An American Editor

August 30, 2013

Worth Noting: Are You Less Satisfied?

Are you less satisfied with life than you think you should be? The answer as to why you are and I am not may well surprise you.

The culprit may be Facebook!

How much time do you spend on Facebook?

Past researchers found a link between Facebook use and jealousy, social tension, social isolation, and depression, but those studies were cross-sectional, making them unreliable for drawing broad conclusions. Those studies may have confused correlation with causation: It is equally possible that those spending more time on Facebook are generally more prone to negative emotions than those who spend less time as it is that the cause of the negative emotions was spending time on Facebook.

In an intriguing study published August 14, 2013, researchers from the psychology departments at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and University of Leuven (Belgium) found that the more time one spends on Facebook, the less satisfied one is with life (see Kross E, Veduyn P, Demiralp E, Park J, Lee DS, et al.  Facebook use predicts declines in subjective well-being in young adults. PLoS ONE 2013;8(8):e69841). From the Abstract:

Over 500 million people interact daily with Facebook. Yet, whether Facebook use influences subjective well-being over time is unknown. We addressed this issue using experience-sampling, the most reliable method for measuring in-vivo behavior and psychological experience. We text-messaged people five times per day for two-weeks to examine how Facebook use influences the two components of subjective well-being: how people feel moment-to-moment and how satisfied they are with their lives. Our results indicate that Facebook use predicts negative shifts on both of these variables over time. The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them; the more they used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time. Interacting with other people “directly” did not predict these negative outcomes. They were also not moderated by the size of people’s Facebook networks, their perceived supportiveness, motivation for using Facebook, gender, loneliness, self-esteem, or depression. On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it.

Another study was conducted by social science researchers from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Germany) and Technische Universität Darmstadt (Germany), which was presented at a social science conference in February-March 2013 (see “Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction?”), and which found that Facebook aroused envy of others in users, leading to dissatisfaction. From the Abstract:

The wealth of social information presented on Facebook is astounding. While these affordances allow users to keep up-to-date, they also produce a basis for social comparison and envy on an unprecedented scale. Even though envy may endanger users’ life satisfaction and lead to platform avoidance, no study exists uncovering this dynamics. To close this gap, we build on responses of 584 Facebook users collected as part of two independent studies. In study 1, we explore the scale, scope, and nature of envy incidents triggered by Facebook. In study 2, the role of envy feelings is examined as a mediator between intensity of passive following on Facebook and users’ life satisfaction. Confirming full mediation, we demonstrate that passive following exacerbates envy feelings, which decrease life satisfaction. From a provider’s perspective, our findings signal that users frequently perceive Facebook as a stressful environment, which may, in the long-run, endanger platform sustainability.

According to both of these 2013 studies, Facebook has a negative effect on the emotional well-being of the young adults who were studied and surveyed. Unanswered, of course, is whether older folk who are frequent users of Facebook fare better than the young adults studied. (I wonder what the researchers’ results would be should they study LinkedIn users.)

Perhaps it is time to kickback, relax, enjoy a cup of tea, say goodbye to Facebook, and do more face-to-face social interacting. I can only conclude that my satisfaction with life is enhanced because I am not a Facebook user. Perhaps that accounts for my generally upbeat disposition :).

October 5, 2011

Privacy in the World of Silk

One of the things I dislike most about Facebook, and a primary reason why I am not on Facebook, is the necessity to check privacy settings nearly hourly. Even then, I’m not convinced that Facebook is really adhering to any policy that affords users even a modicum of privacy.

That disease of controlling information keeps spreading. Now with Amazon’s new Silk browser, which is part and parcel of the new Kindle Fire, the stakes have perhaps gotten higher. This may well be the first salvo in the conversion of Kindles from local control by the user to remote control by Amazon. I expect the day will come when to use an Amazon device, the device’s wi-fi/3G will have to be on.

Silk, which is the Amazon-designed Internet browser that the Fire tablet uses, may have serious security and privacy issues. Silk pipes the user’s online access — and cloud access — through Amazon’s servers. There is no way to access the Internet without going through Amazon. This gives Amazon the capability to follow user Web clicks, buying patterns, and media habits.

With this capability, Amazon now has what every retailer lusts after: knowledge that cannot be gotten any other way. Silk and Amazon servers will enable Amazon to watch where you shop and what prices you are offered.

I know that many Amazon fans think they will welcome this capability because it may well mean lower Amazon prices or an instant special offer from Amazon to beat a competitor’s price just for you. But is that what we really want? Do we really want Big Brother watching our every online move?

Our response appears to be a generational one. The younger the user, the less concerned about privacy the user is. This has become evident by who is exposing what on places like Facebook. Many people of my generation are aghast at the willingness of younger people to expose everything online. Younger users appear not to be overly worried about who will see their escapades or the ramifications their actions.

The lack of privacy seems to expand daily. Is there a line that cannot be crossed with impunity? By forcing users to the cloud, Amazon is saying there is no privacy line that cannot be crossed. I keep seeing visions of Minority Report with Amazon and Facebook in the role of the precogs except that unlike the precogs, their role is not for the social good.

I admit that until Amazon starts gathering the data and begins using it, we do not know how far Amazon will go or whether Amazon will misuse the data collected. Amazon fans will jump on this to downplay privacy concerns.

But the real issue isn’t whether Amazon will misuse the data; rather, should Amazon be collecting the data in the first place? Why is it that we will protest warrantless searches and seizures by the people we hire to protect us from evil, but not a similar, if not same, disregard for our privacy by outfits like Amazon and Facebook? I find it troubling that we think we are able to create a distinction that is meaningful to us between the two. Corporations are as ruthless in the pursuit of power and money as are the politicians and police forces we hire to safeguard us.

Sadly, it is nearly impossible to teach someone the value of privacy until they have been the victim of a privacy abuse. Experience is the only acceptable teacher. But now that we are beginning to see corporations creating methods of stripping our privacy bare, perhaps we should think more about what limits there should be. The longer we permit ourselves to be stripped, the more difficult it will become to correct course.

And that is the problem with Amazon’s new Kindle Fire and its Silk browser: The process of privacy intrusion will be slow, deliberate, and evolutionary. By the time we recognize how invasive the process is, we may no longer be able to do anything about it. Isn’t that the case with Facebook? Will that be true, too, of Amazon? No matter how much we like the bargains and service Amazon provides, we do need to step back and consider the ramifications of Amazon’s moving millions of people to its cloud, enabling it to data harvest without impediment.

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: