Social media addiction… period!

Pixabay photos used

Everywhere we go, we observe people staring at screens like a poltergeist is speaking to them “things that only a child could understand*” . More and more we tend to realize that a habit so harmless like swiping our screens might turn out to be actually smearing our sense of reality! But are we really in danger of social media addiction or is this just another trendy conspiracy theory designed to hijack our attention?!

*My apologias to the young readers for making references with such old but still shitlessly scary movie as (Poltergeist 1983)! Watch it! I dare you!

When titanic started sinking there were three type of passengers — first type panicked and started jumping off board immediately, second type — remain calm and started to unpack life-rafts, the third kind… They chattered in the lobby bar drinking expensive whiskey, laughing and mocking everyone else because: “this is Titanic — it will never sink!..”

Which kind of passenger are you?

Before I even start to dig I have to come clear — my goal is not to stigmatize social media! I am not a whistle blower, since that whistle is already blowing and I’m not even the biggest authority in the filed! That’s why I will introduce you to far greater people and concepts that I stumbled upon while researching for this article and to scratch my onw itch for answers.

It’s not wise to turn into a scarecrow anything that can be controlled, and anything can be controlled if it could be understood. DM is a powerful tool — just like a driller! We can do a lot of house hold improvements if we use it right — same as we might end up with a hole in our hand if we are unattentive! It’s up to our awareness and I did my best to give you a more clear and insightful perspective on the topic.

CONTENT

In this article I will clarify to the best of my knowledge:

  • What addiction is?
  • How we get addicted?
  • Are there any “good” addictions?
  • Are you SMA?
  • Final thoughts

WHAT ADDICTION IS

If we are going to talk about social media and addiction in the same sentence, we better look deeper into general addiction itself, since we are all familiar with social media much better (or at least it seems so for now).

Let’s start by giving a non-controversial description of the term “Addiction”. According to dr. Gabor Mate — famous polish-american neurologist and writer, exploring the realms of addiction:

Image form Wikipedia

Addiction is a habit or ritual that gives temporary relief, creates long term negative consequences, and you are unable to give it up!
Gabor Mate

Nowadays it is common to see people doing stupid things and even risking their lives for the gain of some likes in the “face-tagram”… You might say this people are just plain stupid but I wouldn’t agree! They are not stupid — they are distracted! They obey a craving they cannot ignore! The urge to be adequate to your social environment and to be liked by your tribe is a survival instinct! If you are not liked — you become exile and ultimately — dinner for the beasts! So as evolutionary biology dictates - sometimes you need to act bravely stupid just for the gain of a few.. thumbs up. Extreme as it is however — I don’t believe, that this example is the true danger we should be concerned about cause…

The punch that knock’s you out is the one you don’t see.

According to dr. Matte — “people get addicted on the bases of emotional trauma”, that very often is caused early in childhood. We are much more susceptible to traumatic events at young age and the trauma sticks much longer. Pain creates the need for compensation and people find different ways to escape the vicious cycle of suffering. If you have a traumatic event in your childhood but you didn’t turn out to be an addict, I’ll have to break your “gotcha” moment by saying, that this doesn’t fly in the face of dr. Mates theory — even at all! People have various ways to deal with pain! Achievement can be one! It triggers positive feedback loop in the brain that leads to satisfaction and joy. Some people manage to process this negative experience and develop exponentially their personal and professional skills, finding relief in being on the top of their game. If we come to think of this — how many of us made the biggest leaps in our lives after we went trough some kind of a drama or tragedy? One of the best know (and kind of kicked to dead) examples is the one and only Ophra Winfey, who had a terrible childhood and adolescence, but managed to turn everything around using the emotional momentum that was created for her and transformed herself into a worldwide celebrity. When we become great “achievers” — pretty much the same brain chemistry is enforced like when using drugs, but in a more sober, sustainable way.

Others, however, find themselves unable to cope with the demands and discipline that achievement requires and seek relief in a more effortless fashion. Unfortunately many people get exposed to bad substances and bad habits at a very young age in which decisions are made impulsively and without regards of the consequence and we are more prone to cave under pressure! Basically, addiction becomes the safe valve for emotional trauma! The younger the subject and the deeper the trauma is — the bigger is the emotional momentum created, because when you are small everything looks huge! The first thing that brings relief to the traumatized person is the one that most likely will stick as a solution through the rest of his life!

Look at me!..
It’s not your fault!..
It’snotyourfault!…
It’snotyourfault…*

(*Common, I know you have watched this one at least!)

HOW WE GET ADDICTED

Most of our common knowledge on addiction is still lingering on a series of quite biased (and a bit sadistic) experiments conducted way before Zukerberg was even a project of a baby.

In the most used and replicated experiment, scientists release a rat in a cage with two bottles — one with drugs (heroin, morphine, cocaine) and one with pure water and waited to see what happens… Almost always the rat chooses the doped water in front of the regular! Soon enough “the patient” overdose and die! This led the so called scientists to the conclusion that drugs are addictive!

Luckily In 1979 dr. Bruce Alexander psychologist from the Simon Fraser University (Canada) demonstrated a sharper than usual academic mind, and dismisses the conclusion from that experiment because he believed that the experiment was constructed wrong! He argued that the conditions under which the rats are being forced to express their preferences are unnatural and there for the results are skewed. Based on this assumption he designs a much better experiment which he famously called “The Rat Park” experiment. In the “Rat Park” rats have food, friends, props to have fun with and they can exercise! They can have sex and produce generation. Practically — rat paradise!

He divided the rats in 4 groups — CC / CP / PP / PC

CC — caged through all their lives (in separate striped cage)

CP — caged and then moved to the “Rat park”

PP — Living happily in the park all their (rather short but fun) lives

PC — Raised in the park and later dungeoned to a cage for life

The results were stunning! Given the choice of a morphine water and regular pure water groups CC and PC (the unlucky once) consumed 19 times more morphine even if it is unsweetened! Groups CP and PP (the happy rats) occasionally tried the morphine water but only if it is more sweetened and the quantity of morphine is not rendering them antisocial.

None of the CP or PP rats overdosed and died of addiction to the drug or in other words got truly addicted! The conclusion was as scientifically correct and dramatic as poetic:

Addiction is not in us, but in the cages we live!
- Bruce Alexander

You can read more on the war FOR drugs and principles of addiction in the book I mostly recommend to everyone interested in the topic: Chasing the scream by Johan Hari

“THE HAPPY BUMPER CAR” SYNDROME

Imagine you are a kid, its Saturday and the school is off for the weekend! Your parents decide to take you to the state fair. There they have one of those electric bumper cars — didn’t we all adored riding them when we were little? For kids — pain, most commonly takes one form and it is called “boredom”. Fun is the immediate antidote! Those cars are very simple — they have only one pedal and one driving direction — forward! You can accelerate, decelerate and steer the wheel, and that’s all you need to be as engaged in happiness, as only a kid could be!

Image by Stan Petersen from Pixabay

Our minds work pretty much like that car! There is only one pedal that makes us go — if you press it — you accelerate — if you release it — you decelerate and eventually stop! There is only one direction — forward! You’re either accelerating toward happiness or you decelerate away from it! All our actions and efforts are dedicated to one goal — escape pain and head toward pleasure! There is no such thing as emotional vacuum (except probably in meditation and death). We are either driving toward happiness or away from it! Each time we get a break from our drudgerous lives our “happy bumper car” starts moving forth because we feel relief and we immediately start having “fun”! Relief equals torque! We steer the wheel joyfully and drive around with big smiles… Some times we need to take the foot off the pedal just in order to take a sharper turn or let somebody pass and that’s an exciting part of the game too! And just when it can’t get any better — the torque is gone… Time is up and the coin holder stares in our hands with persistent expectation…

Everyone who’s been a kid knows that feeling of disappointment and the urge for finding fast solution! In this moment of desperation we are considering to trade everything valuable we possess just to have another 5 minutes out there! We are ready to bribe our parents with any promises and if they turn out not be as corrupted as we’ve hoped — then we bring the big guns — crying our lunges out, until they are so embarrassed — they buy us another ride!

The psychological mechanism behind the torque of “the happy bumper car” is known as the reword feedback loop and it is the oldest decision making tool we have in our neurology. It’s a tool that’s very familiar to clever salesman (like dope dealers) who use it to boost their sales! Every time a pleasurable activity occurs in our lives (brains), the reward center in our mesolimbic brain — the ventral tegmental area (VTA), lights up and starts to communicant with the nucleus accumbens, releasing the well known neurotransmitter dopamine. Yep — that’s the one, that drugs like cocaine boost in order to make you feel like a hundred bucks! But the drug just boosts the experiences you have, they don’t create them for you!

DOPAMINE AND THE CAVEMAN

So why do we need dopamine in first place? Is it just for fun? Dopamine is wrongly announced to be the chemical of happiness — its actually the chemical of motivation and it’s role makes perfect sense in a primal environment! This is the most reliable and stable response in charge of programming your behavior to cope properly with the world around! You are hungry and you find something good to eat — that’s a threat — better find more! You are throwing a spear — you get good at it — that’s a skill — better improve! You are a newborn and you cry — someone hugs you for comfort — that’s love — you are bonded for life! Poisonous Ivy and sable-tooth tigers won’t match that pattern! It’s a highly effective attach and detach mechanism that will help you survive and navigate your way trough a WYSIWYG world! But when it comes to the modern, consuming, shopping mall, infomercial, “buy 1 get 5 free” state of existing — things get a little complicated!

Not every game you are good in, is good for you, not every food that tastes delicious is going to nourish you and not everyone who hugs you is your friend!

We people, love to brag on our big brains and incredible technical achievements, but in our core we still remain a simple, one direction — single-pedal bumper car toy! It’s that simple and that scary… With all our complex thinking and society structures our behavior still is the the easiest thing to manipulate and reprogram — that’s what nature did for millions of years in order to adopt us and just recently we learned how to do it to ourselves!

PILLS VS DRILLS

Now let’s face the truth — our daily life is less than perfect and we all suffer from it differently! In search of relief we find various ways to escape our “dungeon rat cages”! Cigarettes, alcohol, junk food, pain-killers, antidepressants, sleeping pills — we are all familiar with these form of addictions! We usually assume (on the false bases of poorly performed studies as mentioned above) that their efficiency is routed in their chemical nature, but why then sex, pornography, gambling, shopping, computer games, extreme sports are recognized as very addictive too, since we do not drink, eat, smoke or inject them into our bodies?

Smokes, drugs, caffeine, sex, food they all produce the same result — they give us shelter form the current moment of unhappiness by stimulating our dopamine system and numbing the pain! When that effect wears off — we sprint to open this “problem-umbrella” at least one more time! That is how addictions get born! The more unhappiness, fear and traumas we have — the more we develop the need for the “happy bumper car”. Brain is the biggest drug dealer in the world — literally! We introduce substances in our body to mimic our brains own work, but this is a secondary approach designed to emulate responses, we already have experienced and crave!

By introducing certain behaviors, instead of “watering” our brain with chemicals, we force it to produce the chemicals itself! This way our brain becomes our own personal Pablo Escobar! Our fabulously well-to-do “9 to 5” lives are remarkably well designed to keep us mildly unhappy and frustrated, just enough to allow us to search for a “generally safe” type of decadency, that will provide us with comfort, but won’t render us unusable as workers for the industry (because no one wants a bunch of homeless junkies running our shiny big offices). And if it turns out there is no “generally safe dependency” — well… we are all grownups, right? It’s our responsibility to take care for ourselves.

VALIANCE NEVER WERE MUSTACHE

Seducing is always voluntary!

As we already said — the first and most important ingredient of addiction is suffering and we all have this in abundance! Suffering leads to the emerging of needs! Needs create desire and desire creates action! We all have embedded, native needs to ensure our survival, but not all needs are born equal! Some needs are primal — we need food, shelter, water, air, sleep, sex ext. But some needs… well they are artificially created and displayed as needs in front of our minds. As every salesman knows — if the prospect doesn’t feel pain — he is not a customer! If client is painless — create a pain, stir it up and only then offer the solution! That’s what a good would closer do! Do you need to hit the client you ask? No… of course not! You just have to make her feel she doesn’t have the only one thing that will make her happy and accidentally - you hold the key!

How do social media creates the pain in us? Are you kidding? Open your wall — every one is smiled, having better stuff, better clothes, better relationships and even if they are angry and sore — they have friends, that will post the cry emotion on their bitter posts! Are you a match for those lucky people? Well… “Let the hunger games begin..!*

When it comes to non-chemically enthused alterations of the mood and mind — attention is the “king of the ring”. By provoking others to validate us either trough arguing or supporting our arguments we get noticed, recognized and marked as important! Attention is bond and bond is survival.. оr at least back in the cave-days it was! Those were the caveman rules, and although they are still not forgotten — they are no longer mandatory! Our culture still revolves around celebrities, but you can be perfectly antisocial and still make it alive even thrive!

(*You’ve watched this one but didn’t recognized the “Good Will Hunting” line… shame on you!)

We all know the smug smile and worm feeling we get, when we accidentally open our Facebook timeline (for the third time in a row for the last 15 minutes) and we read that “X” amount of people has liked our incredibly professional photo of the outstandingly healthy dinner we tossed for ourselves in a snap! That worm feeling comes from a release of… the million dollar answer… (drums) you got it right: DOPAMINE! Every notification, blip, bing, like or share we receive is a micro dose of attention and a micro dose of that uplifting chemical! Every thumbs up or a smiley face is a small step away from suffering and a step closer toward happiness (or at least our brain is convinced so). It’s like a snappy sniff of coca, a tiny puff from the Marlboro or a gentle sip from your coffee… but delivered hundreds of times a day! Our phone becomes the magic wardrobe of Narnia and every time we fill frustrated we step inside and travel far! It’s easy, accessible and no one will be appalled…

You can’t light up a cigarette in the plane, you can’t have sex with your wife on the dining table while having lunch with her parents (hopefully) and you can’t jump with a parachute every time you get bored (Unless you are the sheikh of Dubai), but you can always take your phone out and swipe… It’s so easy, socially acceptable and consequence free that it seems almost madness not to take advantage of that harmless and proven-to-work painkiller, peacefully swaging in your pocket (that’s your phone I’m talking about..!) Question is — can you not do it?

ARE THERE ANY GOOD ADDICTIONS?

“Okay, being dependent is bad, but is there any good dependencies?” — you would ask…There are many activities that can match the addictive criteria, but they are not always malicious unless we are totally out of control! For instance sports do match the addictive criteria too. Exercise release analog chemical response in the organism by releasing endorphins. This might lead to addiction, and many people do become dependent on their daily dose of exercise, but from sports we do get a measurable benefit for the investment of time and effort we make. On my perspective the big concern about social media addiction is not the addictiveness by itself but the fact that the action of posting, browsing, liking and shearing has far less benefits for us than the investment of time and attention we are ready to grant it! In other words — we get positive emotions but not necessarily life improvement! In my younger years I have definitely found myself anxious if I was absent from the gym for a few days and I had some physical symptoms of uneasiness if I didn’t catch up with my “dose” of physicals activity. I believe that a big part of my whole career (if that’s the correct term to use) is based on that positive attachment to sports I developed in my teenage years dealing with the usual teenage problems of self esteem and some other more personal issues relative to my family environment. Sports provided for me appropriate physiological and social antidote to my “problems” and from day one In the gym and later in the dojo I was hooked! 15 years after starting this experience I don’t regret a day of practice or even a single workout (even the ones that got me in trouble and injured me) and I’m not looking forward for discontinuing this obsession to rest of my life! The benefits of this dependency surpass greatly the downsides and now at the age of 37 (it’s 2021) I feel as strong and as ready to tackle life as in my 20s but with more confidence because of the experience I had! f there is any other dependency that can match that criteria of growth would defiantly recommend it as a state of beneficial dependency!

With that being said I need to clarify that If a venue becomes uncontrollably, even if that venue is to help other people selflessly, then it becomes malicious, because you lose control over your actions and you will probably hurt yourself or the people involved with you! We should be very aware if our passions get out of control and apply sober mind by resisting to cave on our cravings for more! If there is one predictor of how successful a person would be — this is the ability of the latter to control its impulses.

ARE YOU SMA?

  • Do you grab your phone to check your notifications immediately upon wake up?
  • Do you have the “ghost beep” feeling — you feel you have new notification, but actually you don’t ?
  • Do you find yourself sliding your social wall without watching anything particular, but unable to close it, because you expect something interesting to pop up any moment now?
  • Do you browse your wall while commuting with close relatives, spouse, friends on family dinners?
  • Do you find yourself unlocking your phone with no intention of checking anything particular and what are your actions upon unlock?

I believe you see where we I’m getting at! If you want to diagnose your behavior more closely you might want to install an app like this: https://www.rescuetime.com/ that I have personally used and find to be very helpful, because it works on desktops as well as on mobiles and syncs the results! And get mad or scared from the results — it is just a condition — our actions upon it determine the outcome!

FINAL TOUGHTS

By far we have understood how addictions work, how not only substances but experiences are capable of releasing chemicals in our brain, how the “happy bumper car syndrome” drives our behavior, and how social media and practically all other big business like food, drugs, digital media and so forth take advantage of those psychological mechanisms.

Now here comes the big question — so what… So what if I want to eat, drink, have sex, drive mindlessly, use drugs and yeah… check my Instagram wall for notifications every 5 minutes… SO WHAT?

Well on my perspective, the reason I find this to be a problem is that self control that some people might refer as free will is a very scarcity resource and we tend to have less and less of it as life gets more and more dependent of overachieving.

On a very respected study performed over the period of …. years a group of scientists performed the very famous “Marshmallow test”. One kid was introduced into a room and on the table there was a marshmallow. The kid was instructed that he might eat the candy right away, but if he just waited for a minute he will be given two marshmallows. The kids were tracked later in their lives and those that waited the extra minute for the second threat became measurably much more successful in live than those who were unable to “hold their horses”.

I very recently read:

If you want me to describe hell I would say that in the last minute of my life the person I am and the person I could have become meet… and they are total strangers.

Although that quote might be twisted in many ways I think the core idea is plain! The more your current behavior is hijacked by habits you can’t (or you don’t want to) control, the less you are going to be able to steer your life to were you want. And that’s the big problem with any addition — you are no longer in control — the addition is and it doesn’t care for your beloved once.

The most precious commodity is not time! It is your focus… related to the time you have on this planet and you have no idea what's your quota! The small indulgences we embrace in order to escape our own little “everyday hell” look harmless but like a virus in the monetary system that steals 0,0000001 cent on a dollar, this gradually builds up into millions of stolen cash. The seconds of attention we trade on the price of temporary relief, build up into weeks of poor concentration and eventually become our dreams headsman.

A dream that is never attempted is dead-born intention for a more beautiful existing and the carcasses of those dreams are the biggest disappointment a man could have in the end of his life!

On the other hand Its wrong to judge something only by its worst side! I don’t think that anything in this world is bad or good by its nature! We tend to put labels on things so we can find them easier and that’s perfectly fine! Knowing good from bad makes us feel secure and more orientated — no one wants to be lost! But some issues are more complicated and to get from a to z we need to look closer!

A knife is neither good or bad — it’s a knife! With a knife you can slice your bread or kill your spouse! The way you use a tool is what makes it a kitchen appliance or a crime evidence! So putting the knife in a high cabinet labelled as “bad” is an arguably effective way to keep your 3 year old away from it, but not a good way to decide weather you should use a knife or not!

A tool becomes bad when it starts using you, instead of you using it!

Loosing control over our actions is loosing control over our lives and this is the fight we are all forced to lead on a different scale, every day. The best term to describe this phenomenon is a word we all tend to stray away from, but have been hammered to dead in this article — it is addiction!

Socials become “bad” when they become out of control and we never know if we can control them unless we try!

See my related articles:

How I almost really died over a cup of coffee
Detox without ditching the phone -> to be added soon

Holistic health coach, entrepreneur and information junkie

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Ivan Germanov

Ivan Germanov

Holistic health coach, entrepreneur and information junkie

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