The rise in popularity of social networking websites such as MySpace and Facebook has been impressive. Even though originally popular with mostly adolescents, sites such as Facebook have enjoyed increasing popularity with adults as well. Although there are a number of benefits to such sites, there are some un-discussed psychological impacts that people should be aware of.
First, a quick review of why Facebook and MySpace are beneficial. Humans are social creatures, and the need to connect with others is of utmost importance. Thanks to technology, we enjoy the ease of communication through cell phones, text messages, and the internet. So being able to connect with others, especially being able to find people with whom we might have lost touch, is very appealing. These sites allow us to share various aspects of our lives with others. This can include pictures, our favorite music, or anything else that allows us to express who we are and what make us happy. It is a great way to express ourselves and our identity. We can also learn a lot from others and what they have on their sites.
However, based on my experience in with clients, I believe there are some negative psychological effects of such sites. This is because the very aspects that makes them appealing, i.e. the ease with which we can access and contact others, can also set the stage for us to engage in unhealthy behavior such as obsessively checking up on others. It is easy to get caught up in monitoring others, and we often get more information than we bargained for- information that we would not have otherwise known if not for such easy access.
This problem partially arises out of the fact our psychological coping skills are based on the “old” way of doing things- using the telephone. In the past, if we broke off a relationship, we just did not speak to the person because we cut off telephone communication, and unless we heard news about them “through the grapevine” we were not constantly exposed to their lives.
With the evolution of Facebook (or MySpace), we can still have access to that person’s life. Even if they make their profile “private”, we can keep track of them by looking at the profiles of common friends. In other words, we have never before had to deal with the continual access to someone that has caused us some version of emotional pain (no matter if it is due to a break up or a hurtful action). In fact, we can watch their lives without them knowing it!
What does this mean? It means that we need to be better monitors of our own behaviors. Just because we can get information about someone who hurt us or someone who we want to be close with but who does not reciprocate, it does not mean that we should. Through these sites, we are able to engage in behavior that is not natural to human relationships- continuing contact in situations where it should be allowed to naturally end. So I encourage all users of such sites to keep in mind that some self-discipline is required at times!
Andre S. Judice, Ph.D., LPC, LMFT