More than ever, students are living in a highly connected world. It’s now almost a given – everyone has a social network they invest time in, use to connect to friends and family, and share their daily activities with the world. For most of the billions of connected Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vine users, not a day goes by without an update – their followers expect fresh, new insight into the life of the user. Even businesses and organizations are flooding the web via social networks, eager to reach the droves of eyes and ears locked onto their screens. With smartphone usage approaching complete saturation, access to these services is constant and immediate to almost everyone, and posting to a site of choice is becoming second nature.
Behind these completely innocent and seemingly harmless activities lies the potential for a serious issue that is rapidly escalating to epidemic status. Some find themselves psychologically addicted to the social networks they subscribe to: missing sleep in order to refresh Vine a few more times, shunning face-to-face interactions with their peers in favor of Twitter, tuning out of social situations in order to snap the best possible shot for Instagram, and even obsessing to the point of physical illness over the number of likes and dislikes their latest Facebook status garners. This “internet addiction” has exploded in recent years, and is becoming a disturbing and serious trend – so much so that earlier this week, the Behavioral Health Services at Bradford Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania became the first hospital to offer a ten day “internet addiction” rehab program for patients.
Dr. E. F. Tann, a Psychologist for Jacksonville Independent School District, weighs in on the issue:
“While social media can be a useful tool, it also can become extremely addictive because of the constant affirmation it provides. If you find yourself becoming agitated or nervous when you haven’t checked your status in a couple of hours, or if you find yourself constantly with your smartphone in your hand, if you have to turn back around to go home to retrieve your smartphone if it is forgotten, or if you are logging into social media several dozen times a day, you may very well have an addiction.”
The underlying causes for this illness are still under intense debate in the medical world, but one recently published report in the German Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal suggests that the brain is hard-wired to seek the thrill of the post with the most likes.
The report, published by Dr. Dar Meshi and Hauke R. Heekeren, seems to “demonstrate that across participants, when responding to gains in reputation for the self, relative to observing gains for others, reward-related activity in the left nucleus accumbens predicts Facebook use.” In simpler terms – humans are naturally programmed to seek acceptance and a good reputation, things which social networking provides readily.
That desire for acceptance and praise ranks as a very high priority in the human subconsciousness, close to the natural drive for sleep and sex, according to a study conducted by University of Chicago professor, Wilhelm Hoffman. And that drive can be exceedingly hard to resist.
“Modern life is a welter of assorted desires marked by frequent conflict and resistance, the latter with uneven success,” Hoffman said.
“Humans are sociable creatures by nature, and have evolved to seek acceptance from others”, Dr. E. F. Tann, a psychologist for Jacksonville Independent School District, explains. “it becomes a problem when (a student) prioritizes the acceptance they find on the internet above other, more important things in their life.”
Some are aware of the issue, and are taking measures to counteract internet addiction. Two MIT Ph.D candidates, Robert Morris and Daniel McDuff, have gone as far as to develop a computing accessory that shocks the user when they’ve been staring at their Facebook wall for too long, helping to fight back against internet addiction.
“I would be on Facebook, gorging on pet photos, stuck in some weird hypnotic trance, and it would be minutes or even hours before I realized I had no desire to be there in the first place,” confesses Morris. His solution is a small device that zaps his wrist and reminds and him of the almost autonomous behavior.
“After a few shock exposures, these automatic behaviors seemed completely rewired. I no longer visited the site unless I wanted too…I still visited the site, but I wasn’t dragged there by some mysterious Ouija-esque compulsion.”
This compulsion is what leads to addiction. The craving for affirmation of one’s social standings as a respected member of society can become unhealthy if left unchecked.
By Brandon Frisby