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Facebook's Four Degrees of Separation

Brad Quick|CNBC Producer
Thursday, 17 May 2012 | 12:58 PM ET

Facebook is big. Really big. The social media site just released its latest user tally, and the numbers are eye-popping. Facebook officially has 901-million members and counting. That’s about 8 percent of the world’s population.

Facebook
Juan Mabromata | AFP | Getty Images
Facebook

Not impressed yet? How about this stat: Facebook users have a total of 125-billion friend connections. That’s more than 17-times the world’s population.

That’s an incredible amount of connectivity. Love it or leave it, you can’t argue with the numbers. Facebook has helped put more people in touch with each other than ever before, making the world a smaller place.

And while the upsides to all that connectivity are obvious, there are some voices out there telling us that we all need to take some time to unplug — reminding us that being connected to everyone, all of the time can have its downsides.

“I think we’re setting ourselves up for trouble,” says Sherry Turkle, director of MITs Initiative on Technology and Self, and author of ‘Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other’.

“Trouble in our relationships with each other, that goes without saying. But also trouble in how we relate to ourselves,” she added.

Turkle thinks Facebook has altered the way we view ourselves, and others around us.

“I think Facebook has put a premium on presenting an ideal self,” she says. “It’s created a phenomenon I call ‘FOMO’, fear of missing out.”

"I think Facebook has put a premium on presenting an ideal self,” she says. “It’s created a phenomenon I call ‘FOMO’, fear of missing out." -Director, MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, Sherry Turkle

Think of it this way, when was the last time you posted a picture on Facebook of something you did over the weekend? Or the last time you updated your status or posted a message on someone’s wall?

Turkle says all of these are ways we maintain our Facebook identity. She says we post pictures showing us having fun because it’s a way of communicating to others that we are important, and that we live interesting lives. We’re constantly trying to impress the people we’re surrounded by, even in the digital world.

And because of the growing number of connections being made on Facebook, we have to present that ideal self to an ever expanding social circle.

Remember that stat that says everyone in the world is separated by just 6-degrees of separation? Well Facebook’s done the math. And based on its number of users, and the average number of “friends” each of those users have, the company says it’s narrowed the gap down to 4.74-degrees.

Turkle worries keeping up with all of those connections could be getting to us. “It’s created a sort of performance anxiety."

It’s not as if Turkle expects people to give up Facebook altogether. Sherry’s daughter is in college and — like most kids her age — she’s on Facebook. Turkle just wants us to be aware that there can be some downsides to constantly being plugged in.

And with 901-million users and counting, it might be a conversation worth having.

-By CNBC's Brad Quick

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