“I use Twitter constantly, all day, from the moment I wake up to the last minutes before I go to sleep,” writes author and tech journalist Patrick Garratt.
“It’s not unusual for me to check Twitter on my phone before I turn on the light in the morning, and I usually do a few last refreshes after my wife plunges our bedroom into darkness at night. I have a Twitter app open on at least three devices in the house at any one time: on my PC in my office, on a laptop in the kitchen, on my smartphone or on my Vita. I use Twitter during meals, before I start my car’s engine, when we go for family walks and when I travel on trains. I don’t read when I sit down to ‘relax’: I tweet.”
Garratt, who manages a video game news site, relies heavily on the social networking site for his business, in addition to using the site for recreation. Recurrent use of the site for his company makes Garratt’s reliance on the site throughout the day even stronger; he regularly attracts readers via the social media platform.
Garratt explains that his incessant use of Twitter has a negative impact on various aspects of his life. His concentration is impaired, his writing and editing abilities are weakened, and his relationship with his wife and children are shortchanged, all because of his all-consuming obsession with a social networking site. He explains that he no longer receives enjoyment from using it but is simply dependent upon it in the same way that a drug abuser becomes dependent on mind-altering substances. What’s worse is that, unlike drugs, which are not necessary for one’s success or overall well-being, Twitter is necessary for Garratt, as the success of his job largely depends upon its use.
According to pew research.org, around 68% of U.S. adults use Facebook and about 74% of those users visit the site on a daily basis. Nearly half of all U.S. adults (about 45%) receive their news from Facebook. The Millennial generation (particularly those between the ages of 18 and 24) is especially prone to heavy social media use. Some 74% of those within this age range use Snapchat and approximately 71% of those users visit the social media platform multiple times per day. Likewise, among members of the same age group, approximately 71% regularly use Instagram and 45% use Twitter.
This chart demonstrates how prevalent social media platforms have become in today’s society.
Obviously, social media has become a dominant form of communication in today’s technological society, and is used for a whole host of purposes, including information sharing, news gathering, civic and political engagement, marketing/growing a business, video sharing and viewing, and networking, among many others.
I interviewed two college students, Julie and Julianna, and asked their opinion about how social media affects our generation today and how it affects their lives, as well as the addictive nature of social media.
Although social media is an extraordinarily powerful tool, with great power comes great responsibility. How much is too much when it comes to our use of social media platforms? Can a person (like Patrick Garratt) become psychologically dependent on social media, so much so that it turns into a dangerous addiction that interferes with their work, relationships, and personal growth?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines “an addiction a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive use of something despite harmful consequence.” In most cases, that something is a substance (drugs or alcohol). However, despite the fact that “social media addiction” has not been medically defined by the APA, dependency on social media resembles dependency on substances in many ways. A Harvard study even found that self-disclosure on Facebook triggers the release of dopamine, the same chemical released when taking an addictive substance such as cocaine. Dopamine is also released every time we receive self-validation from others through likes, comments, tags, and other reactions to our social media activity.
Although not clinically defined, social media addiction is a real issue that lead to complications such as trouble sleeping or concentrating.
According to Dr. Pamela Rutledge, a media psychologist, “Social validation is important; a Facebook like is a social signal. It affirms our existence the same way that someone nodding at you on the sidewalk does.”
Although not clinically defined, “social media addiction” is a widely used phrase to describe excessive use of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, Vine, Snapchat, and other forms of social media, to the point where it interferes with everyday functioning. Signs of this problem would include ignoring important aspects of life to spend time on Facebook, spending multiple hours a day on social media platforms, checking social media sites whenever one gets a chance, being more comfortable with your online social identity than with your real-life social presence, constantly posting online extremely mundane, everyday tasks and activities, using social media to escape one’s life struggles, and losing a significant amount of sleep to continue use of social media.
According to net addiction.com, a person could be described as having a social media addiction if they have a constant preoccupation with using Facebook and an extreme inclination to share content even when there is nothing noteworthy for them to share. These people have such a compulsive need to share that they do not consider the appropriateness of what they are sharing and whether or not it will be received well by their audience.
Moreover, social media addicts, according to net addiction, immediately turn to Facebook as their default choice of what to do whenever they have spare time. Facebook (or social media) addicts also use social media to escape from personal problems they are facing in their lives. The social media serves as a distraction so they do not have to face the psychological and emotional hurtles that present themselves in life. Also, those whom are addicted to social media become restless and agitated if forced to quit using social media. They enter a phase of withdrawal, similar to that experienced by addicted smokers, alcoholics, and drug users.
They also have problems in real-life relationships because communicating in front of a screen becomes much easier; therefore, social media addicts may sacrifice real-life social interactions, using digital media interactions as their predominant means of fulfilling their social needs.
Although, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, social media time accounts for 28% of all media time spent online, there are certain risk factors that can make individuals more likely to develop a social media addiction. These risk factors are similar to those that can be found in people suffering from other addictions, including drug or alcohol addiction.
Teens who experience high levels of stress may turn to social media platforms to help them de-stress and then become addicted to using those platforms. In addition, teens who have a poor social skills or a limited social life may be more inclined to develop a social media addiction, to broaden their social network. Teens who do not fit in at school are also more likely to develop a social media addiction. They compensate online for what they are lacking in the real world and, consequently, they feel more connected and accepted by others.