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Tuesday, 05 Feb 2019

The Real Threat of Social Media Addiction

By Dr Becky Spelman
social media

Social media is the elephant in the room we can no longer ignore. There’s no escaping its presence. And although it can most definitely be a force for good, connecting like-minded people from far-flung pockets of the world, its drawbacks have become a blight on our modern culture. The countless memes portraying friends ‘socialising’ at the dinner table, transfixed with their devices is a damning but altogether accurate piece of satire.

To call our relationship with the medium cult-like might come off as a tad extreme, but the fact is, our wellbeing has become so dependent on the outcomes it ‘offers.’ It’s akin to a digital teat we suckle for comfort and validation. You could argue it unites us only in our disregard for one another – a view that’s possibly as cynical as it is ironic, and perhaps too much of a generalisation… Not everyone is stricken with the twitch-response mindset of ‘one more scroll.’ Still, there is certainly a case to answer for the growing shadow it casts…

Why Are We So Hooked?

There’s a definite science applied to the mechanics of the most popular social platforms. Facebook has long since shifted from being a site on which to share and more to a live database of consumers that can be marketed to in real-time – which brings its own set problems. In recent years, multiple sources have cited the input of ‘attention engineers’ in its design process. The very same people whose work involves ensuring Las Vegas slot machines exhibit the moreish quality of ‘just one more spin.’

As unsettling as this is, it should come as no great surprise. Anyone with the briefest experience with social media will confirm checking your account for updates brings a heightened sense of anticipation. When the little red icons are lit up, we feel like a winner, and when we draw a blank, so are we. You could take this analogy a step further and liken the act of posting to making a bet. You’re effectively prospecting. Speculating on a result. How much attention can you gain from a specified investment? Only, instead of laying down money, your stake is your emotions at the time.

Possibly the biggest reason for our fixation with these platforms, such as Facebook, in particular, is the fear of missing out (FOMO). We’re predisposed to be social by nature, and if all our friends are congregating in a certain place where plans are being made, sooner or later we’ll be pulled into its orbit, as well. Even the most ardent ‘social media deniers’ have accounts that remain largely inactive, but exist nonetheless for fear of missing a group invite.

Unreliable Narration, Unrealistic Expectations

The reality of social media is it isn’t reality at all. At least, not in the way we suppose it is. It’s an elaborate game of role-playing, in which we chose an avatar and present our best moments, either airbrushing or omitting the rest. There’s nothing inherently wrong in wanting to focus only on the positive. But as an outside observer, it can often breed a sense of inferiority. When you’re constantly bombarded with the relentless ‘success’ and good times of others, it creates a distorted view of your place in the world. We forget what we’re seeing is only what we’re supposed to – an extended highlights reel. We compare our journey to others with completely different circumstances to our own and fall into the mindset of competition.

The ultimate irony of our relationship with these platforms is the verbiage used to describe how we interact with them. We ‘consume’ content. Though, given our tendency to place so much emphasis on the outcomes it provides, it is, in fact, us that are being consumed; through our own insecurities as much as the content.

However, addiction is not a constant; it is the exception. Social media has done more to mobilise and empower minority groups than any other medium in history. It gives a voice to the voiceless, allowing us to connect in such a manner we gain a better understanding and become more accepting of each other. It draws attention to important social issues and breaks down taboos. The #MeToo and movement and LGBT communities are prime examples of this. When dealing with social media, we simply need to be aware of why it is we’re really using it. Is it for the purposes of instant gratification, or do we have a unique perspective we’d like to share with the world?

*** If you’re struggling with addressing any form of addictive personality behaviours, one of our specialists would be happy to provide you with an initial consultation to help determine the best way forward.

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