The SNEWS View: Facebook -- The marshmallow of today?

Marshmallows were always an ooey gooey graham-cracker-and-chocolate-sandwiched temptation. Who could stop once having started in? Yeah, like Facebook.
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Marshmallows were always an ooey gooey graham-cracker-and-chocolate-sandwiched temptation. Who could stop once having started in? Yeah, like Facebook.

I saw a story recently in our local paper about teens who are just saying “no” to Facebook because they admit they were as good as addicted, and that it was distracting them from homework, jobs searches and the real world. Walter Mischel, a psychology professor at Columbia University, called Facebook the marshmallow of today.

Let me paint a clearer picture: Mischel did seminal research in the ‘60s on self-control and willpower. In that research, he tested young children’s abilities to delay gratification when presented with what he called “hot” temptations…in that case, marshmallows.

“Facebook is the marshmallow for these teenagers,” Mischel told the New York Times.

I would go even further. I think Facebook goes hand-in-hand with many technologies that have become the marshmallow of choice for a lot of people in today’s society -- people want to be or feel they must be utterly connected at all times. You can practically see the twitching from some folks if they haven’t in the last five minutes been able to download email, check their PDAs or iPhones, play with a new App, or look at their Facebook wall.

I for one treasure the moments I am not connected. I’m connected enough all day and during my life. Sometimes I want to be head-down in the garden without a technological gadget in site. I like drive-time in my car when nobody can reach me and I get to spend time with my own thoughts and dreams. Now and then, sitting on a stump in a grove of trees staring at the bees on a bush is one of life’s not-so-little luxuries.

I don’t really like marshmallows, at least not the modern, overly sweet attempt at them. Maybe that’s why I am not one who is tempted by the current social media addiction. While I have and enjoy my Facebook page, it is sacred, even if I don’t go there every day. It’s my personal page -- not another outlet for my work life. It’s hard enough to separate the two sometimes, especially when so many companies, even SNEWS®, have turned to Facebook to create fan pages. So, while I don’t want to offend friends who also have company businesses they are flogging on Facebook, I’m one who will ignore press releases, work party invites, and just about anything else that starts to disintegrate the thin wall of separation we currently seem to have between work and personal time.

Drawing the line between your lives (and we all have many), and who is really a “friend,” a “work friend” or just an “acquaintance” is becoming more and more difficult. It was always remarkable to me when I lived in Germany what a distinct line that language drew between the word for “friend” and the word for “acquaintance.” Germans thought it odd that we Americans called everybody a “friend.” “But they can’t all be your friends,” they’d say, puzzled, noting that a friend was somebody you shared parts of your personal life with, somebody who knew you in many ways, somebody you truly trusted, and somebody you had likely known for quite awhile.

Yet, here are all of those teens now going to addiction recovery centers (yeah, really) and even having a real friend -- not a Facebook-esque friend -- guard (i.e. hide) their usernames and passwords so somebody could make sure they weren’t wandering onto Facebook every few minutes to abate the twitching.

It’s like any other addition, an addiction expert said in the New York Times story, who added that weaning yourself from it is just as difficult, too.

Especially difficult, if, from the get-go, you haven’t established boundaries. Who is your real friend? Who is an acquaintance? On which site do I fraternize with my friends and on which do I hang out with business acquaintances? Where do I draw the boundary between my personal life and my work life? What do I share with the world on my wall? What is just between myself and my family?

Seems I’m not the only one struggling with this social media quagmire. Although Facebook doesn’t reveal its deactivation rate, apparently there is a growing trend to “just say no” to it and perhaps to others. I don’t believe you have to say “no” -- not necessarily cold turkey -- but if you don’t say “no,” you better the heck know where your boundaries are and then stand by them. If you can’t, then so much for AA (“Hello, my name is Bob and I’m an alcoholic”). Next up is FA (“Hello, my name is Britney and I’m a Facebook-aholic.”)

I, for one, will not be found posting on my wall on New Year’s Eve, Christmas or during my vacation. I, for one, will not be spending my evenings reading inane messages about what flavor latte somebody chose that morning or that they chose Crest over Colgate at the store. Since I didn’t think that was vital information in a non-Internet world, I don’t see why it’s pertinent now just because some twit wants to tweet about it.

Get this: People spend 10 billion minutes on Facebook every day globally. That’s the equivalent of nearly 700,000 days. More than 35 million of the 350 million active users on Facebook update their status every day. If you do the math, the average amount of time 350 million users are spending on Facebook each day then is, yikes, 29 minutes. I value my days too much to fritter huge chunks of them on some social media site, posting nonsense on a wall with people who maybe aren’t truly what I would deem a friend.

Sure, I love my friends, and, of course, that includes some of whom I do have on Facebook. As they say, however, absence makes the heart grow fonder, so I, for one, don’t plan to spend every minute of my day with them. I’m a much better friend, wife, lover, runner, adventurer, gardener, cook and writer if I can live my life without being tethered to an electronic device or a virtual graffiti wall. For me, disconnection is sometimes the best kind of connection we can have.

When was the last time you disconnected to reconnect with life? When was the last time you “just said ‘no’” to the electronic rope around your neck and put yourself back in control? Marshmallows can be dandy, but as my Grandpa used to say as he sipped his half-glass of wine at lunch, “Everything in moderation.” Yup, even marshmallows.

--Therese Iknoian

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