Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What I've learned about being human from Facebook

There is an annual public lecture series at the local library. Each year they pick a different topic and invite a series of speakers to drop by and pontificate about it. This year they're asking presenters to complete the sentence "What I've learned about being human from..." The invitees have chosen to complete it with, variously, dogs, crickets, organizations, and native art. I, of course, would complete it with Facebook.

I've learned a lot about being human from Facebook, more than I can fit in a single blog post, so expect this topic to resurface a time or two. Really, the entire point of this blog can be summed up, more or less, as what I've learned about being human from Facebook.

For now let's start with the quizzes. A trained researcher like myself ought to scoff at their obvious lack of validity and reliability. Even I would expect myself to roll my eyes at the atrocious spelling and questionable content of these things, many clearly slapped together by bored teenagers sitting alone late at night with their computers. Yet I don't. Why not?

If you believe in astrology, skip to the next paragraph. For those who don't, raise your hand and keep reading. Raise your other hand if you still compulsively read your horoscope anyway. Stand up and do a little twirl in front of the computer for having just learned that you are not alone.

If you don't believe in astrology, why do you read your horoscope? For me, at least, it's a path to self reflection. I may not believe that the stars are warning me, and everyone else born between June 22nd and July 23rd, that we will be tempted to start telling those around us what to do today, and that this is a bad idea, but I do believe that it is useful to pause to think about ways in which I may be doing this and the implications for my social relationships if I keep it up. I could just as easily have reflected on the advice for Leos to quit rushing everywhere.

Horoscopes, and most Facebook quizzes fall under the influence of what psychologists call the Barnum effect. No matter what result you're given, you're pretty likely to see it as accurate, and applicable to your life. It's because they capitalize on the things that make us human, on things that pretty much everyone feels resonates with themselves.

So, which horoscope I read, or which quiz result I get doesn't really matter, because my result is really everyone's result. It's what I do with my result that counts. Reflecting on it will lead me to learn more about myself, which, in turn, helps me to also understand what it means to be human, even if it's the "Super happy fun awesome times quiz" and my result is "Raptor Jesus."

"Raptor Jesus saves! At least thats what your suppost to do. You didnt do a very good job of saving your fellow dinosaurs. So I'm not really sure what you can do for us. It's cool though you still kick ass!"


1 comment:

  1. This is great - can't wait to hear you pontificate at next year's lecture series!