One topic has dominated social media news this week. If you have been following any new media websites then you have without a doubt noticed headlines like, “Social Media: More Addictive Than Tobacco” and “My God, Twitter is Worse Than Heroine, OMG!!!!!!!!!!!” It seems like every single article that had the words “social” and “media” in them involved this recent study by The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. As a social media enthusiast your inbox has most likely been flooded with articles about the study, so I will only briefly go into details.
The University of Chicago study gave their subjects Blackberry’s and monitored people’s desire to use social media. What the study found was that people are more inclined to use social media sites like Twitter and Facebook than to smoke or drink.
Most reports of the study start with lead-ins like “social media addiction is real” and proceed to give the details of the psychological experiment. The release of this study comes at an interesting time for social media since it played an unprecedented role in Super Bowl marketing. In addition, with Facebook going public people are being reminded of the multi-billion dollar house that social media built.
The problem is that the addictive nature of social media is continually being dredged up in what seems like a new study every month. But can we classify social media as being genuinely addictive? Social media can offer a psychological dependency similar to an addiction to gambling. But without a physical dependency, isn’t a need to post and tweet just an impulse?
If we are classifying addiction as both a physical and psychological condition then video game addiction also does not qualify. However, according to psychiatrist Michael Brody, M.D., video game addiction meets all the conditions applicable to someone with an addiction. Brody explains the following criteria must be met in order to classify something as an addiction, “The person needs more and more of a substance or behavior to keep him going. If the person does not get more of the substance or behavior, he becomes irritable and miserable.”
Did you hear about Pinterest and Instagram and instantly have to have them? If you couldn’t use Twitter or Facebook wouldn’t you be upset? Does that make you an addict, or is it possible that for the web generation social media is the evolution of how we communicate with one another? The need to communicate has not traditionally been seen as an addiction; someone who is always talking to other people may not be an addict, they might just be social.
If social media addiction is classified as a psychological addiction then we must also look into the emotional nature of compulsion. Addiction in all forms starts with an emotional component. The emotional aspect of addiction stems from a person’s need for emotional comfort or excitement. The first time someone liked your status on Facebook – wasn’t it thrilling?
Social media is consuming almost every aspect of industry. Print is dying out and traditional marketing is rapidly evolving into social commerce. It is easy to vilify social media as an addiction due to the fact that we must constantly use it to adapt to the digital era. But the change that social media brings is may not be an addiction, it may just be evolution.