Two-thirds of online American adults are Facebook users, and yet more than half of them say they have taken breaks for a period of several weeks or more, and 27% plan to cut back on usage in 2013, a new study says.
The Pew research, titled "Coming and Going on Facebook," published today, could be worrisome for the social networking site. It has consistently been one of the top destinations on the Web in the United States, though at various times - including last summer - engagement is said to have dipped.
Let's look at the big picture first: Facebook is still huge. So many of our friends and family members are there. It is rolling out new features like Facebook Search, and it's testing others, in an attempt to become more sticky with users. It owns the coveted social graph, and TechCrunch reports it won't be giving that away to its competition anymore. And worldwide, it has more than one billion active users, a milestone Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in October.
For all the good of Facebook, it can lead to problems including a negative impact on mental health and addiction. Its users may be realizing this. Pew says that 61% of Facebook users "have voluntarily taken a multi-week break from using the site." Here are the reasons they gave for doing so:
-Too busy/didn't have time 21%
-Wasn't interested/didn't like it 10%
-Waste of time/content not relevant 10%
-Too much drama/gossip/negativity/conflict 9%
-Was spending too much time on the site 8%
-Only an intermittent or infrequent user 8%
-Went on vacation/trip/deployment 8%
-Just got tired/bored with it 7%
-No real reason/just because 6%
-Concerns about privacy/security/ads/spam 4%
-Did not have computer/internet access 2%
-Prefer other ways to communicate/Facebook not "real life" 2%
-Health or age issues 2%
-Took a break for religious reasons 2%
-Didn't like posting all the time/didn't want to share 1%
(Yes, 6% really said "No real reason/just because.")
More concerning for Facebook than these temporary hiatuses could be the finding that 27% of Facebook users say they plan to use Facebook less in 2013. In fact, 38% of users between the ages of 18-29 plan to cut back, signaling "Facebook fatigue" among young users could be an issue, Media Post reports.
When I posed the question to my own "followers" on the social network, I got basically the same response.
Of course, it's not at all scientific, and the people who responded were obviously using Facebook at the time, so they may be more likely to use it often. Even so, of the first 100 responses, 23 said they'll use Facebook more in 2013, 28 said they'll use it less, and 49 said they'll use it about the same as last year.
The results basically mirrored the Pew results - 28% told me they'll use Facebook less, while Pew said 27%. I should add I only counted people who said definitively they'll use it less, not those who said "I wish less but I'll probably use it more" or similar responses.
While all of this could be bad news for Facebook, it's likely good news for humanity. As journalist Monica Guzman wrote for GeekWire:
People can stare a profoundly powerful timesuck in the face and turn away. That’s great. Not because Facebook isn’t often a valuable use of time — only 2 percent of people who took a hiatus from the site said it was because they preferred other ways to communicate — but because it’s easy when technology serves such delights to forget that we can easily find our own.
Guzman adds, "Facebook sells our attention. It’s good to know it’s still ours to give."
While Facebook is likely to continue to be dominant, there's a larger world out there. It's good most people realize that. We can stay connected with friends and family, and experience the world offline too.
How about you? Are you considering cutting back on Facebook time?