On one hand, publishing a study about the ills of “socializing” with other people mostly online at a time when there is little choice for most of the humanity might seem like some unfortunate timing; but on the other, this experiment published by the American Economic Review delving into why such a mindset might be harmful, could prove to be useful well after the current crisis is over.
The experiment specifically asked Facebook users to deactivate their accounts for four weeks in exchange for $102.
(Many would happily do it for a dollar, no doubt.)
The results seem entirely logical: participants spent more time interacting with people “offline,” gained back about an hour of their time each day (which was otherwise spent on Facebook) – and all these things have been reported as positive in terms of their overall well-being.
Another consequence of the temporary decoupling from Facebook was that participants knew less about “current events” – i.e., were much less exposed to news and all that passes off as news these days.
Again, unsurprisingly, this meant less “political polarization.”
The study's authors note that correlations have been made between the now wide-spread use of social media and negative impacts on people's lives and mental health, all the way to increased suicide rates.
And among social network giants, none is bigger than Facebook with more than 2.3 billion users around the world, not counting Instagram and Facebook Messenger apps.
One point that's particularly interesting about this randomized study of US residents carried out ahead of the 2018 midterm election, is to what extent Facebook is the only internet many people know – as deactivating their accounts on the social behemoth also significantly decreased the total time they spent online.
Overall, the experiment showed that those taking part reported their subjective perception of well-being improving.
And, of course, people are pretty much ruled by their habitual behaviors, which they can in most cases adopt, as well as shed at any time.
In line with this, many of those who managed to stay away from Facebook for four weeks for the sake of the experiment (let's not forget – they had to be incentivized by money) – said they were ready to continue their lives without using Facebook.