February 15, 2010

"it's complicated"

news flash: open relationships and happiness don't go together.

the team over at facebook did some unscientific analysis comparing the positive/negative tones of users' facebook updates vis-à-vis their relationship status. the purpose: figure out if relationships make people happy. results were mostly what you'd expect, but i thought it was interesting that women who don't disclose their relationship status on facebook (*cough*) tend have more negative facebook updates than others.

(click to enlarge)


Danny said...

hey Anneke,

I actually think the most interesting revelation here is that Widowed is a demographic on profiles. Psychologically this is sort of 180 degrees from not disclosing one's relationship status, since "Widowed" tells people a pretty unambiguous story. (And there's not really any reason to be a fake widow who puts the status up as a joke. I didn't even know it was an option.)

Widowed Facebookers top almost none of the other sample groups measuring positivity, but also align with the trend against negativity associated with making relationship status public. Beyond the bar graphs: Facebook's probably the most public way to represent oneself as a widow in Western society, ever.

One takeaway, which you point out, is that singleness isn't necessarily correlated with unhappiness but that not narrowing down options is. Widows can feel pretty unenthusiastic about being unattached (they're not showing positivity) but they're buffered enough by their ex-relationship to not be raging against the world on social networking sites.

Maybe there's another, unexplored variable here related to age and maturity. I was reminded, though, of an effort to quote Jaron Lanier in the L.A. Times a few days back - http://tinyurl.com/yd9cw99 - where he says Facebook is dangerous for teens and "great artists" (my words) by not allowing the self to cultivate some truth-stretching. He's talking briefly about literati from today/yesteryear, and he makes the implicitly negative comparison somewhat like this: "If they [Clemens, Kerouac, great writers] had a Facebook page, they wouldn't have been able to forget their former selves." In other words (as Jaron would have it), for people who are still forming their impact, not putting all your life up on Facebook is the way to go.

-- Danny Hom

anneke jong said...

great comment, danny. i'll get complicated with you on facebook any time.