Addictions: Social Media & Mobile Phones Fall From Grace

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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  • ICFubar

    I found this quite interesting as I have never felt that FB had anything to offer me other than losing what little privacy is left to myself and so have never bothered. I guess I must be ‘old school’ and just don’t understand the draw.

    Now I am left wondering what musical genre Smith is ‘into’?

    • Nexusfast123

      The only thing that Fumblebook can offer is lots of frivolous nonsense.

      • ICFubar

        That’s about what I figured while at the same time drawing the users into exposing more of their personal lives to the world and its security surveillance agencies. Of course as tech rapidly expands we are now faced with a fight against the internet of all things. FB as a provider of ‘big data’ for fun and profit will have competition from “smart appliances’ reporting back through your ‘smart’ electrical meter et al. Want to do something about this state of affairs?

    • Susan

      Google is paying 97$ per hour,with weekly payouts.You can also avail this.
      On tuesday I got a great New Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $11752 this last four weeks..with-out any doubt it’s the most-comfortable job I have ever done .. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
      ➽➽;➽➽ http://GoogleDailyBoxUpdateWorkFromHome/more/cash ★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫:::::!da182luuuu

  • Shiggity

    Articles like this written by baby boomers such as this amount to gaslighting.

    The exact same arguments could be made about television one generation ago.

    Bosses (baby boomers) now *expect* you to be responsive 24/7, i.e. constantly check your phone. They FORCE you into these habits, then *gaslight* you at the same time.

    This is sociopathic behavior.

    The leadership of the current US is probably the worst in it’s history. IN IT’S HISTORY. Can baby boomers PLEASE take some responsibility for their actions I mean holy F@*%.

    • Nexusfast123

      I think it’s you that is really quite clueless. With TV you can turn it off and walk away from it and it did not f–king follow, track or abuse your privacy. Your comparison is therefore idiotic and simplistic. People that are obsessively checking are not being driven by anyone but their own obsession which has been psychologically ‘engineered’ by Fumblebook, etc. Your lack of mobilisation and protest says a lot about the latest generations and how they have been sucked in. At least CHS is prepared to question and stimulate debate.

    • Jessica

      Google is paying 97$ per hour,with weekly payouts.You can also avail this.
      On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $11752 this last four weeks..with-out any doubt it’s the most-comfortable job I have ever done .. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
      ➽➽;➽➽ http://GoogleInternetComunityEcoWorkFromHome/online/easytasks ★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫:::::!da108luuuu

    • Eileen

      Nobody told the current generation to constantly check their phones. The person who asked me to be attached to technology was NOT a boomer, in fact never was a boomer. The generation that did are those between the ages of 35-50. Instead of blaming others for a social malaise, how about being part of the solution and go back to flip phones? You certainly won’t be the first.

  • Sparticus

    People … If there is a generation to blame for anything than it would be the GEEZER ( before boomers) generation. They sold the soul of this nation by taking banker bait of early retirement, pension and SS/medicare. They sold the Industrial Heart of this Land and the souls of their Children and Grand-Children that today cannot even earn a comparable living wage with a masters degree. They are the reason wages have been flat for 40-years; while the costs of living skyrocketed. Simply, their greed caused them to Cannibalize their own Children.

    Now, imagine if you were GOD? We were all made in His Image so this should not be hard. Can you imagine the Shame and Embarrassment? I can.

    So … The LESSON, Stop Blaming and Do something about it.

    Put aside all the government divisors and assemble your numbers. Put 1-million protesters on wall street and demand CHANGE or JUNK US governments Credit Rating. You have the Power.

    They will be forced to OBEY.

    • Sparticus

      Oh, and as an Attachment to help you better understand the above:

      Pensions do not exist anymore because they were given as a lure across many industrial and manufacturing sectors to get “pensioners” to sign away union rights and the right to legal representation and protections. Killing the Unions allowed Business to Export Industry. America has never and will never recover. Most Professional Jobs followed Manufacturing and Industrial Base. So. if you cannot get a living wage Job, today, blame the GEEZERS!

      They ( Bankers) needed to get the people to sign away the protections that kept labor in the US. They got it because the GREEDY wanted Early Retirement. Henceforth, began the Colossal Export of Everything To Slave Labor Nations. So … The Real Loser Generation is the GEEZER Generation. They are also eating their children in SS and Medicare Costs; while their children go without.

      The Young live for the Old: To me, this sounds like an episode of the Twilight Zone. However, I have learned from Experience and those ( of the GEEZER Generation) who admitted this to me because it is one of Americas best kept secrets.

    • JerseyCynic

      YES. The GEEZERs set this up.

      I can’t believe this rant has been taken down, Sparticus. I just found it in July. Maybe you can find it archived somewhere? I’m from the early days of blogger — we were forced out years ago.
      I suppose many more will be coming down as we approach Dec. 14th when the FCC rescinds the net neutrality rules.

      DAMN! twas the best rant ever


      you have got to be kidding me….

      Hey — this post still works. It’s a similar warning — wonder why “they” leave zero hedge alone

      The most destructive generation ever

  • Mike

    Do you think that the reason that Facebook + Google are now getting more mainstream critiques is due to Trump being elected and Brexit, and even more recently the seemingly debunked Catalonia referendum. Whatever your voting viewpoint on those, the general mainstream consensus being pushed was that these were caused by Russian bots, trolls, dwarves, elfs on Youtube, Facebook + Twitter. (Nothing to do with stagnating wages, job losses, rise in racism largely due to the former and the media vilifying ‘the other’ rather than those at the top, but that’s another discussion).

    The Guardian in particular were very unhappy with those outcomes and would welcome ways to limit the chances of those outcomes happening again.