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Facebook Fading?

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club  June 7, 2012 08:55 AM

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zuckerberg.resized.jpgIn general, I refrain from assessing candidates, boning up on history, or planning for the future based on polls of the American people.

That’s skating on thin ice. (See my previous blog post about a recent current-events survey.)

Which is why - right about the time Facebook went public - I paid little attention to a poll showing that just under half of Americans think Facebook is a fad.

After all, there was a period when silent film stars believed talking movies might be a flash in the pan. “I think that silent acting is much more difficult than the talking screen acting,” Birth of a Nation star Henry Walthall insisted. “You must put so much into your face and gestures in the silent pictures. In speaking lines, too, you drop all expression. Talking pictures lack effectiveness for that reason.”

And you know how that turned out.

So, when I read about this spring’s Facebook poll - conducted by CNBC and the AP - I thought: meh. Maybe people want the site to be a passing fad, considering how much time it sucks out of their day. But Facebook is addictive, alluring, and, as a researcher told me recently, it allows us to leap over all sorts of barriers.

For example, let’s say you meet a guy. Just once. You’re intrigued. You want to see snapshots of him, know who he's friends with, and check out what his significant other looks like. In the real world, it would be really creepy to ask for those sorts of pictures right off the bat. And, if you did, your budding friendship would quickly be over.

But on Facebook, you can see anything you want. Significant other? Check. Recent parties? Check. Circle of friends? You betcha.

On Facebook, you can find out who that kid you liked in high school is married to now, even if you would be totally mortified if he or she knew about your sleuthing.

But the very ability of Facebook to entertainingly devour hours of productive time may have fomented a backlash - a notion supported by both anecdotal and statistical evidence.

A number of friends have recently told me that they’ve largely stopped checking Facebook, worried about how central it has become in their lives.

My husband actually deleted 400 friends, even though he was an early adopter of Facebook. When he joined the site in 2004, it was less than six months old.

“I joined because everyone was doing it,” he said. “But now it’s not a helpful social tool because it’s too bloated. I don’t talk to most of the people from high school, for example. So many of the updates are about people I basically don’t know.”

And this week, anecdotal suddenly got backed up by numbers. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, more than 1 in 3 people who use Facebook report spending less time on the site than they did just 6 months ago. Only 1 in 5 say they’re spending more time scrolling through timelines.

The precipitous drop in Facebook’s IPO (down about 30% at one point) has also seemed to undermine the company, making us wonder whether a saturation point has been reached. And whether, one day, when someone mentions Facebook, people will ask: “Isn’t that the site they made a movie about?”


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About the author

Kara Miller is an Assistant Professor of English, specializing in journalism, at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She also serves as a guest panelist on WGBH-TV's “Beat the Press” and contributes to 89.7 FM WGBH (NPR). More »

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