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Facebookers get case of virtual envy

One thing Facebook has managed to do is take the personal out of personal relationships.

Instead of visiting friends, we “friend” them electronically and “like” things they do, keeping up with their day-to-day events by reading text and photos that are posted. Having an actual conversation, sitting down and sharing dinner ... no time for all that. Just tap out the details on your smartphone and post it.

It’s also leading to some severe cases of virtual envy.

In an article Wednesday, Reuters reported on a study conducted by a pair of German universities in which the researchers came up with an unexpected finding — about one out of every three Facebook users feel worse after visiting the site and find their real lives to be less satisfying as well.

“We were surprised by how many people have a negative experience from Facebook with envy leaving them feeling lonely, frustrated or angry,” researcher Hanna Krasnova from the Institute of Information Systems at Berlin’s Humboldt University told Reuters. “From our observations some of these people will then leave Facebook or at least reduce their use of the site.”

Some have speculated that Facebook, with over a billion users, has topped out. Even in the electronic world, it seems, no one likes to see other people having a good time on vacation. According to the report, Facebook users who browsed without contributing anything were the most affected with the lion’s share of the fits of envy — more than 50 percent — being sparked by vacation photos.

That, of course, has been a comedy staple of decades — the couple invited over for dinner only to be bored silly by the hosts’ vacation pictures, particularly in the days when the fashion was project color slides onto a wall or screen. But as with most humor, it was based on the germ of an underlying truth.

No. 2 on the bad experience list — comparing how many birthday greetings and likes and/or comments the user gets compared to what his or her friends receive. Physical isolation, it seems, does nothing to quell competitiveness or the drive to be popular.

And vanity has certainly found its way on the social medium. Reuters reported that the researchers found that men post more self-promotional material emphasizing their accomplishments on Facebook, women focus on their attractiveness and busy social lives.

The researchers say that the bad experiences may eventually drive people away from Facebook. Only time will determine that.

Perhaps the dissatisfaction will have another effect as well. Humans are social creatures. Maybe we’ll get back into the habit of what our parents and grandparents used to refer to as “going visiting.”

One word of warning — if you do have friends over sometime, don’t drag out the vacation pictures.