Twenty-One Reasons For Facebook Addiction
By Dr. Brent Conrad
Clinical Psychologist for TechAddiction
As explained in a previous article in this series, Facebook Addiction is not a recognized clinical disorder. Hundreds of millions of people use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, plan events, receive news, and play games.
For most, Facebook is a useful and enjoyable way of interacting with others online. However, some users claim to be addicted or obsessed with Facebook and have difficulty logging off even after they have been on for hours.
What is it about Facebook that makes it potentially addictive? Below, TechAddiction provides a list of possible reasons for Facebook Addiction. As you read though the explanations, keep in mind of course that not every point applies to every Facebook user. However, if you have a Facebook account you will likely find that at least a few apply to you.
Reasons for Facebook Addiction
1) Minimal Effort Catch-Up
The format of Facebook allows users to catch up with friends and family with, let's face it, minimal effort. Posts are usually quite short (both to make and to read). One quick status update that goes out to all your friends, a short comment on a picture, or a quick "like" and you are done. Relationships that previously would have naturally died can be kept alive (sometimes on life support) on Facebook.
2) Lets Us Share Information With Many People Simultaneously
Related to the above point, Facebook allows users to share personal information with others more efficiently and with potentially better "net etiquette" than other forms of online communication. For example, rather than spam the email inbox of everyone you know with vacation pictures, the same photos can be posted on Facebook for friends to view if they choose to.
3) Appeals To The Info Junkie In All Of Us
As humans, we have an inborn and insatiable desire for knowledge and information - an infinite curiosity about the world around us. From the day we are born until the day we die, we are constantly looking for and acquiring new information. Facebook Addiction is partially driven by this never-ending desire for more information. Of course, this reasoning also applies to the appeal of the internet in general, but Facebook goes one step further by presenting personally relevant information in an easy to access central portal (i.e., your Facebook homepage). Friends, events, music, games, news, weather, politics, science, work, career...whatever you are interested in is right there waiting for you.
4) Feeds Our Naturally Voyeuristic Natures
In addition to our need for information about the world, an even stronger human desire is the need for information about other people. Humans are undeniably social animals and are natural voyeurs - not in the sexual sense (although this does happen), but in that we are extremely curious about what others are doing and saying. Facebook has made information about others public that would typically be kept private. In a sense, this allows friends to "spy" on friends and to gain information that they would otherwise not be privy to. Have you ever found yourself snooping around (sometimes referred to as "Facebook Stalking") on a friend's page to see what they were doing on a particular day, who they were with, who said what about him or her, or who they are friends with? Yes, I thought so. The feeding of our innate voyeurism is yet another explanation for Facebook Addiction.
5) A Forum For Our Egos
Although we may not like to admit it, one of our favorite topics of conversation is...ourselves. This is not to imply that we are all egotistical narcissists, but that there is a clear human need for self-expression - and especially self-expression followed by feedback from others. Facebook provides this forum for our egos and we can't seem to get enough of it. The small effort of posting a picture can provide a large investment return in the form of comments, or even better, compliments. This system of reinforcement is very seductive and may help to explain why some people become addicted to Facebook.
6) Fond Memories...In Retrospect
One of the initial selling points or "hooks" of Facebook is the possibility of reconnecting with old friends - perhaps even dating back to high school. This factor may play more of a role in initially establishing a Facebook habit than in maintaining an addiction. The reason? After adding everyone you knew from high school, you often remember why you were not friends to begin with! Of course, there are exceptions to this rule.
7) Makes Us Feel Understood
One of the consequences of sharing personal information with others is (surprise) they will learn about us and understand us better (if we are honest about the information we share). Opening up and sharing personally information is of course, a pathway to more meaningful interpersonal relationships - just ask any relationship counselor! Being understood is very reinforcing as it makes us feel connected with others on a deeper level. To call being understood "addicting" is perhaps unfair. However, being understood on Facebook is likely not as meaningful or as rewarding as being understood when it primarily develops from in-person contact. Also, depending on what information you share and who you share it with, being understood isn't always desirable! Still, a desire to have others understand us (regardless of how it happens) may contribute to Facebook Addiction.
8) Family Contact
Without question, one of the most appealing aspects of Facebook is how easy it makes staying in touch with family. Even family members living on opposite sides of the world can quickly chat with or receive updates from each other. Rather than drifting apart, Facebook truly does make it easier to stay connected to those we care about. When used to supplement (not replace) other forms of communication Facebook is definitely a great tool for families - and is just one reason why simply "quitting Facebook" is not an easy option for those who may be addicted.
9) My Mood Booster
Some Facebook users report that they use it to feel better when they are depressed, stressed, or anxious. The boost in mood may come from the previously discussed points of feeling more connected, understood, and important to others. When used only occasionally as an outlet for negative emotions, this may be relatively harmless - it would be naive to think that online support is not "real" or cannot be helpful. However, if turning to Facebook is one's primary method of dealing with stress, depression, low self-esteem, anger or other negative emotions this is clearly not healthy and dependence on this method of mood management could contribute to Facebook Addiction.
10) Makes Us Feel Part Of An Expansive Exciting World
Although there are exceptions, most of us lead pretty normal lives. We go to work or to school, we come home, look forward to weekends and holidays...and repeat. Every once in a while we do something a bit more interesting, enjoyable, or exciting and this makes the routine of our normal lives easier to accept. Part of the appeal of Facebook is that it allows us to temporarily escape our "normal" lives and be a part of something larger, more exciting, or more interesting. For example, we may join a Facebook group for a political group or cause, have a live chat with friend who is at a great concert in another country, or become "friends" with celebrities or people in powerful positions. As such, the temporary escape to a more vibrant and exciting world may be one the factors that makes Facebook so addictive.
11) Feeds The Essential Need For Human Connection
This point is so obvious it hardly needs to be mentioned - Facebook allows us to connect with others. As social animals we absolutely need human contact for emotional and psychological health. Consequently, we are hard-wired to seek connections with others. Facebook makes establishing these connections easier than any time in human history. Everything on Facebook is designed to establish more and more connections with others. Whether it is tagging photos, finding mutual friends, getting status updates, joining specific Facebook groups, sharing lists, or playing games, the goal is always the same - make a human connection. This universal need for human connection is a likely a driving force for those who find themselves addicted to Facebook.
12) I'm Thinking About You...But I Really Don't Want To Talk To You Right Now
Staying with the theme of "it's popular because it's easier", Facebook allows us to tell others we are thinking about them, but without the effort of a phone call, the thought required for a full email message, or the expectation of a reply following a text message. A one sentence (or even one word) message on someone's wall and your social contact obligation is theoretically fulfilled. Very convenient indeed.
13) Social Needs Fulfilled In Digital Form
Psychologist Abraham Maslow once proposed a hierarchy of human needs. In order of importance these were 1. Physiological Needs, 2. Security Needs, 3. Social Needs, 4. Esteem Needs, and 5. Self-Actualizing Needs. Most relevant to our discussion on Facebook Addiction are the Social Needs made up of the sub-needs for belonging, love, and affection. He suggested that social needs are fulfilled though relationships with friends, family, romantic relationships, and other attachments. It is very easy to see how part of the appeal of Facebook is that it makes filling these social needs much easier compared to the effort that would be required for in-person contact. Of note, the "friends commenting on my life" structure of Facebook also addresses Esteem Needs (believing in personal worth and gaining social recognition). If it did not provide a method for gaining Social Needs and Esteem Needs, would anyone become addicted to Facebook?
14) I Can't Miss Out!
Although Facebook's growth rate is reportedly slowing down, this is largely because it is reaching a saturation point in the market. That is, almost everyone who is online (especially teens to those in their 40s) already has a Facebook account. At this point having a Facebook account is almost as common as having an email account. So, if most (if not all) of your friends are using Facebook to chat, arrange meetings, plan parties, and generally organize their lives, you must also use Facebook if you want to be included. Not being on Facebook means missing out on online social interaction...and also being left out of real world activities. To avoid this undesirable situation, people may obsessively check their Facebook accounts dozens of times per day. It is easy to understand how a fear of being socially isolated could contribute to an addiction to Facebook.
15) Friendship Quantified
One clever design element of Facebook that may lead to addiction or obsession is the simple fact of having a defined number attached to how many "friends" you have accumulated. As previously mentioned, being socially accepted appears to be a universal human need. Having friends makes us feel appreciated, validates our sense of self-worth, and boosts our self-esteem. It is easy to understand how the desire to accumulate Facebook friends and watch that number grow could lead to excessive use. Of course, having a friend on Facebook may say nothing about the quality or depth of some of these relationships. There is nothing wrong with using Facebook as a supplement to real-world relationships, but it likely a problem if it becomes a replacement with a focus more on the quantity than the quality of relationships.
16) I'm Not Wasting My Time...This Is Meaningful!
Compared to other types of electronic or digital obsessions / tech addictions, Facebook addiction may be more difficult to spot and easier to justify. For example, someone with a video game addiction would have a hard time convincing others that an obsessive gaming habit is productive in any way (the "better hand-eye coordination" argument only goes so far). Likewise, someone with an online gambling addiction would likely show clear signs that the gambling habit is unhealthy. However, for Facebook addiction it is much easier to justify excessive use…because how can something positive like forming friends and connecting with others be seen as a problem? The answer is that even activities that are healthy in moderation (e.g., exercise, dieting) can become problems when they develop into obsessions.
17) Socializing + Gaming = An Irresistible Combination
Not only does Facebook appeal to our need for social connections and friendships, it is increasingly becoming one of the world's most popular destinations for online gaming. Not surprisingly, Facebook tends to focus games that emphasize online social interactions with other players - which is often recognized as one of the factors that can encourage excessive play and contribute to video game addiction.
18) How Do I Really Compare To Others?
Facebook not appeals to our need for social acceptance, it also provides a forum for social comparison. Social Comparison Theory was developed by Social psychologist Leon Festinger and proposes that humans have a very strong drive to evaluate themselves by comparing their opinions, accomplishments, and abilities to others. Given this drive, the popularity of quizzes and personality tests on Facebook is not surprising. And of course, a large reason for their appeal is that after completion, they then allow the user to compare his or herself to others. It should be evident by now that Facebook addiction is not caused by creating and exploiting new human desires…but by providing a new way of meeting very basic human needs that have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years.
19) Boredom Buster For All
The reduction of boredom is a common reason people give for using Facebook. For some, the convenience of single, easy-to-use resource for news, games, and social interaction becomes the "go-to" activity whenever boredom arises.
20) Insecurity Response
For some, one of the most addictive aspects of Facebook is the ability to check out what others are saying about them, who they are talking to, what they are doing, and whether this is all consistent with what they believe to be true. That is, if someone is feeling insecure in a relationship, questions whether he/she has been told the truth by someone, or has trust issues in general, Facebook may be the source they turn to for "the real story". Again, most people are usually able to resist the temptation to snoop around on their friends Facebook pages in an attempt to "catch" someone in a lie. However, there are some who regularly (obsessively?) use Facebook in response to jealousy and / or insecurities they have in their real-world relationships.
21) I Am Not Alone
Feeling alone is something that many people experience from time to time. When we have not had enough social contact with others feeling lonely is normal and hopefully encourages us to seek out others - this is the adaptive purpose of the loneliness emotion. When used in moderation, interacting with others on Facebook can provide quick relief from loneliness - and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. However, when used as a primary substitute for real world contact, digital loneliness relief may not be very long-lasting or satisfying. In some situations, spending more time on Facebook in an attempt to reduce loneliness may actually contribute to long-term loneliness, depression, and Facebook addiction.
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