No, You’re Not Addicted to Social Media

I think post-millennial teenagers are misled. Many are deeply unhappy spending so much time on social media and would rather hang out with their friends in real life. But because they believe that everyone else expects them to be on it, disclosing their true preferences has become too costly. The immense pressure of the norm means that no one can quit.

Framing the issue solely as social media addiction, besides being unhelpful, might in fact hinder social change. Measures that give teens and parents more control over the time they spend on social media —work well to increase awareness of our behavior, but they do nothing to change expectations about the private beliefs and hidden preferences of other people. Because of this, strategies that target individual behavior will be largely ineffective when it comes to changing the social norm.

Arunas L. Radzvilavicius writing in Undark  

JOMO: The joy of missing out

One of the joys of aging (I’m 64) is to recognize that what used to be important no longer is. There’s no obsession now with social media, no need to follow fleeting trends; the latest movie or fashion style or restaurant or celebrity is unimportant. There’s a sense of peace that comes with pulling back from the zeitgeist and spending the day reading a library book, taking a walk, and preparing a meal. JOMO is real, and its benefits can be achieved at any age if the desire is strong enough.

Comment made by NYCtoMalibu on the New York Times article, “How to Make This the Summer of Missing Out

I can prove you are no smarter than a pigeon

In the 1950s, Skinner began putting the birds in a box and training them to peck on a piece of plastic whenever they wanted food. Then the Harvard psychology researcher rigged the system so that not every peck would yield a tasty treat. It became random — a reward every three pecks, then five pecks, then two pecks. 

The pigeons went crazy and began pecking compulsively for hours on end.

Fast forward six decades. We have become the pigeons pecking at our iPhones, scrolling through news feeds, swiping left/right on Tinder for hours, the uncertainty of what we might find keeping us obsessed by design.

In the modern economy of tablets and apps, our attention has become the most valuable commodity. Tech companies have armies of behavioral researchers whose sole job is to apply principles like Skinner’s variable rewards to grab and hold our focus as often and long as possible.

Market research shows the average user touches their cellphone 2,617 times a day.

William Wan in the Washington Post 

Addicted to Love

Breaking up is hard to do. Literally. A brain study out of Rutgers shows getting over romantic rejection is similar to kicking an addiction. One of the study authors says, "When you've been rejected in love, you have lost life's greatest prize, which is a mating partner." Researchers examined the brains of more than dozen volunteers who had each recently been dumped but still loved the person who had rejected them. It turned out reminders of the beloved activated brain regions in the lover associated with addiction to cocaine and cigarettes. These same areas affect emotional control, rewards, addiction cravings, a sense of attachment, pain and distress. This brain system becomes activated in an attempt to win the person's affections again, according to the researchers. Details are in the July 2010 issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology.

Perhaps the lesson here is that it's important to become addicted to someone who is good for you.

Stephen Goforth

Getting hooked

Should the makers of habit-forming products be praised as innovative entrepreneurs? Or shunned as the immoral equivalents of drug pushers? Ian Bogost, a designer of video games, describes them as nothing less than the “cigarette of this century”. Paul Graham, a Silicon Valley investor, worries that humans have not had time to develop societal “antibodies to addictive new things”.

If any other business were found to be employing people with the title of “behaviour designers”, they would be seen as exploitative and downright creepy. The internet is becoming ever more powerful and pervasive. And every new technological leap makes it easier for behaviour designers to weave digital technology into consumers’ daily habits. As smartphones become loaded with ever more sensors, and with software that can interpret their users’ emotional states (see article), the scope for manipulating minds is growing. The world is also on the cusp of a wearable revolution which will fix Google Glasses to people’s skulls and put smart T-shirts onto their torsos: the irresistible, all-knowing machines will be ever more ubiquitous. And the trouble with insatiable desires is that the struggle to sate them leaves everyone as exhausted as they are unfulfilled.

The Economist

Constantly Looking Down

A small but detailed 2015 study of young adults found that participants were using their phones five hours a day, at 85 separate times. Most of these interactions were for less than 30 seconds, but they add up. Just as revealing: The users weren’t fully aware of how addicted they were. They thought they picked up their phones half as much as they actually did. Whether they were aware of it or not, a new technology had seized control of around one-third of these young adults’ waking hours.

Just look around you—at the people crouched over their phones as they walk the streets, or drive their cars, or walk their dogs, or play with their children. Observe yourself in line for coffee, or in a quick work break, or driving, or even just going to the bathroom. Visit an airport and see the sea of craned necks and dead eyes. We have gone from looking up and around to constantly looking down.

Andrew Sullivan, I used to Be a Human Being

The Web Almost Killed Me

For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week, and ultimately corralling a team that curated the web every 20 minutes during peak hours. Each morning began with a full immersion in the stream of internet consciousness and news, jumping from site to site, tweet to tweet, breaking news story to hottest take, scanning countless images and videos, catching up with multiple memes. Throughout the day, I’d cough up an insight or an argument or a joke about what had just occurred or what was happening right now. My brain had never been so occupied so insistently by so many different subjects and in so public a way for so long.  If you had to reinvent yourself as a writer in the internet age, I reassured myself, then I was ahead of the curve. The problem was that I hadn’t been able to reinvent myself as a human being.

I realized I had been engaging—like most addicts—in a form of denial. I’d long treated my online life as a supplement to my real life. But then I began to realize, as my health and happiness deteriorated, that this was not a both-and kind of situation. It was either-or. Every hour I spent online was not spent in the physical world.

Andrew Sullivan, I used to Be a Human Being

Making exterior changes to avoid internal changes

Some people make changes so they won’t have to make transitions. They walk out on their marriages, but take along the attitudes toward partners that destroyed their marriages. Or they continue to search for “someone to take care of me” after they quit their jobs because their bosses are not interested in playing that role. Or they move because their town doesn’t have any “interesting people” in it—only to find that their new town doesn’t either. Such people may claim that they are “always in transition,” but in fact they are probably never in transition. They are addicted to change, and like any addiction, it is an escape from the real issues raised by their lives.

William Bridges, The Way of Transition