Your best friends, your worst enemies

My final blog deals with Facebook, boredom and some detrimental psychological effects of social media.

Putting it simply, Facebook is an online social networking service on which a person creates a profile, adds other users as friends and can upload text messages, photo’s or videos. According to philosopher D.E. Wittkower, the use of Facebook is born out of boredom. What exactly is boredom?

Boredom is a listless casting-about for purpose; the drifting existential anguish of one’s life experienced as meaningless, even if only temporarily so. It is the feeling that nothing is really worth it, where ‘it’ may be time or effort, and often a vanishingly small amount of either.[1]

According to German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), boredom alone was proof enough to state that human life is some sort of mistake. Because if life would have any intrinsic positive value, boredom would not exist. The mere act of lying back in a chair, fully satisfied by the awareness that one is alive, would have been enough.[2] In these days however, doing nothing in an empty room can sink a person into existential ennui. So, things such as Facebook (or any form of leisure, for that matter) exist.

Wittkower doesn’t acknowledge Schopenhauer’s view. In fact he praises boredom:

Being bored by something motivates a break, a change, and as such a motivation, requires an opening up of possibilities. Boredom-by, in this way, is the clearing away, the emotional negation of the past and the established, which opens a space of innovation.[3]

The question we have to ask ourselves is: is Facebook a desirable form of battling boredom? Not according to business professors Keith Wilcox and Andrew T. Stephen. They posit that the momentary increase in self-esteem in Facebook users that are focused on close friends, leads to a reduction of self-control.[4] Through five different studies they show us that Facebook usage reduces self-control on a number of important domains: health, mental persistence and spending/finances.[5]

Now let us, for the sake of the argument, translate that into some hypothetical worst-case scenarios. We can imagine the Facebook user buying drugs, giving up on school or going bankrupt. And all of that from a single cause: man’s inability to sit still in a room.

Made by Jut, 2-6-2013


Wittkower, D.E. (2013) ‘Boredom on Facebook’ in Geert Lovink & Miriam Rasch (eds). Unlike Us Reader: Social Media Monopolies and Their Alternatives. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures: pp. 180-188.

Wilcox, K. & Stephen, A.T. (2012) ‘Are Close Friends the Enemy? Online Social Networks, Self-Esteem, and Self-Control’, in Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 40, no. 1: pp. 90-103.

[1] Wittkower 2013: 181.

[2] Wittkower 2013: 182.

[3] Wittkower 2013: 183.

[4] Wilcox & Stephen 2012: 90.

[5] Wilcox & Stephen 2012: 100-101.


One thought on “Your best friends, your worst enemies

  1. Jut! Thanks again for your wonderful input in the world of digital art. I like your worst-case scenarios, because they aren’t that worst-case at all. I really think some people take the usage of Facebook to a ‘unhealthy’ level (I hear people saying that they’re never offline, just in case something happens). Maybe it is strange to think of people getting fired because of their usage of Facebook, but it is really happening: people working in offices do get fired if they’re spending too much time on Facebook. People do fail school because they’re online too much. And I don’t know anything about the drugs, but then again: do we read the private messages people send each other?

    Perhaps this, again, is where the notion of the Panopticism comes in handy: do people still reproduce the dominant discours, that once prescribed that eight hours of internet a day is a bit ‘too’ much? Or is Facebook the new dominant discourse? And is this perhaps the reason why people aren’t being controlled any longer? Will it in the future still be normal to be online constantly? I really think these questions are really relevant in relation to Facebook.

    On the other hand I do think that there is still some sort of social control – and power-relations. If I fail my study because I’m spending too much time on Facebook, I think my father will get hold on it sooner than anyone else can. If my boyfriend gets fired because of his excessive Facebook-usage, I will get to the bottom of that (why are you spending this amount of time on Facebook and perhaps more important: WHY are you spending this amount of time on Facebook – jealousy is also a narcistic feature). But I think there will always be some kind of social control, even though it might be increasing…

    But to conclude: you raised a good question: is Facebook really about boredom or is it more than that? Well done!

    Made by Jul.

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