Social media and screen time addiction

Is social media, online games and general screen time addictive?

This is the fifth in my series of posts about the impact of social media and screen time. The posts have been inspired by the book “Offline”, written by Imran Rashid and Soren Kenner.

If you spend a few minutes observing someone on Instagram or Facebook there are number of things that could happen; you might be perceived as a weird stalker (try doing it surreptitiously).  If you can maintain a non-stalky demeanour and think of it as a science experiment, rather than weird, that helps. If you do this, look at the speed of the fingers, the darting eyes and the deeply engrained focus. The infinity scroll looks like a job. People spend hours and hours ticking and liking and commenting. To what effect?  

  • As you engage in social media imagine that you are being observed. 
  • Are your movements soft, slow and measured?  
  • Are you problem solving, and using your higher brain functions, when you’re online or merely liking and scrolling to satisfy old patterns of likes, dislikes and habitual patterns of thinking? 
  • Are you endlessly scrolling to serve yourself a stream of dopamine? 
  • Do your actions, in this moment, lead to a deeper connection with people? 
  • Does your scrolling, at this moment, help you spend more real time with people? 
  • What else could you be doing at this moment?

This what Sean Parker, the first CEO of Facebook, said about the importance of addictive design for their business model:

“How can we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible? That means that we need to give you a little dopamine hit. With the social media feedback loop you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology”.

What are addictive behaviours?

Addiction could include some or all of the following:

  • Mental preoccupation
  • Neglect of personal life
  • Escapism
  • Mood modification
  • Modification of tolerance levels
  • Concealment

(The international gaming research unit at Nottingham Trent University)

The widely used U.S DSM5 (diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders) added gambling and internet gaming to the list of disorders. However, if we can pathologize  gambling and internet disorders where does the line get drawn? 

“How can we conceptualise behavioural addiction without pathologizing common behaviours?” (Society for the study of addiction)

It is up to us as individuals and also in our friendship and work networks to decide which behaviours are useful and which are undermining. For example, a colleague told me about her sixteen-year-old son’s friend group who ban phone time when they catch up for coffee or dinner. Screen time is now an essential part of life. We just need to explore how it affects our relationships, quality of work and wellbeing.

Takeaways from this post

  • Talk to family, friends and colleagues about this stuff! Create some soft rules for when we are with each other
  • Where possible set aside some alone time for checking social media, playing games and so on. And monitor how much time you do these things each day
  • Keep a simple journal of your online experience – After long sessions on social media, watching Netflix or playing games online, document your mood and energy levels. Compare these to mood and energy levels after you have met friends in person, played sport or received positive feedback at work
  • Be mindful when you are on social media – For example, when you are Instagram continue to breathe slowly and steadily and consider how you would like to be perceived. Are your movements fast paced and frenetic as you like and comment or are your movements more measured?
  • Before you post something consider whether you are adding value for others. Does your post add new information that helps others thrive? For example, does it share moments of joy with friends and family in different countries? 
  • When you comment, consider whether you would say something similar if you were face to face with the person

Share these insights with friends and colleagues