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Materialistic people have more Facebook friends

According to a new study, people who love ‘stuff’ treat their digital friends like possessions to be accumulated

A new study attempting to demonstrate how dangerous social media is and how shallow the youths are for using it has found that materialistic people have “substantially” more Facebook friends than nice people who don’t care about stuff. The study, published in Heliyon, claims that materialistic people view Facebook friends as “digital objects” and have a “greater need” to compare themselves to others on social media platforms.

Lead author Phillip Ozimek and his team of researchers in Germany gathered their data through an online questionnaire carried out on 242 users who had to state how much they agreed with statements about Facebook use and materialism. Ozimek’s belief is that “materialistic people use Facebook more frequently because they tend to objectify their Facebook friends – they acquire Facebook friends to increase their possession”.

Keen not to believe everything I read online, I did a little survey on myself. I have 195 Facebook friends because every single time I left a school or a job or a city I saw it as a great opportunity to cleanse myself of some people I didn’t like in the first place. 195 friends…that’s pretty low, huh? By Ozimek’s research, you’d think I was a pretty unmaterialistic person, right? Wrong! I fucking love stuff! I love to buy things – in fact, I love to buy things a lot more than I love to read about what someone I went to primary school with’s baby puked on that morning, which is precisely why I’m not very active on Facebook.

The study asked participants questions like “my life would be better if I owned certain things I don’t have” which is pretty vague, misleading, and for most people, will be answered with a resounding yes. What if someone doesn’t own a fridge or shoes? Are they materialistic for believing their life would be improved by owning them? Continuing my own very scientific research, I spoke to Amelia, who at 4170 has the most Facebook friends of anyone I personally know (the limit is 5000). She said “I do like buying things, but I would say the ‘trend’ correlates to more relevant social platforms”, adding, “I don’t think I buy things actively to show them off ON Instagram, but I do think Instagram makes me buy things. not only does it make unattainable lives seem ordinary, but on a very basic level, it makes me see people go places, eat things, or buy things”.

The study also believes that materialists have a greater need to compare themselves to other people or to chart how far away they are from becoming wealthy, which to be fair I probably do – but not on Facebook of all places. Brian, who has 1700 Facebook friends, said that he adds so many people because he hates the idea of meeting nice people he gets on with and never seeing them again. Something that the research ignores, too, is the circumstantial nature of accumulating friends – if I had kept and added everyone I met at school (when I got Facebook), my first degree, my MA, on holiday, the 10-15 jobs in various fields as well as everyone in between…yeah, I’d have a lot more than 195 friends. 

I spoke to Ryan, who said that adding people he met felt like “a way to connect”, which was something I heard from many people I spoke to. Far from accumulating friends for numbers or to compare themselves to, many just didn’t want to leave people behind who passed through their lives briefly. Considering a lot of facets of this study – its small sample size, its wild assumptions, its ignorance of many, many factors in a person’s life, the failure to include other platforms – it’s best to not start panicking and cutting down your friends list lest you become a materialistic sociopath.

For some food for thought, though, I leave you with Ozimek’s weird, not-that-wise words: “it seems to us that Facebook is like a knife. It can be used for preparing yummy food, or it can be used for hurting a person”.