The APA press release on the dangers of Facebook allows readers to share it on Facebook.
Forget about radiation from cell phones: the real digital killer turns out to be Facebook. Larry Rosen, a psychologist at Cal State Dominguez Hills, has shown that using Facebook can be hazardous to your health.
While social networking doesn’t yet merit a Surgeon General’s warning, Rosen told an audience at the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting that Facebook has an adverse effect on both mind and body. Its use is associated with narcissism, antisocial behavior, mania, and aggressive tendencies. Regular overdoses lead to anxiety and depression, loss of concentration, poor grades, and alcohol abuse. And if that’s not bad enough, there’s also too much information online, which leads to sleep disorders and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Rosen joins an honorable tradition of researchers warning of the dangers of digital technology. We know, for example, that
But before scientists charge the rapidly-growing digital revolution with even more claims of physiological or psychological damage, they ought to realize that earlier technologies were also blamed for creating more problems than they solved. Writing, when it came on the scene, threatened to destroy human memory. Now we use writing to preserve our memories of the past. In the nineteenth century, Luddites rioted to protest automated looms, not because those machines threatened their "art"--in fact the programmable, steam-driven machines made better textiles than hand looms--but because mechanization threatened their jobs. In the early twentieth century, critics of electricity feared that what would soon become an indispensable source of energy could cause physical ailments and insanity. Skeptics warned that telephones would destroy privacy and level social class (they assumed such leveling would be a bad thing). Television was expected to put an end to conversation and bankrupt the movie industry. None of these predicted catastrophes came to pass.
Even one of the oldest human technologies, the wheel, probably came under fire from critics (writing hadn't been invented yet, so we can only guess about the wheel's welcome). Early wheel buffs surely saw it as the best thing since sliced bread--assuming that anybody back then knew what sliced bread was. But there must have been some anti-wheelers who argued that the old ways of locomotion--walking, running, riding on the backs of unfriendly animals--were better; that the wheel sped up the pace of Neolithic life way too much; and that round technologies would place mankind on a slippery slope leading precipitously downward to the end of civilization as they knew it.
The slippery slope of technology had to start somewhere. Above: the oldest wooden wheel, discovered in Slovenia in 2002, was built more than 5100 years ago. Below: put two of these on an axle mounted on a fruit crate and all of a sudden a clunky analog sled becomes a high-tech “smart cart.”
To be fair, Rosen does admit there’s an upside to Facebook. Its users show greater “virtual empathy,” it helps introverts to socialize, and it can serve as an engaging teaching tool. So engaging, in fact, that you can even earn an M.A. in Facebook in a program that gives students academic credit for doing what they’d be doing in class anyway.
That’s all well and good, but what if Facebook endangers more than just mental and physical health? As Facebook grows we’re seeing sharp increases in obesity, oceanic temperatures, and the passive voice, together with steep declines both in new home sales and funding for the arts and humanities.
But Facebook may not be responsible for all these problems. Literacy rates increased in Rome between the time that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BCE, and the ouster of Romulus Augustus, the last Roman emperor, in 476 CE, yet it never occurred to Edward Gibbon to blame the decline and fall of the Roman Empire on the rise of the book.
In the same way, it’s possible that all those aches and pains and antisocial behaviors that Rosen found popping up among Facebook users have nothing to do with keyboards, social media, or the net. They could be caused by something in the water, or by space aliens, or even by reality TV.
Earlier research by Prof. Rosen dealt with the impact of MySpace on its users. In 2005, Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp bought that social network site for more than half a billion dollars. Murdoch unloaded MySpace this past Spring for a mere $35 million (and speaking of invasions of privacy, Murdoch might have gotten an even lower price had he bundled the rapidly failing MySpace with the now-defunct News of the World).
Given what happened to MySpace, we’ll need to put Rosen’s Facebook data into perspective (nobody even remembers Friendster, right?). Here’s another way of crunching those numbers: as long as you take an occasional snack break, constantly updating your Facebook status won’t actually damage your health or drive you mad. It may not even lower your GPA (P < 0.05).
Although using Facebook may not kill you, it won’t make you stronger, either. But it will make Facebook stronger: there are now twice as many Facebook users as there are Americans, and all those rapidly multiplying likes and shares and comments are preserving founder Mark Zuckerberg’s health and sanity, lining his pockets, eroding our privacy, and turning our lives into beautiful digital memories for our friends, our children, our employers, and our government snoops.