Addictions: Social Media & Mobile Phones Fall From Grace

Authored by Charles Hugh Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

Identifying social media and mobile phones as addictive is only the first step in a much more complex investigation.

For everyone who remembers the Early Days of social media and mobile phones, it's been quite a ride from My Space and awkward texting on tiny screens to the current alarm over the addictive nature of social media and mobile telephony.

The emergence of withering criticism of Facebook and Google is a new and remarkably broad-based phenomenon: a year or two ago, there was little mainstream-media criticism of these tech giants; now there is a constant barrage of sharp criticism across the media spectrum.

Even the technology writer for the Wall Street Journal has not just curbed his enthusiasm, he's now speaking in the same dark tones as other critics: Why Personal Tech Is Depressing.

The critique of social media and mobile telephony, has reached surprising heights in a remarkably short time. Consider this article from the Guardian (UK) which compares Facebook and Google's social media empire to world religions in terms of scale, and unabashedly calls them addictive and detrimental to health and democracy: How Facebook and Google threaten public health – and democracy.

A decade ago, social media was considerably different. One of the first social media sites to break into the mainstream was My Space, which began as a forum for bands to post new songs and interact with their fans. This was a great tool for thousands of musicians who had few ways to publicly post their songs and establish public communications with their fans. My Space was a useful idea, and even I posted a few songs my friends and I had recorded.

Around the same time frame, Facebook was limited to college students. I recall reading about FB and going to the site to see what it was all about: the splash screen asked you for your college affiliation.

Mobile telephony featured tiny little screens and an awkward double-click method of texting that only teens could master.

Keeping up on mass-media related technologies is part of my job as a blogger, as bloggers inhabit a little village of the mass-media world that seems to be shrinking as social media expands. I joined Twitter in June 2008, about two years after its initial launch, and Facebook in 2009.

I was struck by this quote from the above Guardian article:

"The term 'addiction' is no exaggeration. The average consumer checks his or her smartphone 150 times a day, making more than 2,000 swipes and touches. The applications they use most frequently are owned by Facebook and Alphabet (Google), and the usage of those products is still increasing."

Wow! Do you check your mobile phone 100+ times a day? Even if this is an exaggeration, it still represents an addictive attachment.

I think we can safely call anything that people interrupt sex to do (like check their mobile phones) addictive.

What's the source of social media and mobile telephony's addictive power?

I think we can start with the innate attraction of distractions and novelty. The higher the density of inputs in our environment, the more quickly we become bored and fidgety. So we turn to our phones for distraction and novelty.

Being social creatures, we want to stay connected to our tribe, group, family, etc. Social media and mobile phones feed this desire directly.

But social media and mobile telephony have peculiar qualities that are unlike actual face-to-face interaction. They don't require the same kind of commitment or engagement; it's understood everyone can log off at any time.

It's also easier to dump on people in the safety of anonymity.

While many people form longlasting online friendships, myself included, as a generalization social media tends to superficiality because it rewards being "liked", i.e. receiving positive feedback, even from those we don't even know.

The broad reach of the dynamic of winning approval is explored in this Guardian article on the rise of "fake news": How did the news go ‘fake’? When the media went social.

As social creatures, we all desire a positive standing in our tribe, and the respect and approval of our peers. Social media is like a lens that can make us appear bigger, shinier and more deserving of respect than we might otherwise be.

The temptation to post self-congratulatory Christmas letters ("Josh just graduated with honors, Mia is on her semester abroad, my new painting won first prize, and we're all meeting in Barbados for the holiday"), or divulge TMI (too much information) to elicit sympathy is strong; it's also tempting to express righteous indignation to solicit "likes" from like-minded members of our ideological tribe.

I've commented previously on the relative poverty of opportunities to feel respected and admired in our society; most of us don't have a lot of power or control over our lives, nor do we have the high-status positions and signifiers that automatically earn respect in our centralized, hierarchical social structure.

I think we should acknowledge the power of our natural desire to "be somebody" in our social circle, and in the world at large, and acknowledge the attraction of social media in furthering this desire.

So by all means, we should honor the accomplishments of our loved ones, and proudly display our winning painting, and post photos of our fabulous family holiday. But we also have to acknowledge that "likes" online are not substitutes for the recognition and respect of a real-world circle of peers, or for the self-respect we all desire.

Social media is real enough in its own terms, but it is not a substitute for real relationships and positive social roles. Perhaps this is the addictive pull of social media: the idea that we can substitute a carefully controlled social-media substitute (avatar) for our less-than-perfect real-world self.

If Facebook vanished, our "real" lives would still be intact. If we turned off our phones and social media, how much would we miss them in a week, or a month? How much "smaller" would we become? What would we lose, and how much of ourselves would we lose? What might we gain that's been lost?

These are questions worth exploring, for identifying social media and mobile phones as addictive is only the first step in a much more complex investigation.

This essay was drawn from Musings Report 45. The Musings Reports are emailed weekly to subscribers and major patrons / contributors.

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Killtruck bamawatson Fri, 11/24/2017 - 09:46 Permalink

"Social media is real enough in its own terms, but it is not a substitute for real relationships and positive social roles" Exactly. That's why those who have walked away, have walked away. It's not real.  Also - I'm not sure who the author of that article is referring to when they speak of "interrupting sex to check mobile phones", but if that's you - fucking kill yourself. Seriously. Do the species a favor and kill yourself. You should not be allowed to replicate. 

In reply to by bamawatson

Giant Meteor bamawatson Fri, 11/24/2017 - 10:08 Permalink

" ...  If Facebook vanished, our 'real' lives would still be intact. "Some may argue by definition, lives wholly devoted to social media, have lead to superficial lives made wholly un-intact to begin with .., so then, lives remaining intact afterwards, is not really the thing here .. but perhaps more the gradual repairing of un-intact lives, reclaiming of lives worth living   ..As time marches on, just like there are those with little or no cognitive memory of down markets, as there are those that have no pre-memory, pre-history, of Fakebook, social media clap trap etc. Those that do not fairly know the value of one to one ,  face to face, real time personal relationships, or simply not knowing how to be still and do "nothing", to be "nothing." In short, neither knowing how to enjoy the company of other's OR their OWN company.Is emblematic of a highly dysfunctional , soul sickened society.

In reply to by bamawatson

DarthVaderMentor Fri, 11/24/2017 - 09:44 Permalink

The addiction to social media, along with processed foods, opoids and government tracking, is becoming too valuable for big business and government to let the allow people to reduce their use in their daily lives.Social media is now impacting productivity and will soon compete with eating. Short food and long social media?

koan Fri, 11/24/2017 - 09:45 Permalink

Hmmm, well I look at my phone 2 or 3 times a day, but I only gave my number to immediate family so no one is texting me or calling on it.If anyone else wants to get a hold of me they use email, or my Google voice number.Oddly enough some of my younger coworkers consider email to be "to much trouble" to use.I also discovered that some people like to put as many free apps on their phone as they can, this means if your number and data is on their phone some of these apps are grabbing your data.So no more txt from China, or ads, or strange calls for me as I refuse to give anyone but family my actual number. 

brushhog Fri, 11/24/2017 - 10:04 Permalink

I have to say, since social media and the internet, my opinion of humanity in general has crashed through the floor. Before all of this stuff, you meet a person and you see a "persona" that the person projects. You dont really go that deep into a persons thought process in face to face interactions. Because of that you 'assume' a certian level of understanding and intelligence.You look at a person and you say 'well he's probably not that different from me'. After years of online posting, facebooking, twitter and etc you come to see what is behind the outer persona. You see into people's thoughts, beliefs, values, and intellect. This view of humanity has been the most profoundly depressing, frustrating, shocking, sad, infuriating, and ultimately hopeless experience of my life. I could have lived quite happily, as other generations have, without ever knowing that I was surrounded by dumb, selfish, ugly, greedy, jealous, superficial, ignorant, and inwardly hostile monsters. My entire worldview has been dramatically altered by this experience. I used to meet new people or look at strangers with an optimistic excitement, wanting to get to know who they were, what they thought, and etc. Now a wall goes right up and my only thought is how I can limit my experience with this person to the absolute minimum without incurring any negative consequences. Even long time friendships are different now. Ive seen inside their thoughts, seen things I never should have. There's a distance. IDK but I know Im not alone in this because the world has become alot more hostile since all of this shit. Maybe we are finally seeing what we really are and we dont like ourselves.

CHoward Fri, 11/24/2017 - 10:01 Permalink

I know quite a few people - some are actually friends.  Believe it or not- they're all real, air breathing people too.  I'm not on Facebook.  I need genuine, honest interaction with people. 

hooligan2009 Fri, 11/24/2017 - 10:08 Permalink

all you ever needed to know about why productivity is fallingsocial media plus elimination of high paying jobs in exchange for low paying service sector ones

Iknowstuff Fri, 11/24/2017 - 10:09 Permalink

I don not eat at restaurants very often but when I do i am often astounded at the people waiting for a seat playing on their phones. I like to loudly say " Put down the phones and take up heroin, it's better for you freakin' addicts." My wife moves away from me and I inevitably get some angry looks. The way I see it I am speaking the truth. Due to work I am required to have a phone. (I refuse to call them smart phones.) However their are no downloaded apps and I am not on any "anti-social media networks".  One of my favorite things is any time you are dining with co-workers or family is to put your phone in the middle of the table and declare the first person to touch their phone pays the bill. I have not paid for a meal with family or co-workers in years.

Akzed Fri, 11/24/2017 - 10:11 Permalink

I've commented previously on the relative poverty of opportunities to feel respected and admired in our societyTranslation: many people want to be "respected and admired" like the celebrities they see in the Rothschild media, where people are respected and admired for irrational reasons.FB et al offer a facsimile of celebrity with instant feedback - on the one hand you can be "liked" by strangers, like a modern celebrity, and on the other you can confer "dislike" on others for violating fake tribal norms - all in real time. This caters to the worst aspects of human nature (categorically, not qualitatively). No wonder it's compared to crack.

JuliaS ToSoft4Truth Fri, 11/24/2017 - 12:34 Permalink

ZH is social media and an addiction like any other. People need to feel superior and whatever it is they're doing happens to be "it". I'm superior because I have friends on whatever site. I'm superior because I don't use the site. I'm superior because I used this device. I'm superior because I don't use that davice etc. Somehow, regardless of what you do, you're always right and better than others... with exception of people, perhaps that say they're not better than others, just to hear some words of encouragement back: "No, you're a good person. Things aren't that bad."  At the end of the day, everyone is in the same boat. Same bullshit with different flavor sprinkled on top.ZH is a social network like any other. A segregation of people.Not addictive? Well, don't visit it for... let's say, 3 weeks (roughly the time it would take to get active THC out of the system). Or if that's too much of a challenge, try not commenting for 3 weeks. Then come back and report on your findings.Every time I go offline for a couple of weeks, I notice that nothing actually changes. The world keeps on going, and becomes a lot more anjoyable. News this, news that. How much of it actually afferct your personal life directly from moment to moment? Most of the time the answer is simple - it's Zero Hedge without the Hedge.

In reply to by ToSoft4Truth

pigpen Fri, 11/24/2017 - 10:19 Permalink

Two words to render social media business model useless - brave browser.Brave browser blocks advertising, malware, and tracking by DEFAULT.Run social media out of brave browser including YouTube - zero ads.It is your data and if goobook won't share the profits from selling your data then destroy their business model.Cheers,Pigpen

pigpen DarthVaderMentor Fri, 11/24/2017 - 11:32 Permalink

Darth, brave is funded by Peter Thiel and run by the godfather of JavaScript. They are trying to introduce a new form of digital payments that goes both ways. Human interaction to actually view an ad should be paid for real attention. Also brave blocks by DEFAULT. You can even have option of blocking all scripts if you v choose.He who controls the browser controls advertising business model.Cheers,Pigpen

In reply to by DarthVaderMentor

RexZeedog Fri, 11/24/2017 - 10:22 Permalink

I've been predicting this for years. "Smartphones" invite people to communicate too much and excessive communication is mentally exhausting - it's enervating. The Rule for Communication is this:

  1. Communicate
  2. Expect
  3. Inspect
  4. Reward

People are communicating a lot because they are addicted to the 'reward' which is inherent in being acknowledged by another person.  However, the steps in the process always do take place - therefore experiencing too many expectations (even brief ones) and invoking too many inspection efforts ('let me check my phone') is mentally exhausting. It's a form of hyper-vigilance and if you live that way for too long, you become edgy, anxious and generally dissatisfied. The way to get more value out of your communication efforts is to pick & choose how much communicating to do - and to periodically (or always) make yourself less available to the modern day back & forth which is what a constant stream of texting is.  Personally, I own a flip-phone and all my friends know that.  I get very few texts and I send very few texts. If it's important, I call - if not, it can wait.   

fishwharf Fri, 11/24/2017 - 10:25 Permalink

I usually check ZH at least 5-6 times a day, does that mean I'm an addict.I've never even seen my wife's, my daughter's or my granddaughter's FB pages, does that mean I love ZH more than my family?