Written by: Gregory Knell
The world is different than it used to be. The way we communicate with each other hasn’t just evolved in recent years, it’s completely transformed. Harken back only 15 years ago when Facebook, Tinder, Instagram, and Twitter didn’t exist and the word “selfie” hadn’t made it into the dictionary yet.
Email was nowhere near as ubiquitous as it is today and the concept of texting was still a fledgling method of sending messages. Would it have ever occurred to the 15-years-ago you that hundreds of millions of people around the world would soon be communicating with each other almost solely through digital means? Their faces perpetually glowing brightly from the illumination of small, handheld, electronic devices, and living under the strange assumption that every person they’ve ever met cares about seeing a photo of what they ate for dinner that night?
Even just 15 years ago, very few of us would have ever imagined the strange world of social media as it exists today and the consuming obsession with it that people – particularly young people – have developed. Social media has completely redesigned and redefined the way people not only communicate but the way people find meaning and self-worth on a day-to-day basis, letting “likes” and “followers” largely determine the level of self-confidence they have for themselves.
Perhaps there isn’t anything inherently destructive or harmful about social media as there certainly are valuable and useful tasks that can be completed with its help. Like allowing us to stay in constant contact with people that we, pre-social media, would probably rarely (or never) see again, is one reason.
However, as is the case with the consumption of most everything, moderation is the best policy. But when it comes to social media in our modern world, restraint is near impossible for some. It can get to the point where it consumes their entire lives, negatively effecting their behavior, social skills, worldview, and more. The advent and subsequent embrace of social media technology has quite literally changed the world forever. When something is introduced with as much power and influence as this, we must always consider carefully the ways in which we allow it to influence us personally.
The rising concerns of Social Media over-usage
Sure, there are many social media advocates who deny reports of the negative psychological and social consequences of excessive social media use and, in all honesty, they should not be disagreed with in every respect. Social media certainly isn’t all bad. But it most definitely can be.
Consider the many concerns that have been raised regarding excessive social media use. It pertains to mental health concern that have been raised by scientists and academics, particularly concerning the youth as they are, by far, the largest consuming demographic.
One study, for instance, that was done in 2011 at Nottingham Trent University in the U.K. and is considered an “early” study on the topic of social media (which shows how fast technology is moving) involved psychologists Dr. Daria Kuss and Dr. Mark Griffiths. They dived into the social and cognitive effects found in excessive social media users. Their findings were quite clear.
Many of the subjects participating in the study showed severe destructive effects, mostly pertaining to academic achievement and general relationships in the real world. Psychologists and sociologists will recognize immediately that these are signs that coincide with virtually every form of addiction, and in this case, social media addiction.
Is it a mental health concern?
Since 2011, universities and other interested organizations have conducted countless studies on the topic of social media addiction in an effort to define it, understand it, and know how to treat it. Even the psychologists mentioned above have since engaged in additional studies of their own, that have shown deeper and more troubling results. Social media addiction is now being associated with various psychological problems. It has been identified as the cause and/or the result of conditions such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
In fact, a new (yet unofficial) label has been given to an emerging psychological disorder that has come about almost directly as a result of social media addiction: FOMO, which stands for ‘fear of missing out’. FOMO is linked to the reality that almost everyone who uses social media, does so primarily from their mobile device. And they are in the habit of prioritizing the notifications above almost anything else.
Who should we be concerned for?
Now, when we say that many people show these signs, fortunately we don’t mean majority. In reality, it’s actually a minority of users that are stricken with what would professionally be diagnosed as Social Media Addiction. But just because someone isn’t clinically addicted does not mean that their usage is not problematic.
When something becomes habitual, something else in that person’s life that they normally spend a particular amount of time on, becomes diminished to some degree. Someone who regularly checks Facebook while driving, for example, may not mean that they’re full- blown addicted but it certainly is problematic. An inability to give someone full attention during a conversation, because they can’t put their phone down, is also obviously problematic.
So how do you diagnose potential social media addiction in yourself and others? A good place to start and really get serious about it is to ask the following questions: Does your social media use…
-impact negatively your ability to perform workplace responsibilities?
-make you irritated and restless when you can’t check it?
-result in many tried and failed attempts to pull back your frequency of use?
-represent a constant escape from personal responsibility and problems?
-come about through uncontrollable urges to check?
-dominate your thoughts during the day, even when you’re not looking at it?
-happen the moment you wake up?
-keep you up at night from mindless scrolling and clicking?
If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, it is recommended that you recognize you are on your way to or may already be afflicted with social media addiction. Social media addiction is now an official, diagnosable medical disorder. It can’t be said with surety that a person is an addict without consulting a professional psychiatrist or psychologist. But the signs and symptoms are most definitely clear.
How can we help lessen the Social Media Addiction?
Anyone showing signs of social media addiction should initiate strategies that are sometimes referred to as digital detoxing. As you can assume, these strategies help curb your habit by lessening the amount of time you spend with your eyes fixed to a screen. Here are some behavioral changes and implementations that can help someone digitally detox:
-silence incoming notifications on your cell phone so you aren’t triggered to check every moment you receive one.
-schedule screenless periods of time. Some suggestions are dinnertime and from 7 pm to the next morning.
-Delete apps from your phone that also have desktop or laptop computer access. You don’t carry your laptop with you in your pocket so checking your notifications won’t happen as frequently.
-Don’t keep electronic devices in your bedroom. Many who suffer from symptoms of social media addiction sit in bed and procrastinate sleep for hours, as they scroll endlessly through social media accounts. De-associating bedtime with social media time is a huge step for many people.
-Download apps like Freedom that block chosen apps for customizable periods of time.
The truth is that the change in behavior is up to the individual. Even though many governments throughout the world have enacted laws prohibiting behavior such as texting while driving, those who have social media addiction don’t give them a second thought when triggered. A trigger can be something as simple as the “ding” that indicates a new notification.
Policies in educational institutions and the workplace certainly help raise awareness of the dangers of social media addiction, and definitely help to curb a percentage of destructive behavior. The overall productivity of a significant percentage of students and employees are experiencing a severe decline in productivity, due directly to social media addiction. Though anything can be a distraction, social media (along with mobile devices in general) are arguably and particularly concerning because of how they’ve woven themselves into the every day fabric of our lives.
We simply have to learn to live with technology
Internet has become essential to the functionality of the modern world. It is perhaps unrealistic to expect permanent and longterm abstinence from all computers and phones. Technology is here to stay. There we need to learn how to properly interact with it, particularly social media, considering the detrimental effects that uncontrolled use can yield.
Parents are encouraged to to educate themselves on their children’s social media use and to regulate it as they see fit. When signs and symptoms of social media addiction begin to surface, know how to recognize them for what they are. Even better, take steps to prevent them from occurring in the first place through appropriate methods that you feel will work for you and your family.
Social media certainly has utility and provides enjoyment, but know that social media addiction is an addiction just like any other unbridled habit. Consider seeking out and consulting a professional if you or anyone that you know suffers from or is showing signs of social media addiction.