See Inside January / February 2010

Are Social Networks Messing with Your Head?

Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and their cousins have evolved from college fad to global ubiquity in seven short years. Whether they are good for our mental health is another matter


Steve is the kind of guy who likes to let everyone know what he is doing in generous detail. His Face­book page is littered with entries such as “Just finished my java mochaccino and about to walk Schnooker” and “Lost recipe for my scrumptious caramel fudge cake ... super bummed ... sigh.” He is certain that his online friends want to know exactly what is going on in his life, and what better way to oblige them than with hourly, if not half-hourly, updates?

It is easy to dismiss what Steve and millions of social-network users do every day as the flower of banality, but in truth they are engaged in the largest worldwide experiment in social interaction ever conducted. The Internet has always provided a loose forum for the like-minded to congregate, but social networking contributes considerable structure to the chaos, allowing people to communicate more consistently and vigorously than ever before.

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