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Social conscience

By Catherine Burgess

My name is Catherine, and I have an addiction (big intake of breath): Facebook.

A classmate of mine recently likened quitting Facebook to quitting smoking. Accurate, I thought. An active Facebook user myself, I had attempted to disconnect from the social network earlier this term. I admit that this disconnecting occurred during the Hurricane Igor aftermath and I was without an Internet connection anyway and, to be perfectly honest, the disconnection lasted about 22 hours, before I gleefully stumbled upon an Internet signal downtown as I tried to write a paper. I had tried to quit and failed, though certainly not miserably.

This apparent need to stay connected with people made me wonder, just how much is Facebook, (and Twitter, that other social network with which I am unfamiliar) taking away from productivity? How much of a distraction has it become? As it would happen, I opted to take on this question (or at least a slightly different version of it) for an investigative term assignment for a class. At the time, social networking appeared to be at a peak in its relevance: a film had just been released about Facebook’s creation, The Social Network (which I still have yet to see). Stories of social networks were flooding the news, with reports about Facebook serving both as an aid in stopping crime, and as a playground for cyber bullies. I began to wonder just how much Facebook was taking over our lives, and by extension, our productivity.

Social networking has, in a way, taken over the university campus. When you sit near the back of a large class with 50 plus students in the room, you can see all the laptops that are open with Facebook on the screen. As I sat in the QE II Library writing this article, a girl plopped down next to me and looked at pictures of her friends on Facebook for a solid hour.

(To be fair, I get it: frequently, students need to tune-out for a break in the middle of the day, and Facebook may serve as that distraction for some people. But personally, I feel that Facebooking in public university spaces, places where your creeping could easily be caught, is risky and potentially awkward business.)
Facebook and studying seem to go hand in hand. Hello procrastination. But it’s not all bad. Aside from using a phone, what better way to get in touch with your classmates quickly than with a short Facebook message?

As I sat in a downtown coffee shop and chatted about the Facebook phenomenon with a friend a few weeks ago, he raised a good point: there has always been a way to procrastinate and distract oneself from studying. Before Facebook, it was MSN Messenger, or simply browsing the web, or even doodling on the margins of a paper or daydreaming. So is Facebook a distraction to students? It’s no more a distraction than the mindless time vacuums that preceded it. And I like his reasoning; it makes me feel less guilty about my addiction.