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Getting a Life With -- or Addicted to -- Facebook?

When Leah Ariniello, who wrote the wonderfully frank blog Mother Yeller -- e-mailed with a second entry about Facebook, I thought this had the potential to be a conversation about how Facebook is changing our lives for the good. Then, I started running across blogs and articles about Facebook addiction. "Help, I'm Addicted to Facebook!" wrote Tara Stiles back in February in The Huffington Post. And last week on Parenting.com: Why moms are at risk for Internet addiction. Because parental addiction isn't enough, there's always the study about Facebook leading to bad grades. Or, taking it a step further, the report that finds that 8.5 percent of today's kids are addicted to video games.

So, as I read Leah's words and thoughts, I wonder, when does all the good that comes from virtual socializing a la Facebook cross the line?

By Leah Ariniello

Happy hour. Book club. Golf lesson. Lunch outing. Girls weekend. Movie in the park. Pampered chef party. Even drag queen bingo.

Pre kids, I didn’t think twice about the many social outings that filled my days, but that was then. Now, with two little ones to take care of and a freelance writing career to maintain, my social interactions have dwindled. One snapshot of a typical day has me scolding my preschooler and first grader over their use of the term “fudge face,” interviewing a plastic surgeon about the Brazilian butt lift for an article, and then complaining to my husband about the above. Every other spare moment is generally filled with writing and the decidedly boring and non-social upkeep of the household.

Laundry. Doctor appointment. School transport. Grocery shop. Parent-teacher conference. Bills. Vacuum. Haircut. Playdate scheduling. Marker removal from table. Tennis lesson transport. Bath. Birthday party transport. Grocery shop. Woo-hoo, more laundry.

When possible, I try to reclaim some of my earlier life even if it’s just grabbing coffee with some gal pals to chit chat or getting on the phone to dish about all or anything, but it seems increasingly difficult to find a chunk of time and then coordinate with my equally overcommitted friends.

Enter Facebook.

I first went on the social networking site because my husband joined. Something about old college buddies wanting to stay connected to reinstate his old frat and such. I didn’t like the thought of him socializing without me in cyberspace so I registered, added him to my “friends list,” and then tried to coerce other friends to join so we could make use of the site. It’s essentially a chat room with people you know, where you can share pictures, articles, videos, Web sites and random thoughts.

Their response? My own longtime BFFs told me I was a big dork and that I needed to get a life. The site really is for college kids, they said, or maybe parents who want to spy on their college kids. But actually more than half of the 175 million active users on Facebook are outside of college. And the fastest growing group of users are people aged 30 and above, according to Facebook.

I can see why. I’ve found that as a parent with only small windows of time, it’s a pretty good way to keep in touch. My friends, who eventually went on it after I became a full-fledged nuisance, agree. Well most of them. One has taken a FB sabbatical after some random woman kept contacting her through the Facebook messaging system, falsely claiming she was having an affair with her husband … who is stationed in Iraq.

But stalking aside, there are some major pluses. Socially it keeps me in the loop with very little time commitment. I’ll log on and read posted notes updating what friends are doing and find out that one is having apps [appetizers] in a Cancun bar, another doesn't want to read about transanal endoscopic microsurgery while eating lunch and a third is devising a plan to locate U2’s Bono. Others comment back and forth as they watch TV shows like the Oscars: “hate that dress,” or "The Bachelor" finale, “what the F happened?” Some share that they are having a drink on a Friday night and within minutes others post that they also are pouring one, creating a virtual bar.

Need advice on child rearing, what color red to paint your front door, or whom to hire for a refinance? Just post the problem and someone is bound to respond with advice. Friends have posted announcements of layoffs and received rapid postings of support, ranging from “send me your resume” to “take this as an opportunity to enjoy your kids.”

There’s also the ego boost. Who can’t help but feel good when some boy you kissed in your teens manages to track you down on the site and tell you that you look the same today in pics as you did way back then. What wrinkles and baby belly? And I admit, I’ve also scrolled through posted reunion pictures and found myself thinking, hey, I look better, thinner, younger than her.

Sometimes I’ll look at Facebook just for a good laugh. One afternoon I find out that scabies is going around my daughter’s classroom and that my son ended up in the principal’s office for telling a sub he hated her. Yet I still manage to laugh out loud when I log onto Facebook and view a video that a friend posted of Swedish models holding a fashion show in the '70s of soccer-wear trends. Think strange shimmying gyrations, frizzy hair, sweat bands, tube socks and short-shorts. When my husband gets home, I make him watch it. Ah ha, so funny. But soon my husband starts pushing the benefits of other networking sites for professional development, like LinkedIn. I can’t be bothered with all that, I say. I have a life.

Leah Ariniello is a freelance journalist and mother of two based in Bethesda. If you are interested in guest blogging for On Parenting, please e-mail parenting@washingtonpost.com.

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 21, 2009; 7:15 AM ET
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Comments


When does it cross the line, you ask? I think the line is different for everyone, because if it weren't FB it would be some other addiction (internet or otherwise) for some people. For others, I guess if FB starts interferring with your obligations and responsibilities - to family or work - then you have a problem.

Like many people I know I joined FB and there was an initial flurry of activity, fun reconnecting, etc then a huge drop off. I check it once a day now but I see people that are on 24/7. I don't particularly care whether someone is headed to the gym, eating a great lunch or just changed a poopy diaper (yes, someone posted this). I do like that my friend with cancer can post a short update on her notes section every couple weeks, or find out that a favorite teacher had passed away and where he was buried (Arlington Nat'l Cemetary) - there are other examples that I find comforting and useful. It is another tool that people with use, some will overuse it, others will be fine.

What I find odd is Twittering, it is like FB on speed. Seems unnecessary to me, but to each their own.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 21, 2009 7:46 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: jezebel3 | April 21, 2009 7:50 AM | Report abuse

I don't understand Twitter, either. But I do think facebook is a fun resource for keeping up with friends, both old and new. It takes five minutes a day to log on and see how everyone's doing, maybe change my status or post a photo or two. It's not something I would use for much more than that.

Now, if you want to talk addiction, talk about mamabargains.com. I must check that site a dozen times a day, even though I never actually buy anything there.

Posted by: newsahm | April 21, 2009 8:24 AM | Report abuse

Ah Leah, once again an insightful piece. Now what about those of us that dread the thought of facebook because of the time commitment required in reconnecting with those old friends. Sure there are people that I'd like to talk to again, but is it really worth having to deal with interacting with the rest of them???

Posted by: rnlo878 | April 21, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

MySpace? Facebook? I already have 5 email accounts, 3 Yahoo Group memberships, participate on 2 different blogs, and do the instant/text messaging thing. I don't have any more room for a fb account and what's this Twitter thing?

Obviously, I'm a little behind on my social networking tools, but I do still have friends that I can only keep in touch with over landline. I guess this makes me old school...

or just plain old!

And what in the world is drag queen bingo anyway? Just yesterday, I had to ask my kids what the significance of 420 was, and after finding out, I didn't even bother with the term "teabagging".

Time to kiss my youth goodbye!

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | April 21, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

I can't deal with facebook, twitter and all that trollope - but I do love the parenting forums - http://www.gurgle.co.uk is probably my favourite, I spend a little bit too much time there I think!

Posted by: busyreader | April 21, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I can't deal with facebook, twitter and all that trollope - but I do love the parenting forums - http://www.gurgle.co.uk is probably my favourite, I spend a little bit too much time there I think!

Posted by: busyreader | April 21, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

It's nice to encounter an article that doesn't treat the Internet as a lurking danger to be feared. She's having fun and staying in touch with people.

This line freaked me out a bit: "I didn’t like the thought of him socializing without me." Maybe it's meant as a joke, but it sounds clingy and snoopy.

Posted by: tomtildrum | April 21, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

DH is on facebook way too often - it sometimes seems like he's reliving his high-school years. As for me, my feeling is that if I wanted to be in touch with these people, I would have been doing so all along. (I am glad he's able to check up on DD - and she knows it...)

Posted by: lorenw507 | April 21, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Hello my Name is LBH219 and I am addicted to Facebook! I am 33 years old and joined in August after attending my 10 year college reunion and realizing I was 'totally out of the loop!'

Now I have 199 "friends" and I would say I regularly chat or communicate with a dozen or so of them. Some of the people are close friends that I actually see in real life. But the others are old friends from HS or college that I lost touch with. I have really enjoyed catching up with them and seeing what they and their families are up to. I can do without the whackos that change their status literally every hour, but other than that it is fun. I have posted old pics and love seeing other old pics. Nothing beats the pics of me and my friends with braces, glasses, and PERMS!

What I really like is that through FB, I have recently re-connected with a good friend from ES and MS. We lost touch in HS, but are now living 30 minutes apart and have become great friends again.

The biggest time-waster for me is scrolling through people's pictures and playing scrabble! So for those of you still new, YES, you can play scrabble w/ your friends on FB!

My husband is on FB too, but really uses is more for a networking kind of thing. He thinks I spend too much time on it, but hey- he leaves the house every day and socializes with adults. I spend my day w/ 4 year olds and only talk to adults at the gym, grocery store, or in the lobby of dance class! So I chat to friends on FB and use it as my "outlet". My friends and I say- well at least we are not looking at porn or visiting gambling sites. And we might be addicted to FB, but better that than drugs or alcohol!

Posted by: LBH219 | April 21, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

DH joined one of those social networking sites a couple of months ago. Might have been facebook, or one of the others - I don't know. He wanted me to join it too at the time... But I think he accepted pretty quickly that that wasn't going to happen.

My addiction is news websites. And I'm a politics junkie too.

Posted by: SueMc | April 21, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

I joined Facebook in December, mostly to catch up with family and some close friends. There are some folks who have 'friended' me that are obviously into it more than I am. I registered under my married name, so I haven't been discovered by many friends from my past, which is fine by me. I wish them all well, but that was then...

My experience with Facebook confirms that I like and treasure my privacy, and that I definitely need unplugged 'downtime'. One of my cousins posted and tagged an old picture of me that I really didn't care to have out there in Cyberspace. (I politely requested that she remove it, and she obliged.)

I don't mind seeing pictures or reading big news updates, but I honestly find the people who are on it constantly to be annoying. I don't care how much you 'love' your convertible!, or what a wonderful time you had on your spring break vacation to Europe! Sometimes Facebook is like being forced to read Holiday bragging letters on a daily basis. I don't want to sound grumpy, but there is something inherently narcissistic about the whole thing. Don't get me wrong, I like to hear from friends and family via email, but not in a format where others can read it.

I have felt guilty about finding it annoying if other people are having fun, even if they are bragging about how much time they have to shop, work out, hang out with friends, etc. Great...but it is too much information for me. I wound up 'hiding' a whole group of people because I got so annoyed reading their postings, or seeing their score on the latest 'quiz' they took (which only serves a purpose to harvest personal data from them.)

In any case, I now only check Facebook when I get an email message that someone has posted a message to me. Like other mindless web activites, I find it can talk up a lot of time and energy without much to show for it.

Posted by: HuckleberryFriend | April 21, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

By their ridiculous standards of addiction, both of my sisters were "addicted" to talking on the phone while they were in high school. It's complete BS academic research.

Posted by: staticvars | April 22, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Wow, could it be anymore obvious that everyone posting here is an old fart? Really, it bothers you to read the status updates of your friends? You find the quiz score postings to be annoying? Do you also yell at kids to get off your lawn, and to stop laughing so loud that you can't hear The Price is Right?

FYI: you don't have to be friends with everyone, and you can set permissions so that only your friends have the ability to look at your profile. I've personally found that the girls I was friendly with in high school, but not necessarily friends with, I have reconnected with over NEW shared interests. I have a toddler and another baby coming soon, so I find that I interact mostly with the other new parents that I'm friends with. We gush over the pictures and videos that we post. We compare notes on bedtime routines and the challenges of diapering a toddler. And of course, we also take the silly quizzes, etc.

One of the best aspects of FB for me has been reconnecting with people I went to elementary school with. I don't know how else that would have happened, but now I'm back in regular contact with my best friends from kindergarten-4th grade, we even had a mini-reunion at Christmas, and it's great!

Posted by: foreoki12 | April 22, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Once again, Leah your piece hits home. I joined FB about a year ago because I felt I was falling behind in technology adoption. I love it and have a great time connecting with old friends. I also use it instead of live conversations of face to face get togethers with friends. But I often think, what does this say about our society that we are too busy to have live connections with our friends. Until I figure that out, FB is a good answer for a busy mom.

Posted by: dianek623 | April 22, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

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