Social media addiction is real. It’s easy to lose track of how much time we spend scrolling through Twitter, Snapchatting our friends, or posting photos on Instagram. For many of us, checking social media is the first thing we do when we wake up in the morning and the last thing we do before going to bed at night. It’s how we keep in touch with family, interact with friends, and create and share content with other users all over the globe. It’s estimated that we spend five years and four months of our lives on social media (Ad Week, 2017), and since 50% of teenagers admit they feel addicted to social media (Common Sense Media, 2016), it wouldn’t be surprising if the total time of our lives spent online increased in the future. Of 3.2 billion web users worldwide (International Telecommunication Union, 2015), 30% of total online time is spent on social media (Global Web Index, 2016). As social media becomes more prominent in our every day life, it becomes much harder to avoid. It can be difficult to stay away from, especially as we become more dependent on it.
Social media has many good components, such as connecting people, being a source of entertainment, and providing a platform to discuss a wide variety of topics. However, social media addiction—when users become so obsessed with it that it interferes with their daily life—is not a good thing. Seventy-two percent of teens feel the need to respond instantly and 78% check their device hourly (Common Sense Media, 2016). The five traits that drive social media addiction are fear of missing out (FOMO), ego, perceived value, control, and self-esteem (Huffington Post, 2017). People are constantly checking and updating social media to feel connected with others. Each like, retweet, follow, or share is a form of social currency that is used to boost people’s egos and makes them feel like they’re in control. Since perception creates reality, people who are addicted to social media can’t separate the real world from their virtual world. People become addicted to these five traits, and it creates a never-ending cycle of social media use that quickly turns into an addiction that can’t be cured.
Since social media has become increasingly popular in the past few years, studies have been done to assess social media addiction. A Chicago University study testing how well 205 participants between the ages of 18 and 85 could resist their urges found that social media was more addicting than cigarettes and alcohol (The Guardian, 2012). Another study performed by Harvard University revealed that sharing information about yourself via social media platforms activates the same part of the brain associated with pleasure (WTWH Media, 2012). Since 77% of Americans own a smartphone (Pew Research Center, 2017), the world of social media is available to us at our fingertips. Although social media addiction can affect anyone at any age, it’s especially common in young people who interact with various platforms constantly. Social media makes us more self-absorbed and there is no denying it: we are addicted to social media.
Author: Shannon Cowley (University of Vermont) – junior at the University of Vermont majoring in Public Communication.
Advisor: Rob Williams, Ph.D. (University of Vermont); Professor of Media/Communications.
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