Tanuj is an MBA by qualification and currently works at a hedge fund in Singapore. Prior to this he was a banker in India. Tanuj has written guest columns for finance journals like CNBC, The Asset, The Hedge Fund Journal, Institutional Investor, Risk.net etc. in the past and was also a regular columnist with The Wall Street Journal. He can be followed on Twitter @Tanuj_Khosla. Alternatively he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I got a lot of feedback (both positive and negative) when I wrote a piece on 'The Flipsides of Facebook' for 'Straight Talk' over a year ago (for those interested, the link is http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/tanujkhosla/3024/63070/the-flipsides-of-facebook.html). That article had talked about how Facebook was altering the behavioural pattern of people who are going to extreme lengths to project pseudo-identities on the social networking website as well as using it as a medium to stalk 'friends'. A recent study conducted jointly by two German universities found that witnessing friends' vacations, love lives and work successes on Facebook can cause envy and trigger feelings of misery and loneliness. The researchers further found that one in three people felt worse after visiting the site and more dissatisfied with their lives. Quite Frankly, I was not surprised on reading this.
In a world where most people in the 15-40 age bracket are grappling with intense competition at work/college, long working hours, lack of job security, fragile relationships, breakdown of family support systems, pre-mature health issues, Facebook used to provide a welcome escape from reality. However instead of being a tool to connect and keep in touch with friends as originally intended, it has become a device to benchmark one's life with that of other people for most. It has brought to fore the voyeur in millions of people who consciously or sub-consciously compare the quality their lives with their 'friends' and try to 'out-do' each other, even if that means posting false information. Heartburn and misery are nothing but natural in such a scenario.
In the first piece I had talked about how Facebook was making people (i) show off (ii) provide too much information (iii) stalk their friends. In this one, I will talk about three more disturbing behavioural patterns that I have observed over the last year or so.
1. Acting opinionated and pseudo-intellectual: Every time a scandal comes to light in the country or a leader makes an irresponsible statement, most people I know have their Facebook walls clogged with paragraph-long status messages from blokes dying to express their 'opinion' on the issue. This tendency reached epic proportions after the much-publicised recent rape incident in Delhi wherein people 'vented' their anger on an hourly basis on Facebook and then continued with their normal lives. That's heights of hypocrisy in my opinion. If you want to make a difference, go out there and do something instead of simply updating your status messages with your 'opinionated outburst' and then just sitting on your ass.
2. False/misleading posts: Flaunting material things on Facebook has been going on for years. A lot of people nowadays use the website as a broadcasting tool to announce anything from stay at a luxury hotel to purchase of a designer handbag. Gradually one has gotten used to this tomfoolery and occasionally even manages to chuckle at some of these desperate attempts to attract envy. But I am yet to get over the fact that people don't even blink once before posting false information in order to maintain their Facebook 'personalities'. This includes anything from lying about the name of the company one is working at to updating views on a movie one has not even seen!! In another case, somebody who struggles to finish one pint posted a picture of freezer full of beer cans with a caption 'the fun begins'.
3. Addiction of sharing: If I were on a holiday, checking into Facebook and informing the world that 'I am having a ball' would be the last thing on my mind. That's the way I think but I guess there are many out there who don't agree with me because I see people on vacations, including honeymoon, providing daily updates of the scenery and the food of the place they are in. Then there are others who change their profile and cover photos every two days. I find that inexplicable. As if providing too much information (checking in at metro stations, restaurants, airports, opticians, one's own home!! etc.) wasn't enough, some poor Facebook users have to bear the onslaught of continuous unwelcome information on their walls. It is almost that people feel that their 'friends' shall forget them if they are not active on Facebook for a few days.
I would like to end this post on a light note by sharing of the actions of a few people on Facebook that has provided a lot of laughter for me and my friends over a round of drinks. I am sure the readers would have many such instances from their own experiences to share as well.
(a) A friend's colleague's wife got upgraded to business class during a trip abroad. She didn't remove the 'business class' tag from her purse and made it a point that the same was visible in all her photographs taken during the trip which then made their way to Facebook.
(b) A batch mate of mine goes to the same pub every week with his wife and makes it a point to check-in on Facebook to let the world know that he is having a great time with his better half and the 'yummy chicken wings'.
(c) A friend's acquaintance who has no skills (or maybe willingness to learn) at photography purchased a SLR and has been clogging the walls of his 'friends' with pictures of random objects under the title 'And when Canon holds your hands...' I know a lot of people who blocked his posts in frustration.
All these may seem trivial at first, but reflect deep psychological imbalances if one puts his mind into them. I personally don't think this is normal behaviour.
In conclusion, Facebook has definitely brought the world closer but has clearly altered the behaviour of people. The social network seems to be controlling most people than the other way round. It is making people compare the negative things in their lives with the positives in others without giving a thought to how things may look the other way round. This tendency shall only lead to a sense of dissatisfaction and jealousy. They then try to compensate for this feeling of inferiority by being overactive and posting false information giving misleading projections of their personalities on their timelines.
I hope someday very soon behavioural scientists conduct a detailed research on how Facebook has affected human behaviour. I am sure that shall be a good read. Not sure about the impact of the research on Facebook's stock price though.