To Unplug Or Not To Unplug?

by Tracy R. Walsh

Meghan Neal finds that “Facebook is officially the bad habit of internetting – that fixation you can’t seem to kick, feel really guilty about, but sneak it anyway at night while no one’s looking.” But now there’s a new system to shame users off social media:

[A] couple of PhD students at MIT—finding themselves too addicted [to Facebook] to do their actual research—developed a system that tracks your online activity and zaps you with a painful shock if it sees you’re spending too much time on Facebook. They’re calling it the Pavlov Poke, after 19th-century Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov …

However, after electrocuting themselves several times in the name of science, the pair decided the shocks were a bit too unpleasant, and decided to try a different approach: peer ridicule. They enlisted Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and paid strangers $1.40 to call them up and yell at them for wasting too much time Facebooking. The callers read from pre-written scripts: “Hey, stop using Facebook! What the hell is wrong with you? You lazy piece of garbage. You’re a dumb freaking idiot, you know that? Get it together!”

On the other hand, Janet Kornblum, after having spent several months off Facebook, delivers an impassioned defense of the site:

You know, unplugging. It’s all the rage. And it was. For a while. I felt like I was reminded of my real life, right here, right now: the dog wanting to go for a walk, me needing to go for a walk, talking on the phone with my mom, eating—all the real-life stuff.

Then I realized – I kind of missed it. I missed my friends telling me what they were doing. I missed one friend’s daily pictures of her baby. I missed a guy I hardly know who always posts beautiful pictures of his garden, which looks like Eden. I even missed the goofy advice postings like, “Life is a spiritual journey!” that I thought I hated. I do hate them. But I kind of missed them. Oh, irony. Facebook is real life, too. So I came back.

Facebook is a place where stuff happens. Hopefully it is stuff you care about, because it’s about and by your friends, people who are sometimes your Friends and sometimes just friends. In a way, Facebook is a place in the way that countries are places. It’s big and vast and maybe your neighborhood knows a little bit of what’s going on.