Facebook More Popular Than Chocolate

Catholics traditionally give something up for Lent, often chocolate. This year, a growing number of people are <a href="http://weblogs.amny.com/entertainment/urbanite/blog/2009/03/facebook_fasting_becoming_a_po.html">giving up Facebook</a> instead.

Michael Hickins, Contributor

March 10, 2009

3 Min Read

Catholics traditionally give something up for Lent, often chocolate. This year, a growing number of people are giving up Facebook instead.According to amNY.com's Urbanite blog:

Like many Catholics who give up something they enjoy during the 40 days before Easter, Facebook is becoming as popular as chocolate as a Lenten sacrifice. Several Facebook groups about giving up Facebook for Lent have sprouted up on the social networking Web site, which has more than 175 million users.

My first reaction was to think, wow, Facebook has become really important. And since it seems likely that people these days turn to Facebook rather than chocolate for solace from a broken heart, it kind of makes sense.

(I also found it ironic that people started Facebook groups to give up Facebook.)

And then I started wondering if Facebook really is like chocolate. By which I mean, is Facebook something you consume? Is it a luxury item?

Maybe it is for some, but for others it's a lifeline. It's a way to fight isolation, or to simply stay in touch. If alienation is one of the perils of our highly mobile, technologically advanced and nuclear society, then it's only fitting that online social networks should help people feel part of a larger social fabric.

I don't mean to either romanticize Facebook, nor trivialize anyone's religious choices, but I do think it's important to acknowledge the growing importance of social networks in our lives.

Indeed, Facebook has become a more important part of my own life now that I work from home and have fewer opportunities to interact with colleagues in person. It lets me stay in touch with friends, reconnecting with former colleagues, and expand my real-world social network.

Some of my Facebook friends have discovered aspects of me they didn't know before, and that has helped bring us closer and fostered new business opportunities.

LinkedIn has so far enjoyed a more privileged status among business users, and has traded on the fact that its community is smaller but more relevant to each member.

Analysts like Clay Shirky have argued that social networks lose relevance as they grow.

You have to find a way to spare the group from scale. Scale alone kills conversations, because conversations require dense two-way conversations. In conversational contexts, Metcalfe's law is a drag. The fact that the amount of two-way connections you have to support goes up with the square of the users means that the density of conversation falls off very fast as the system scales even a little bit.

But Facebook groups provide a mechanism for making the site more relevant for members, while allowing them to also participate in the larger community. So maybe there doesn't have to be a trade-off between size and relevance after all.

For some, Facebook will remain like chocolate, an indulgence; for others, however, it is becoming as important to their lives as the local coffee shop, the village green, or the church social after services.

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