The Siren Song of Social Networking

by Matt Klassen on February 6, 2012

There are thousands of things that each of us desire on a daily basis, some of which we give in to, some of which we fight to resist. There are some desires that are hardwired into our innermost being, the need for food, for shelter, for safety; while others we impose upon ourselves, the desire for a cigarette, a drink, or that much needed cup of coffee for example. But in this modern technological age, researchers have found yet one more desire that is becoming increasingly more difficult to say no to… social networking.

In a study conducted by a team of researchers from University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business designed to measure levels of desire, it was discovered that the average digitally connected person finds it more difficult to resist tweeting than the lure of cigarettes, alcohol or other persistent desires.

The study even found that people give in to the siren song of social networking far more readily than they do to several instincts actually needed for the continued propagation of the species, namely sleep and sex. Does anyone else find it problematic for the furtherance of our species that people would rather digitally connect with another human being rather than actually connect?

The study, led by chief researcher Wilhelm Hofmann, was designed to document people’s desire control ‘in the wild,’ that is outside of a controlled laboratory setup, in an effort to see just what sorts of desires people were facing, giving in to, and trying to resist. While gauging several different types of desires, the focus of the study was, of course, the lure of social networking, and if you didn’t think people were becoming addicted to Twitter and Facebook, well the proof is about to start rolling in.

“Modern life is a welter of assorted desires marked by frequent conflict and resistance, the latter with uneven success,” said Hofmann in an interview with the UK Guardian. Sleep and leisure were the most problematic desires, suggesting “pervasive tension between natural inclinations to rest and relax and the multitude of work and other obligations”.

The study also concludes that while the desires for sex and sleep were found to be stronger, people’s ability to resist them was concomitantly stronger, meaning that in comparison with the desire to Tweet the average respondent still gave in to the desire to social network than the desire to sleep or sleep around.

But are the findings of this study really that surprising? When compared to sex or sleep the desire to social network seems relatively innocuous, a low-risk, low-commitment sort of activity that can be done in seconds. On the other hand, a commitment to sleep or have sex carries with it significantly more weight (and hopefully a slightly longer time commitment) and thus requires more thought and more resistance to giving in to urges.

In the end the thing I find the most problematic about this study is just how subtly  invasive social networking can be, an activity so banal and mundane in our digital existence that we barely even give it a passing thought. Like almost anything else in our lives, excessive dedication to social networking lowers our resistance to it, meaning we give in to our desire to Tweet the trivial events of our lives more readily the next time and slowly become dependent on, addicted to, the need to social network.

Now the real question is, will you Tweet this?

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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