The Dilemma of Social Media Addiction

By Olessya Sarkisov (2EA)

Source: Netflix

Social media seems omnipresent in today’s world. It is fun to catch up with friends, follow the life of movie stars, as well as inform yourself on the subjects of your interest. It seems like it has always been this way. Yet, in a quite recent past the world lived without any social media at all. The more remarkable is how fast the use of social media became so important to create psychological incontrollable dependence among an evergrowing portion of people, leading to depression and damaged health. It affects younger generations the most, and “Social Dilemma”, a movie recently released on Netflix, raises this question in a compelling way and offered some solutions.

Social media platforms started to operate towards the end of the 1990s. “Only” 100 million of people had access to internet in 2000. That was enough to create real boom around the first global social media network called “MySpace.” Facebook was created in 2004, but quickly followed the lead and currently it counts more than 2 billion active users. Facebook and Instagram (that is owned by Facebook) are cited most often in connection with social media addiction driven by an uncontrollable urge to log in.

Besides a pure and simple waste of time, an extensive use of social media creates some quite troublesome consequences. Here is an incomplete list of possible issues summarized by Kristeen Cherney in her article, “What Is Social Media Addiction?” published online at the Healthline site on August 6, 2020 (https://www.healthline.com/health/social-media-addiction). It can lead to low self-esteem, when you think that other’s life is “better” than yours. It can increase isolation and the feeling of loneliness that lead to sensations of anxiety which, in turn, might head towards a full-blown depression. This may push people to ignore relationships in real life, reducing empathy towards others. It can affect work performance and ability to study and learn. Social media addiction can disrupt sleep patterns and damage one’s health in other ways. Finally and quite obviously, the increased screen time leads to a decrease in physical activity.

Social media plays with human brains. People are hooked, thanks to the pleasure they experience. They typically think that it can be explained by connection with their friends, but that is only partially true. Ashford University recent study explains that other important factors are at play in an article called “Causes of Social Media Addiction & Illness” (published online at https://www.ashford.edu/online-degrees/student-lifestyle/causes-of-social-media-addiction-illness).

For example, the most pleasurable experience is related to likes and comments people receive. Scientists had discovered that receiving them generates the emission of dopamine in one’s brain which corresponds to euphoric feeling of happiness. The dopamine loop should normally help to create and maintain useful habits that increase one’s chances of survival. That is not true in the case of social media use. As the positive feelings are only temporary and the dopamine wears off with time, one rushes back to an easily accessible source for more. According to “Addiction Center”, 27% of children who spend three or more hours a day on social media exhibit symptoms of poor mental health. (Source: Addiction Center, Social Media Addiction by Jena Hilliard, published online at: https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/social-media-addiction/).

I have interviewed a sociologist, Sergey Sarkisov, to discuss this issue and he came up with several explanations for these numbers.

First, he says, the social pressure at this age is particularly important: “Teenagers want to fit in and be accepted as a part of their group of reference; that is the group they want to belong to.”

Second, today’s children are “digitally natives.” They naturally understand how to use modern technology as they grow up with it. Devices and apps seem intuitively clear and easy to use, whereas older generations may experience some troubles in getting accustomed to their use and typically require some guidance in their use.

Third, the technology firms employ lots of people to create very additive functions and designs fostering addiction on a chemical level. “Young people psychic development is in flux which makes them an easy prey for these services.”

These three points are developed in Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma.” It illustrates well how social media create addiction, makes explicit the reasons why people spend more and more time using apps and reveals the inner mechanics of the tech companies that stimulate this urge as they earn money through the advertising they show.

The movie includes interviews with professionals who had worked in large tech companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter and confess that the strength of addiction they helped to create was not obvious even for them at first and that it is only recently professionals started to doubt their products as they had difficulties to overcome their addictive use themselves.

The film also contains interventions of social scientists and activists who study this problem and not only explain in detail the mechanics of addiction, but also suggest some ways to minimize it, such as: no use of the phone in the evening, limited use during the day, deactivation of notifications in all apps, avoid using suggestions from the apps as they lead to a ‘rabbit hole’ when one wastes too much time learning close to nothing and sometimes following a wrong path of fake news and fake experts.

This addiction is treatable and many have successfully recovered. One of the best ways to break this addiction is to set boundaries and reduce screen-time. However, if the addiction is too severe one may require professional help.

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