Social Media: Are we addicted or just adapting?

Do you check your smartphone first thing in the morning, or in the bathroom, or while driving, and sleep with it? Yeah, relax, (almost) everybody does. We probably shouldn’t, but that’s just the world we live in now, right?

Internet addicts have 10-20 % smaller brain areas responsible for speech, memory, motor control, emotion and sensory. This shrinkage is similar to the damage from cocaine or alcohol addiction. Since 2000, our attention span has also dropped by 40 % from 12 to 8 seconds (a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds).

There is an agitation going on against Social Media these days. The Look Up video, the Social Media Guard by Coca-Cola, the Cloak app… Social Media seems to have gotten a bad stigma recently, as something that consumes all our time, discipline and happiness. Then why are we not quitting it, if it’s so terrible?

Internet Addiction is now officially a thing

In 2013, Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) was officially included in the DSM-V, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. On an average day, most people spend 8,5 hours looking at a screen. Teens spend up to 11 hours a day in front of a screen of some sort. Studies suggest that between 1 and 3 percent of internet users may have a serious addiction. 1 out of 8 Americans experiences signs of internet addiction. The rest is just… average. Is it addiction if it has become the norm?

Signs and Consequences of Internet Addiction

Internet addiction shows in

  • Increasing amounts of time spent on computer and internet activities
  • Failed attempts to control behaviour
  • Heightened sense of euphoria while involved in computer and internet activities
  • Craving more time on the computer and internet
  • Neglecting friends and family
  • Feeling restless when not engaged in the activity
  • Being dishonest with others
  • Computer use interfering with job/school performance
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed, anxious, or depressed as a result of behaviour
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Weight gain or loss, backaches, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Withdrawing from other pleasurable activities

according to reSTART

Why are Facebook and Co. so addicting?

Every notification and like goes straight to the reward center in our brain and triggers the happy hormone Dopamine. It controls our pleasure system and motivates us to seek out things like food, sex and drugs. Each like, retweet and message recharges our addictive compulsion, similar to crack, heroine, meth and other abusive substances. Facebook is even more addictive than alcohol and tobacco. We get into a dopamine loop and it becomes harder and harder to not check our Facebook, Twitter and E-Mail. This is why we’re all addicted to texts, Twitter and Google.

Can you be addicted to water or electricity?

WiFi or a stable internet connection has become a necessity in our lives, just like water or power. We worry where to get the best connection and venues advertise their WiFi spots. It feels like smartphones are somehow going to be part of our bodies soon. Maybe the time has come to just accept the internet and Social Media as part of our lives and to stop demonizing it? Because really, who has the right to do so? Who are the people who don’t use Social Media every couple hours, or know when to unplug and go outside to experience “the real world”, or get a little (okay, super) annoyed when the WiFi is down? Is it you? It’s not me. Also, don’t you get a little restless when the water or electricity is out, and crave more of it? Does it mean you’re addicted to it?

Social Media addiction? Get over it!

There are Digital Detox Retreats, recovery programs and self help groups for internet addicts. Unplugging seems to be a trend. But what’s the point, really? Your phone and computer, and the internet as well, are still going to be there when you get back, and you’re probably going to use them again. Even The New Yorker stated The Pointlessness of Unplugging.

Yes, it is awful to look at a group of teens (or grownups!) who are staring into their phones individually. But in times of wearable technology and the urge to track and digitalize everything; Social Media, apps and the internet probably won’t go away or suddenly stop being interesting and useful to us. There is nothing inherently evil about it, we just need to find a proper way already to incorporate this digital component into our day-to-day lives. This article, or even this headline, says it all: You Don’t Need a Digital Detox: You Just Need to Learn to Set Limits and Boundaries. Maybe we can stop being hypocrites and beating ourselves up about our internet usage, can we? But please, don’t use your phone while driving. You can take the Internet Addiction Test by Net Addiction here.

Also, let’s not forget about the upsides of the internet, like the adorable Cyber Seniors! Are you with me on this? Then please post some other positive examples in the comments!

Header image credits: Royalty free

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