Social media addiction – feelings of the new easy credit?

An oft-quoted definition of social media (even Facebook uses it) is from Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein: ‘…a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content’.

Well, perhaps a more pertinent, and possibly even more important, definition would be: ‘A group of Internet-based applications that generate feelings of addiction similar to that of consumerism during the mid-2000s’.

Just to rewind a bit, remember how the huge positive inertia enjoyed by consumerism in the mid-2000s was driven by banks and credit card companies that were falling over themselves to lend you cash?

And consider that, when it’s boiled down, the meaning of consumerism is really all about ‘buying more stuff, in greater amounts’. Which, as everyone knows, is a little addictive.

For lots of people happiness could be immediately acquired with a simple credit card transaction, or the punching in of a four-digit PIN code, or the signing of an over-ambitious mortgage agreement. It was euphoria for sale and everyone was buying.

Skip back to the present in the post-credit crunch world, and it could be argued that similar feelings are now facilitated by Facebook likes, being retweeted or YouTube videos racking up loads of views and positive comments. There need not be any outlay of cash now.

However, what has remained a constant is the driving factor behind all this: the dopamine addiction. The feel-good factor. The addiction to the salvation offered by instant positivity. Those must-have, albeit fleeting feelings of happiness, that become such a motivating factor in people’s lives.

Watch your colleagues as they walk around the office, frequently checking their mobile phones. Observe them on their laptops. See how they keep checking into Facebook, Twitter or take a sneak-peek at the comments they’ve gathered on Pinterest. Listen how they’ll tell you, with pained expression and furrowed brow, how difficult it was to cope when their battery ran out or they lost their mobile, and thus were deprived of access to their multiple daily hits of dopamine therapy.

Some say it’s escapism, or that it’s driven by a sense of belonging, or Fear Of Missing Out, but the addiction is there. And, although it may be underpinned (I believe) by the same longing for a dopamine hit, it’s interesting how the old consumerism was defined by the acquisition of tangible goods (I want a new car! / TV! / kitchen! / house!/ holiday! / etc!). Whereas the ‘new consumerism’, it could be said, is driven by the perceived value of  intangible things; the relentless collecting of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, or the joy of being retweeted by someone famous.

Can we afford it? In the mid 2000s people became so addicted to consumerism that they jumped into the food blender of easy credit with great abandon, borrowing money they didn’t have to give them purchasing power. Now, maybe people are borrowing against their means in terms of time.

As people generally don’t feel as wealthy as they did a few years ago, time is one thing they probably do have. But, no-one has unlimited reserves of it. The necessary time required to check and maintain one’s numerous – and increasing – social media touch points has to come from somewhere. So is stealing time from working hours, family time and time otherwise spent relaxing, beginning to run the reserves dry as it feeds the thirst of the addiction?

The University of Chicago recently led a high profile  study into this issue of addiction and discovered some interesting results.

So, social media addiction – feelings of the new easy credit?

It’s probably too early to tell. But it’ll certainly be interesting to see if, following the Facebook IPO in mid-May as it tries to make enough money to justify the $100 billion valuation, there are potentially any more parallels that become apparent.

Hopefully there won’t be. Although I guess plenty of us will be glued to our screens as we find out.

  • Alice Smith, UK

    This “addiction” has been fairly obvious to a lot of people – especially parents (like me) watching their kids obsessively surveilling the activities of so-called “friends” – as well as getting caught up in a kind of self-advertising, where going to some glamorous event, for example, becomes more about the iPhone self-photos to be posted on Facebook, than actually “being there” at the event itself, experiencing it first hand. Next, the surveilling FB users become depressed that life is passing them by, while so many of their “friends” are having such great experiences. That feeling instigates the surveilling FB user to now become a self-advertiser: and the cycle continues.
    Alice from