Americans spend eight hours a month on Facebook. And now, thanks to research by a team of university professors, we know better than ever why we just can't quit the habit.
A new study suggests we use the social media site to cure a simple ailment: boredom. In addition to satisfying our "entertainment" needs, Facebook also attracts us by providing an outlet for "interpersonal communication" and "self-expression," according to the researchers' report.
The study, published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, suggests that personality type determines how an individual uses social media and that the reason for engaging with Facebook can fluctuate over time.
Researchers have long known that five broad categories drive online activity: information seeking, interpersonal communication, self-expression, passing time and entertainment. In the study led by Hunt, the goal was to see if the same measures drove people to spend time on Facebook. The study confirmed that, with the exception of information seeking, all of the other behavioral factors that drive online activity hold true for Facebook, with entertainment and time passing being two of the biggest drivers of Facebook activity.
Researchers Daniel Hunt, Archana Krishnan, and David Atkin found that, “The entertainment motive was shown to be the most powerful predictor of how much time participants spent on Facebook,” per WebProNews. In basic terms, this means that during the study, Facebook was most often used when subjects were bored, opposed to connecting with individuals to cultivate relationships.
The study was completed by surveying 417 undergraduate students and was first published this June.
Research was based in uses and gratification theory, which argues that the audience (or Facebook user) is not passive but instead "using" media for their specific needs. In other words, if we're bored, we use the media to be entertained and if we are looking for information, we interact with the media to find what we need.
But what if we grow too accustomed to constantly being connected, filling our minds with entertaining or pointless facts? Do we really need to stalk our latest crush for 26 minutes via Facebook when bored?
Another well-known communications theory explored by educator Neil Postman suggests that an increase in technology has caused us to perpetually be "amusing ourselves to death." Postman hints at our need for entertainment by examining the information we typically absorb.
"[M]ost of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action," he says in his book "Amusing Ourselves to Death," arguing that "what we desire will ruin us."
Melodramatic as this may sound, his study took place in 1985, before the rise of Facebook, Twitter, or the smartphone.
While the focus of Hunt's study was more qualitative, he too wonders how digital behaviors will affect society.
"We imagine that young people today are media and technologically literate because they have grown up in a computer-mediated world but, anecdotally, many educators would say that this is not the case," he said in an email to The Huffington Post.
Will Facebook turn us into a "Brave New World" society? Hunt et al.'s study might suggest we linger online to be continuously entertained, other social media mavens hope to alter this habit. Waywire, a new video-sharing site expected to be launched in late summer, will have a focus on "social do-gooders from the millennial generation" to promote change in society (and fight against Postman's bleak predictions).
Other users say they aren't just bored when they access Facebook; they are bored with Facebook itself. In fact, Bianca Bosker reported for The Huffingon Post in June that there has been a recent drop in the time spent on the social media site.
What do you think about our Facebook habits and the constant need to be entertained? Do you think there has been an increase in our desire for amusement and information consumption -- and can this be blamed on Facebook usage? Let us know your thoughts below, or tweet us at @HuffPostTech.
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