Tom Hedley maintains that social media are only the latest instance of the human need for social interaction. But he remains concerned about the possibility of internet addiction.
It’s official – vanity has gone viral, and it’s a killer disease. In the Evening Standard Phoebe Luckhurst relays that more than 12 people have died in 2015 as a result of impromptu selfies and melodramatic pouts. That’s four more fatalities than sharks, she adds, because we’re playing the inconsequential comparisons game.
But let’s get serious. Is it our own narcissism that is killing the conversation (and ourselves, by the looks of things); or the technology that we hold so dear?
On average, we post over 80 million pictures of cute dogs grinning, muscle-stretched tees and pictures of ‘bae’ to Instagram every day, across 400 million active users. That’s 400 billion photos in total. What we have here isn’t a series of narcissistic episodes but an attachment to social media that is so profoundly embedded in ourselves it’s almost impossible to tweet our way out. But why would we want to escape? Why shouldn’t we want to do this, especially if something like this always been wired into human existence?
10,000 years ago we would still have been posting selfies. The University of California (UCLA) recently discovered that our brains are naturally wired for interaction and bonding. Researchers found that even when are brains are at our rest, we are preparing to be social – a characteristic that can only be enhanced by twenty-four seven access to the web.
‘The brain has a major system that seems predisposed to get us ready to be social in our spare moments,’ claims Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology, psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. ‘The social nature of our brains is biologically based.’
But alongside the idea of the selfie as simply the continuation of socialised self-expression, there is also the notion that social media addiction can be compared to drug abuse. In 2012, researchers from the University of Bergen found that Facebook dependency is linked to the activation of the reward centre in our brain: it can induce changes in brain reward pathways in much the same way as drug addiction.
‘The social nature of the site itself was considered problematic, especially for women, extroverts, and those unable to fall asleep until very late at night (people with a delayed sleep-wake rhythm),’ researchers added.
The study also found that participants were more likely to respond quicker to notifications from their mobile phones, than they were to react to street signals such as traffic lights and stop signs.
Luckily, signs of social media addiction are easy to spot when self-declared addict Emma Power shares her symptoms with the Guardian.
‘You can’t get beyond the main course in a restaurant before you get out your phone and instagram the duck confit,’ Power divulges. ‘In fact, you are itching to snap away by the time the first course arrives’.
‘The very first thing you do when you wake up is reach for your phone (always by the side of your bed, in fact usually under your pillow),’ she continues.
Compromised interactions with a loved one, anthropomorphised references to social media and self-indulgence of likes also make Power’s list of disempoweringly addictive behaviour.
If social media addiction is really a terrifying reality of the twenty first century, what is being done about it? Unsurprisingly, there are already several self-help books online, including: Break Free From Your Social Media Addiction by Realsimple and How to defeat a social networking addiction from Wikihow, both opting for the cards down approach: acknowledge, abstinence and recovery.
Elsewhere, petrified parents are told to ban their children from using smartphones in the bedroom, as a study found that children were waking in the middle of the night (in cold sweats, presumably) to update their social media. Others suggest restrictions of internet connectivity during the daytime: according to this outlook, tweets are worse than sweets when it comes to Junior’s health.
When Junior reaches Senior level, the treatment gets tougher. In 2009, the first ever internet-addiction rehab facility was opened in the US, featuring the 45-day program reSTART, helping IAD (internet addiction disorder) sufferers regain normality. The first patient to walk through reSTART’s doors was a 19-year-old who could not remove himself from the online role-playing game World of Warcraft. The reSTART program consists of therapists, yoga instructors and recreational coaches and is designed to induce social and career development within the addict. The course, however, costs upwards of $14,500 dollars meaning rehab may not be optimal strategy-wise.
You and Me
So has the calamity of internet addiction spread into our own journalistic community? Absolutely. As productive and resourceful as we may be, the Internet plays an indispensible role in data procurement and publishing solutions. Without it our work is archaic.
Should we be worried about the dangers of social media addiction that lurks around every corner of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? ‘Internet Distraction: The Writer’s Main Dilemma’, published by The Huffington Post in 2015 likes to think so.
‘Let’s take the negative of social media first’, Kristen Houghton writes, ‘number one, social media networking takes a lot of one’s time.
‘You can become so focused on checking social media that you end up wasting precious writing time sitting at computer or scrolling through other people’s lives. You get caught up in the social media whirl and it draws you in.
‘The rule here is: being a good writer is 3% hard work and 97% not getting distracted by the internet’, she proclaims.
Houghton’s concerns ring true – and uncomfortably close to home. Perhaps us junior journos make up the demographic most at risk of catching Internet Addiction Disorder.
See y’all in rehab.