Facebook is the digital marshmallow we can't resist.
Back in the late 1960s, researcher Walter Mischel conducted an experiment that has come to be known as the "Marshmallow Test."
This test consisted of giving marshmallows to 4-year-olds, with the promise of more marshmallows to come if they could delay eating the first for 15 minutes. Those who resisted the sugary treat were shown to do well later in life, while those who failed to resist were more likely to suffer from lower test scores, even issues of drug dependency.
More than 40 years later, Facebook has proved to be an even sweeter marshmallow to its millions of users than any puffed confection Mr. Mischel handed out.
While beginning to write this piece, I couldn't resist the temptation to check my own Facebook profile.
Has anybody commented on my latest status update? Has Jenna from high school accepted my late-night friend request? I can just click right over and find out, but I know once I do I'll end up spending the rest of the afternoon playing Scrabble and commenting on tagged photos.
I'm not alone with this struggle. Comb through any random Facebook page and you'll find people around the world updating statuses from their offices, from classrooms, even from behind the wheel. The deferred rewards of keeping one's job, learning arithmetic, or even staying alive are no match for the compound-worded monster.
The temptation to let others know how happy or sad we feel, and more important, the numerous supportive messages we'll receive from our "friends," is an exercise in deferred gratification that we all lose on a daily basis. And who's to blame us? With its complicated algorithms and formulas, Facebook takes the legwork out of friendship. Do you know Bob? Why not send a friend request to his girlfriend Jane? You haven't talked to Lee in a while. Maybe you should send him a message.
Why go through the trouble of going out and cultivating one new friendship when Facebook lets you meet and befriend hundreds in less time than it takes to watch an episode of "Jersey Shore"?
Every day many people do choose the hundreds of online friends over that one real friend. And what's truly sad is what we're teaching our nation's younger, more impressionable generation. Those born after 1990 have never known a world without the Internet, and it's clear they're fully ingrained in the culture of "right now."