ConsumerU

Social Media Addiction

As you are getting ready for work, sipping on your warm cup of coffee, and putting the finishing touches on your hair for the day, you see an update on Facebook about a local young man who was arrested during a drug-related incident. There was a shooting, and the young man was injured before he was eventually arrested. You think about the misfortune of this young man, likely coming from a bad neighborhood, or being associated with a gang, or how unfortunate it would be if he was so addicted to the drugs that he would ignore the danger involved in this transaction. Really sad, you think to yourself as you put down your tablet. You grab your smartphone and send out a quick inspirational tweet about overcoming obstacles and addiction. You post the story on Facebook with the hashtag - #sadstories. Addiction is a terrible thing, but who is the addict here?

In the early 2000’s, the Blackberry phone rose to prominence in our culture. It was a cell phone, e-mail system and data management device all wrapped up into one keyboard dominated phone. As the usage and popularity of this handy device grew, so too did the urban dialect. Blackberry phones quickly attracted the nickname “Crackberry.” Like a drug user who was incapable of putting down drugs, Crackberry users were constantly texting, calling and surfing the Web on their magical device. This cell phone evolution coincided with the rise of the social media giant Facebook.

These early social media events precipitated an avalanche of social media development to where today there are multiple options that allow us to live nearly every moment of our lives in public view. While the multitude of versions and choices of social media we have can be a great way to express ourselves and share what we are doing, they can also become addictive and destructive.

The advent of the cell phone for consumer use in the mid 1980’s was supposed to simplify life for working Americans, allow employees to be more efficient and ultimately spend less time at work. However, doesn’t it often seem like many people actually spend more time working as they are constantly attached to phones and mobile devices? This constant connection can often bleed over into personal applications, as those same devices that are used for work can also be used for social media applications.

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What is Social Media Addiction?

To truly find out if you are addicted to social media, let’s break it down.

Social media can be defined in many different ways. One way to define social media is the use of websites or mobile device applications that allow the user to share information over a social network. A social network is a website or application that allows individuals and groups to connect with each other by sharing messages, photos or other content. Some examples of common social media sites include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Linkedin and Flickr. A quick search engine query can lead you to these sites, and provide you with a list of many, many more sites.

Addiction generally can be defined as having a psychological or physiological dependency to a substance, or in this case a thing. Addiction will typically lead to habitual behavior, which can end up damaging personal relationships, job performance or other aspects of life.

Using these definitions to create the framework for our discussion, where do you fall in terms of your need to use social media? Where would you fall on a spectrum of 1-10, “1” meaning you don’t really need it at all, to “10” meaning you have to get on your social media sites all the time.

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Warning Signs of Social Media Addiction

While there is no comprehensive list of generally accepted behaviors that will apply to everyone who is addicted to social media, let’s discuss some of the common warning signs:

  • Questioning Yourself. One common symptom of addiction is asking yourself if you may have a problem. In most cases, people who are balanced in their daily activities don’t ask themselves if one particular item or thing is problematic. Do you find yourself constantly asking, “Is this too much?” or, “Do I spend too much time on this site?”
  • Inability to Stop Use. Typically, addicts have tried at least once to curtail use of the subject of their addiction, but were unable to do so. Are you able to put your tablet down and not use it for an entire day? How about an entire weekend? Have you tried to “quit” a social media site and failed?
  • Defensive Behavior. “I don’t have a problem!” How often do addicts utter that phrase? When friends, loved ones, or co-workers bring up the subject of potential overuse of social media, how do you respond? While defending the use of your time is not in and of itself a sign of addiction, being overly defensive when others express concern may be a sign of addiction. Ask friends and those around you most if they have brought up the topic of the time you spend on social media, and ask them to characterize your response to their questions. Were you defensive?
  • Obsessive Behavior. Are you spending every waking moment using social media, or contemplating your next social media use anytime you are not using social media? Non-stop social media use, and finding ways to constantly update your “status” is obsessive behavior indicative of a social media addiction.
  • Guilt. Do you feel bad about the amount of time, or how often, you spend using social media? If you recognize that you are misusing your time, or that how much time you spend using social media is inappropriate, it is a good bet that you’re correct.
  • Lifestyle Sacrifices. In many cases, addiction will prevent a person from engaging in typical or normal social behavior. Does the time you spend using social media impact your lifestyle? If you are passing up on social activities, or recreational opportunities that are enjoyable or desirable to you in lieu of using social media, that is a clear sign of addiction.
  • Forgoing Hobbies. Do you like to scrapbook, read books, run or play ball? Maybe you used to spend a couple hours every weekend researching what new stamps to add to your stamp collection. Has that time you once spent developing your stamp collection now gone to solely tweeting about stamps? Have you stopped running while you are at the gym because you play candy crush and invite all your friends to play? Giving up hobbies and other activities that were once a regular, and enjoyable, part of your life because of your time on social media is a sign you may have an addiction to social media. 

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Social Media Addictive Usage Behaviors and Patterns

In addition to these general warning signs, there are some specific social media usage behaviors and patterns that may be a dead giveaway that you have a social media addiction. After going through the following list, ask yourself how many apply to you. In the list below, feel free to substitute the word “phone” for your device of choice (smartphone, ipod, tablet, etc.):

  • The first thing you do each day after you wake up is check your phone for social media updates.
  • You sleep with your phone and check social media during the night if you wake up.
  • You update your “status” multiple times each day.
  • Your daily number of visits to a particular social media site is 10 or more.
  • You share every detail of your day, even the most mundane details, on social media sites.
  • You spend time, either alone or with others, planning future status updates.
  • Social media is your primary communication method.
  • You consistently find yourself playing a social media game until you get to the next level.
  • You use social media as a substitute for recreation.
  • You use social media while engaging in other activities like dinner, movie, or meetings.
  • Your primary internet use is for social media purposes.
  • You feel like your life is over if your internet access or wifi access is down.

After reviewing the list above, how many times did you answer “yes” to a question? If you answered “yes” for 12 out of 12 questions, you are a social media junkie and it’s time to seek help. If you answered “yes” on 8 out of 12 questions, you should begin monitoring your social media usage to see if you are exhibiting any other signs of addictive behavior. If you answered “yes” for 6 or less out of 12 questions, you are likely a normal social media user. You may want to continue to monitor your use of social media for potential signs of addictive social media usage, but as of now you are likely okay.

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How to Overcome Your Social Media Addiction

Before we begin our discussion of what to do if you think you are a social media addict, a quick disclaimer. Addiction of any kind can be a serious matter. If you believe you are, or may be, addicted to social media, the assistance of trained professionals may be required. While this module provides information you can use to help assess your situation and potentially adjust your conduct, it is not professional medical advice. If you are in need of professional medical advice, you should seek out the appropriate level of assistance.

If you feel you are a social media addict, you have several options to consider.

First, you could choose to ignore your situation and chalk it up to the sign of the times. While this is a personal choice, it is inadvisable – not a strong option, but an option nonetheless.

Second, as stated above, you could choose to seek professional help to deal with your social media addiction. This treatment option will ensure you are not only getting a professional assessment of your circumstances, which should provide you with a deeper understanding of your situation, but also provide you with a clinical roadmap for treatment.

Third, you may choose the self-treatment option. Using this option will allow you to work on your own to modify your behavior to draw yourself back into appropriate social media usage limitations.

Whichever option you choose to take, it is important to understand that like all forms of addiction, social media addiction is real and can have a significant impact on your life both in the short and long term. Furthermore, the overuse of social media can affect both your professional life as well as your personal life.

If you are like most people in the United States, you typically use a computer for day-to-day work duties. A social media addiction and your desire to grow and develop in your career will likely be on a collision course. As time passes, and your social media addiction festers, your focus on work tasks and assignments will likely interfere with your time on social media outlets. The talent, focus and determination you demonstrated during the hiring and promotion process at work will be covered in a shroud of tweets, posts, likes and vines. Your boss may see you as an employee with lots of potential, but too distracted to promote. Derailing a promising career before it fully gets off the ground, or stunting the growth of a career midstream are real possibilities for those struggling with social media addiction.

Unfortunately, it is not just your career that can suffer. Existing personal relationships with family, friends and other loved ones can deteriorate, or fail to develop altogether because of an addiction to social media. The same lack of focus that could cost you that big promotion at work can also cost you a potential spouse if you are unable to sit and talk over dinner without tweeting and updating your Facebook status. Regardless of what part of your life you are analyzing, an addiction to social media can have detrimental effects on your life to varying degrees.

However, there is hope for all twitter junkies. Regardless of where you are on the social media addiction spectrum, and regardless of what form of assessment and treatment you choose, everyone is capable of improving in this area. Don’t be afraid to assess your social media use status on a regular basis, and continue to be willing to make the necessary adjustments and course corrections to ensure that your life remains in balance.

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