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Apparently Facebook temptation is more alluring than sex

By Simon Davies

US media is starting to report on findings by the University of Chicago that the temptation to check Twitter and Facebook is more alluring than sex. Prepare yourself for a spate of trashy TV news items on this topic.

Beware: this claim is what academics call a CSM, or Crap Survey Metaphor. It’s what happens when researchers are required to hand over their hard work to university PR departments.

The truth is a little more mundane I’m afraid, as any cigarette smoking Facebook user will well understand.

The New york Daily News reports that the week-long poll, conducted in Germany by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, classified the checking of social network tweets, pictures, comments and other posts as stronger than sex and cigarettes in terms of temptation.

The truth is a little more mundane I’m afraid, as any cigarette smoking Facebook user will well understand.

“Desires for media may be comparatively harder to resist because of their high availability and also because it feels like it does not cost much to engage in these activities, even though one wants to resist,” said Wilhelm Hofmann, the study’s lead author.

Let me rephrase what Wilhelm just said: The more commonplace and accessible an activity, the more you’re likely to do it.

Well, that summarises just about every sphere of human activity. I find speaking on phones cheap and accessible, but I would never claim it was more attractive than sex – even phone sex. Same goes for making cups of tea or walking around the house. Sex, as the lead author just inferred, is harder and more costly than logging on to Facebook, but that doesn’t mean it’s more alluring. I’m please to note that Forbes agrees with me on this point.

This is yet another survey outcome that infers social networking should be high up in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Why is this relevant to privacy? Simple. This is yet another survey outcome that infers social networking should be high up in Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs, along with eating and shelter.

And being up there in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs of course means social media is falsely imbued with some sort of natural personal and cultural imperative that makes it more significant than it really is – more significant perhaps than the rule of law or common sense.

Such utterances as “it’s here to stay” or “it’s part of the human DNA now” have been wheeled out for decades by opponents of sensible regulation in countless sphere’s of human interest.

Such utterances as “it’s here to stay” or “it’s part of the human DNA now” have been wheeled out for decades by opponents of sensible regulation in countless sphere’s of human interest. Misleading survey interpretations simply add fuel to the falsehood that social media is beyond regulation because it’s a “people” thing.

You can see the thin edge of the wedge. When I’ve campaigned against technologies such as CCTV and identity cards the same sort of survey results were paraded, each insinuating that those innovations are somehow “better” because lots of people fanatically believe in them.

I for one am sick and tired of these overblown research outcomes, even though in their academically pure form they’re often useful.

Lots of things are more alluring than Facebook, or even sex, but we don’t necessarily promote them as virtuous. Here’s a list off the top of my head:

1. Letting down your neighbour’s tyres when he parks for the third time this week in your space.

2. Smacking your wife’s mother over the face with a wet haddock when she tells you yet again how her ex was “such a better cook”.

3. Doing your exercises naked in the garden at night.

4. Stealing that noisy toy from your neighbour’s child.

5. Getting that girl in the local bar surreptitiously drunk because she’s so damned funny when she tries to get up off the chair.

And yes, we have laws to regulate those sort of temptations too, and for good reason.