they used to be. People used to hang out with their neighbors, even if they didn’t like them, because, well, they were there. As the book “Cognitive Surplus” pointed out, people now don’t form bonds just over location, but over interests. As you grow older, your interests change and the Internet and social networking help you continually find new friends who share those changing interests. I might constantly have about 50 friends that I consider my closest friends, but that group changes every couple years. I feel like these studies are missing a dimension, not accounting for time. Luckily, social networking makes it a lot easier to stay in touch with people who have fallen out of your “50,” so over time you can rekindle your friendships if needed.
Basically, I feel like I owe a lot to Facebook. Most of my 50 closest relationships are people I deepened a connection with on Facebook. Most of them I met in person first, but if Facebook didn’t exist, they might not be my roommates, friends, boyfriend or co-worker right now.
What do you think?
Does Facebook stress you out?