Do you remember that show on TLC called “My Strange Addiction” where a man married his car and another woman ate her husband’s ashes? I remember watching that show when I was younger and thinking, “This is crazy? How could someone do this?” That show capitalized on people with wild addictions and captivated audiences, yet if this show came back in 2019, no one would be too fazed by the addiction plaguing the world today–social media.
We spend hours and hours on our phones every day, so much time is spent hovering over those tiny screens that it’s actually changing our spines. The average person spends about three to four hours a day bent over their phone, which is equivalent to that of an 8-year-old sitting on your neck. Recently, I read an article by the Guardian analyzing the recent discussion about classifying internet addiction as an actual disease. The group pushing for this classification want to combat the way mental health is currently being kicked to the sidelines due to social media’s influence.
Author Roisin Kiberd opens up in her article about her diagnosis by psychiatrists to avoid social media in 2016. But she actually credits the internet to keeping her sane during a time in our country that was hard for a lot of people. I actually took a completely opposite outlook as Kiberd during this time. I found my heartbeat quicken whenever I logged onto Twitter during the intense election period because I was scared about what I might see next. I opted to limit the time I spent scrolling through platforms that once used to be my escape. And I wasn’t alone. According to a study done at Arizona State University in January and February of 2017, “25% of [students] were affected in a way that might lead to diagnosable post-traumatic stress disorder and had “clinically significant” levels of stress.” This statistic is staggering, but not surprising. We cling to social media to help us stay calm during times of crises or panic and this was the first time in political history that social media was actually used as a campaign strategy. The stress during this time turned people to their phones and companies took notice.
It’s a scary notion to think in this “like and dislike” mode that Kiberd discusses, but it’s the way that our consumer culture is currently operating. Products, people or new trends that get us talking are the main goals for brands operating strategically on the internet. Social media addiction is good for business. Companies know how much time people are spending on their phones and they also know what we’re looking at. These companies rely on the notion that we are addicted to scrolling, which is undoubtedly true. In order to be successful in this digital age, a company’s presence on social media has to be strong. But in the world of journalism and communication, we are also constantly being told our presence on social media should be strong. This mindset of needing to brand ourselves on social media has only added to the addiction.
I love social media, don’t get me wrong. I love how quickly things happen and how powerful a tool it can be. But I don’t like how it makes me feel. I am so thankful that I did not grow up during a time when it was normal for someone in elementary school to have an Instagram. Being addicted to social media is a scary concept, but I believe one of the best ways to address this issue is to have more open ways of discussing mental health and its association with the internet.
A new wave of openness is taking social media by storm, with celebrities and influencers using their platforms to tell audiences it’s okay to be vulnerable and honest with the negative sides of social media. We live in a digital age, but that doesn’t mean we have to completely abandon the notion that it’s okay to not be okay with how social media affects you. I don’t know if classifying social media addiction as an actual disease would stop it from affecting millions of people, but it might open up a necessary conversation regarding how we can make these platforms a better place.