Is Social Media an Addiction?
Do you remember what it was like to not have technology? For some of us probably not and others vaguely. Things change so fast these days that it's hard for any of us to remember what it used to be like without technology. I do remember our first computer — a Gateway. Are they even around anymore? Hmmm...Anyway, I happened to pick up our landline phone and overheard my mom ordering it. That was the day that my life changed. What about that internet dial-up? Do you remember that? That sound still lives in my nightmares like the score to a good horror movie.
While I remember that life-changing phone call my mom made, I haven’t looked closely to see the impact that technology has had on my life, especially social media.
From AOL IM to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I think it’s easy to overlook the effects this has had on us in the last 2+ decades. Maybe it’s time to ask ourselves, what are we using it for and what is it doing to us?
Disclaimer: Social media is a part of our culture and I’m not downplaying the impact that it can have for the good. I’m a user of it and try to use it to spread the word on mental health. I’m merely looking at one side of the coin here.
So what is an addiction? The simple definition is the inability to stop using a substance or activity that results in physical and/or mental damage. In other words, it’s something that you can’t stop doing that causes you harm. So looking through the lens of that definition, I’d like for us to ask ourselves this question: Do you control your social media use or does it control you?
Let's take this a little bit further. You're sitting in the waiting room at the doctors office, what do you do? What about a meeting at work that doesn't quite interest you — what do you do? How about when you go to the bathroom? Heaven forbid I don’t have my phone when I go. I’m trying to show you what our natural tendencies are. I know mine and any environment where I find myself even slightly bored or uncomfortable I dive into social media.
I believe that this longing for our phones and social media is actually a form of escapism. If you google the word Escapism, this is what you’ll find: the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.
The word that stands out to me there is unpleasant. Don’t just graise past that. There’s something to that word and the world we live in. How often do those places I mentioned earlier (doctors office, meetings and bathroom) leave you longing for your phone. I hesitate to use the words unpleasant and bathroom in the same sentence. Seems like a blog post for another day. My point is that no matter where you are, look around. I guarantee that the majority of people are on their phones scrolling through social media. Most of the time the reason we don’t notice it is because our faces are planted in our phones as well. In this world it feels unpleasant. Whether it’s subtle or overwhelming like an ocean that’s trying to drown you, I think we can all agree that it’s unpleasant.
If we seek to escape this unpleasantness, the easiest thing we can do in our current culture is jump on Instagram or our preferred platform. This process leads us into or to continue a closed pattern of escapism. Check out this diagram and let’s break this down.
Escapism -> Social Media
In Episode 13 of the Podcast, I talked significantly on how I believe depression and anxiety are a part of the world today because of our broken relationship with the Lord and one another. Because of this, we’re always going to feel “unpleasant.” Because we feel that tension, we seek to wrestle that unpleasantness to pleasantness.
Social media is the drug of choice in this illustration. It provides us a shot of dopamine every time someone likes or comments on our posts. If you were unaware, dopamine is the same chemical that gets released when you use cocaine. Do you see the tie to addiction? Not there yet? Let’s keep going.
Social Media -> Comparison
Feeling unpleasant, we climb down the social media rabbit hole only to find ourselves in a world of staged photos, links about making the most delicious chocolate chip cookies and a spinning wheel that appears over your head to tell you which Disney character you are.
In this world that you’ve traveled to, you can’t help but compare yourself. You may be doing this consciously or unconsciously. Either way, you look at those staged pictures and think, I wish my house was that clean. Wow, he got a brand new truck. I want that. Maybe your chocolate chip cookies weren’t the most delicious ones you ever ate. You start telling yourself that you aren’t as good at baking as the person who shared that post. Or Heaven forbid you get Olaf on the Disney character thing and your friend gets Jasmine, the Disney princess in a tube top.
My point is that social media leads us to comparing ourselves to one another and continues to leave us feeling empty and alone.
Comparison -> Escapism
With this feeling of “unpleasantness” that we find down in the rabbit hole, what do you think our natural tendency is? You guessed it, escapism. So we climb back out of the hole only to find ourselves back in the bathroom or sitting at the doctor's office feeling a longing for peace. The pattern starts over and we dive back down the hole thinking that it’ll be different this time.
While this may not be true for everyone, I’d like to think that each one of us can relate to this pattern. If you’re unsure I’d challenge you to have a heightened sense of awareness the next time you’re in a place that requires you to wait. Examine if you feel a strong desire to pull out your phone. If so, don’t! Does the urge get worse or subside?
How do we Break the Pattern?
So here we are, acknowledging that maybe our social media use has become an addiction, that it’s controlling us. What do we do to break the pattern? The answer to this is going to vary person to person, but I think there are a few practical things we can do to break this pattern.
Seek a season or time of day to detach from social media.
This is going to be very difficult unless you put some boundaries in place. One of the things that has really helped me is to use Do Not Disturb mode or put limits on my Screen Time. Every morning I get up around 5:30-6:00 to study the word of God, pray and write, and during that time my do not disturb mode is on. This prevents notifications from coming onto my screen. On Sundays, I don't want to be distracted from my role as a worship leader to our church. I use Screen Time to turn off about 75% of my apps so that between the hours of 7-12:30, I can’t access those apps and indulge in escapism.
If this isn’t enough for your social media addiction, then maybe you should consider deleting those apps from your phone. I did this with Facebook for two years and quite honestly it was the most freeing thing I’d felt in a long time.
Engage in Face-to-Face Relationships
Social media will never be able to replace the beauty of good ol’ fashioned face-to-face relationships. Again I want to reiterate that social media can do some really good things, like connect us to people that distance divides, but I’d encourage you to make sure your life is balanced with human interaction. Grab coffee with a friend. Go watch a movie with a coworker. Just make sure you're not distracted by your phone the whole time you’re with these people.
Technology is a really cool thing that can be used to do some serious good, but unfortunately I think it may have the upper hand on us. Why don’t we break the pattern and show it that it doesn’t control us, but we control it!