It was with utter dismay, surprise and alarm, that I read this short piece which cited a study which makes the assertion that materialistic people tend to have more Facebook friends than do non-materialistic people.
OK, that was mostly hyperbole on my part. The article and study are real, but my reaction, not so much. Despite the fact I have never consciously articulated such a notion about materialism’s correlation with quantity of one’s Facebook friends, the idea is not entirely counterintuitive. It’s not exactly a shocking notion, but I simply never thought of it in those terms. If a person has a plethora of Facebook “friends,” I tend to assign many implied traits, some perhaps unfairly, to this cyber-popular person. Superficial, shallow, phony, etc…it’s no stretch of the imagination. If materialistic people consciously inflate their Facebook friend rosters, perhaps we can postulate that the inverse is true. I am reminded of my pitiful Facebook profile.
My galactic friend count is grossly inflated because I never speak with, or see, most of them. Conversely, I do not send out friend requests like a cyber-whore either. Most of my “friendships” were initiated by the other person. I am not bold that way.
The article begins,
If you don’t have a lot of friends on social media, it may mean that you are just a little less concerned with material possessions in your everyday life.
Yes! That’s the damned truth. If exaggerated legions of Facebook friends signifies pathological materialism, my remarkable lack of them points to an abundant lack of materialism on my part. I am the anti-materialist, the scumbag ascetic.
According to a new study, materialistic people tend to have a lot more Facebook friends than non-materialistic people, collecting them like they would physical objects. They also spend a lot more time on Facebook than non-materialistic people, and are more likely to compare their lives to the lives of others on the social network.
The authors of the paper, led by Phillip Ozimek of Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, have created a new theory to explain why this occurs. They call it the Social Online Self-Regulation Theory.
“Materialistic people use Facebook more frequently because they tend to objectify their Facebook friends – they acquire Facebook friends to increase their possessions,” Ozimek said.
“Facebook provides the perfect platform for social comparisons, with millions of profiles and information about people. And it’s free – materialists love tools that do not cost money!”
The authors conducted their research on 531 Facebook users, divided into two groups. The first group of 242 was a pilot study; the second aimed to replicate the first group’s results.
Both groups were given a Likert scale questionnaire to gauge how they use Facebook, how much they compare themselves to others, level of materialism, how much they think of Facebook friends as objects, and how much status or other benefits they can gain from their Facebook friends.
Very telling was this cursory description of the questionnaire:
Options included statements with which the participants had to agree or disagree, such as “I admire people who own expensive homes, cars, and clothes,” “I often compare how I am doing socially,” and “Having many Facebook friends contributes more success in my personal and professional life.”
…because it made me re-consider the term, materialist.
In fact, I thought about that word as it applied to the Facebook friend phenomena. I considered people I know who have many “Fakebook” friends, and peculiarly, a lot of these people are not typically materialistic in the way we think of the term. Most of these folks live within their means, and many might be viewed as frugal, and I found it difficult to reconcile materialism, as the common perception of the concept, with these people who boast tons of Facebook friends. But upon reading that paragraph which listed several examples of statements grabbed from the questionnaire to measure levels of materialism, it was quite apparent to me that materialism, as a personality trait, does not imply that materialism will consistently devolve into a behavioral manifestation. Many people are materialistic in character, but good sense and a strong sense of delayed gratification hides that from public view, for they do not live out ostentatious materialism for the world to see.
Materialism is both expressed and latent, but it’s the expressed form which we connote with the word. We fail to consider that in many cases, materialism is an internalized sickness of longing and emptiness of spirit which is overruled by restraint. How would we answer, within the private realm of our own existence, the 3 questions?
I admire people who own expensive homes, cars, and clothes. Do we admire the result or do we admire the hard work and dedication that allows some people to attain such wealth?
I often compare how I am doing socially. Absolutely, fuck this. Perhaps it is insightful to have an honest self-appraisal if one seeks a path to humility, but there should be no sense of “comparison” when we are measuring our social performance. Accept there is no right, no wrong; there simply is.
Having many Facebook friends contributes more success in my personal and professional life. To reiterate an earlier point: absolutely fuck this. If Facebook is your measure of “success” of any sort, it’s time to slow that roll and indulge in a slice of piercing self-examination. Don’t put the carriage before the horse. If anything, Facebook friends are a result of personal and professional success. You can garner all the Facebook friends in the world, but this will not propel you anywhere beyond that keyboard. You have to do that on your own.
It is precisely because Facebook friends are free and abundant in no-strings-tied tiers of idolatry, that they provide the measure of one’s genuine materialism for they allow latent materialists, who normally practice restraint against the siren song of their own natures, to act out their baser drives to appease peer pressure when no monetary commitment is on the line. And Facebook also allows the anti-materialist to proclaim his lack of desire for possessions in a most fruitful manner of anti-conformist opting out.