Is Facebook the new drug of choice? Are we raising a generation of social media junkies, dropping in and out of the “real world,” always chasing that next like-button high? Is social media this generation’s heroin? Before we can answer that question, first we need to consider whether or not social media can be classified as a form of addiction in the first place.
Although it seems harmless, recent evidence suggests that social media activates the same reward centers in the brain triggered by addictions. Even though we are not consuming a chemical compound, compulsive social media use can be classified as an addiction. So if social media use can be classified as an addiction, what do we know about addiction?
A recent study on heroin use argues that everything we know about addiction is wrong. The main findings demonstrate that individuals were not abusing substances because they were chemically hooked, they are abusing substances because of a deeper underlying issue; they are lacking a sense of social belonging and connection.
This is why it it is relatively easy for a socially connected individual to stop using painkillers after an operation when compared to individuals who are dealing with deeper issues such as social isolation. But if Facebook is a social media platform, does it solve our underlying connection problem, or does it make it worse?
Facebook is a social media platform, but that does not necessarily mean it makes us more social. It can further isolate us from family, friends, loved ones, or co-works when overused. Particularity when compulsively opening Facebook, just to ask yourself why you opened it in the first place since you had just closed it a second earlier.
In addition to the mindless activity, these platforms encourage rampant voyeurism that draws us into someone else’s dreamworld, spurring us to spend ever-more time constructing our own carefully curated online identities for others to see. Although social media can isolate us through compulsive mindless voyeurism and identity-construction, this is not the full story. There are many non-addictive ways social media can be used.
Social media CAN be social. It can bring together international families grieving the loss of a loved one, connect soldiers in combat with their families back home, rekindle long-lost friendships, or as Facebook itself says, “help you connect and share with the people in your life.” Social media is social when used in ways that help build deeper connections between us.
Social media is quickly becoming one of the strongest forces that both unites and divides us. We need to be conscious of how we use these platforms so they can do the former. A “war-on-drugs” approach is not going to work. The problem is not social media itself, but rather, the way we use social media. Consider its place in your own life. Is it acting as an opiate to a deeper dissatisfaction, or is it helping you stay connected to those who mean the most to you?
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