Why is social media so addictive?

A social media detox is desperately in order

The average social media user spends around 23 hours per week scrolling through their favourite apps and newsfeeds. This is a truly concerning statistic, illustrating the universal social media addiction the rise of technology has led to. The question is, what makes social media so addictive?

The first reason is because of the affect it has on us psychologically. As humans, a vital part of our lives is communication and interaction with others. Social media plays on this fundamental need, providing an easy way to contact other people making us more and more reliant on this social interaction. We also crave validation from others, something which is often gained from comments on your recent Instagram post, or likes on a facebook status update. Social media gives us a direct platform to post images of ourselves and publicise our lives for all to see, enabling people to make a judgement on us. This fuels this inherent need for validation by giving us a platform to be praised, but it is also the uncertainty of the response we will gain that is addictive. A professor at NYU, Adam Atler explained this theory: ‘it’s the unpredictability of the process that makes it so addictive. If you knew that every time you posted something you’d get 100 likes, it would become boring really fast.’ As well as being a platform for social validation, social media also boosts our egos and want to share our lives with others. Social media has created a society that encourages sharing and self-expression, with users wanting to portray a representation of their lives and who they are, divulging every detail to those behind the screens. The constant encouragement of social media for us to share our lives makes us feel it is necessary to reveal every detail to the world, causing an addiction. This is something that it is natural for humans to experience, the wanting to share aspects of our life with our peers – however this is worsened by social media. In real life, around 30-40% of the average person’s conversations are talking about themselves, however on social media this number rises to 80%. Sharing our lives online is also addictive due to the effect it has on our brains and mental health. According to a Harvard study, online self-disclosure causes the same part of our brain to light up as when engaging in any activity causing pleasure or happiness. This causes an addiction to the positive feeling and mood boost we get from posting online.

Possibly the most instantly recognisable cause of a social media addiction is FOMO (fear of missing out). Social media connects us to everyone and everything across the world, showing us exactly what is happening, where and to whom. It is natural for us to be upset by the opportunities we miss out on and the things people do without us, however social media heightens this anxiety, making it instantly obvious what everyone else is doing. This is one of the most effective methods by which social media has become addictive – this need to see what everyone else is doing and what we’re missing out on, however this is undoubtedly a very negative effect. The design of apps also contributes to their addictiveness. The indefinite number of articles, accounts, postings on our newsfeeds makes us spend hours scrolling through timelines, never getting bored or having reason to stop. Notifications on apps also constantly remind us to get back on social media, whether that be to see your favourite celebrity’s recent tweet, read a comment on an instagram post or the latest news article, they ensure social media is never fully out of our consciousness, always drawing us back in to do something else.

Understanding the causes of a social media addiction is vital to preventing yourself from being constantly immersed in the online world – be that by limiting social media use, turning notifications off or simply taking a social media detox every once in a while; because for every positive impact of social media on our lives, there is a negative side effect.

Alice VII