Just a few weeks ago, on May 30th, CNN published an Opinion article by Andrew Keen entitled “Facebook Threatens to ‘Zuck Up’ the Human Race.”  The title of this article was a quote from his article. It was so thought-provoking that I felt that I had to explore some of the issues he brought up. Keen is a self-proclaimed Facebook resistor. His thesis: “By sabotaging what it really means to be human, Facebook is stealing the innocence of our inner lives… we are actually creating a world in which our sense of identity, of who we actually are, is defined by what others think of us.” He says that through the process of friending and self-broadcasting, users are creating a “seductive fantasy” in the form of a “social media bubble.”

I personally believe that Facebook has some great benefits and some potentially bad side effects. I agree with Keen when he says, “Like any other addiction, we need to recognize its destructive reality.” I started thinking… Keen’s philosophy is based on conjecture. I began to wonder: How ARE people really using Facebook? I conducted a survey amongst my friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Digg and Google+ two weeks ago. It had ten questions about Facebook usage. I was trying to find out how people like to use Facebook socially and how their responses were similar or different from one another, and if there were any definite trends.

The majority of the 93 who responded said they check in on Facebook several times a day, while a small percentage said that they always have it running in the background. When asked who made up their friends on Facebook, the majority said their friends consist of a mixture of people they know from “real life” and people they’ve met online.  A good number of them limited their Facebook friends to family and friends they know in “real life.” The vast majority of people in my social media bubble said that they have a mix of people they know professionally and personally as their Facebook friends. Most of them do not use Facebook for business purposes. Ninety-two percent of them said that they would quit Facebook if there were a monthly fee. Almost all of them said that they use Facebook more than any other social media tool. The last multiple choice question was: Would you accept a friend request from someone you don’t know on Facebook? This one was more evenly split: 52.8% said they look at the person’s profile before deciding and 42.7 % responded no! Only 9% said yes.

So what does all that mean? These people are not totally glued to Facebook, they are not being zombified like Stepford Wives. They seem to be able to moderate their use of the application. Facebook is mostly being used as a social, casual platform, but people do mix their personal and professional contacts in this space. These users like to use Facebook more than any other social media platform but they are fickle lovers – they would dump Facebook in a New York minute if there was a charge for access. They are very picky about who they allow into their “seductive fantasy!”

I already stated that I do think there is a yin/yang effect from using Facebook. The open-ended questions I posed in the survey examine that aspect. Do you ever unfriend or hide anyone on Facebook? Most said that they do unfriend or hide people on Facebook for reasons such as political and religious posts that are offensive, rude comments, too many games, they no longer play games with friends, don’t know them well enough, too many posts clogging up the wall and staying away from family members and ex-lovers. A few of the respondents unfriended people because of events that happened in “real life.” Those were the highlights and trends I saw in these responses.

Name some reasons you think Facebook enhances your life. Most of the responses had to do with reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances. Some who took the survey said that was the way they keep in touch with their friends and family. Others use it to combat loneliness and to vent their frustrations. Some of them use Facebook to connect with new people, including business contacts.

Name some reasons you think that Facebook is a waste of time. A great representative response: “Too much of a mind suck!” A lot of these people feel that much of the content of the posts is superficial and that it is difficult to sift out the valuable posts in all the clutter. Many think it takes away from their productivity. The game posts, in particular, really annoy a lot of the people who took this survey. A few of them said they do not think Facebook is a waste of time at all.  Words that appeared a lot: silly and addicting.

So, is Facebook “Zucking Us Up” as a species? Based on these survey results, I don’t think so. I think that Facebook opens people’s lives up to new experiences.  Keep in mind that this survey was taken by adults. Maybe if it were taken by a much younger demographic, the results would tell a different story…

Is Andrew Keen overreacting? Is he a 20th Century Chicken Little? I think my survey showed that these Facebook users know how to incorporate their Facebook “seductive social media bubble fantasy” into their “real lives.” That being said, I’m sure there are users out there who do get addicted and who neglect their realities because of it. The bottom line is that I do think that Andrew brings up some legitimate concerns about what can happen to Facebook users if they don’t keep their social media life in perspective. I also think that Andrew’s article is well worth a read.

About Cynthia Zeiden

Cynthia Zeiden is the National Program Chair and a National Trustee on the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Trustee Board. In her work for the NATAS San Francisco/Nor Cal Chapter, she produces media seminars, webcasts them and archives them into a professional development library. Her company, Zeiden Media, develops, produces, distributes and markets video content internationally. She was the Program Manager at KCSM-TV in San Mateo, CA and Director of Broadcast Operations at WYCC-TV in Chicago, both PBS stations. Cynthia is a three-time Chicago/Midwest Emmy®-nominated producer. She has a Master’s degree in Broadcast Management from The University of Tennessee.



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