As college students, we throw around the word “addiction” when we’re referring to our BlackBerrys, iPhones, iPods, Facebook and Twitter pages, YouTube and other media; we’re social media “junkies,” and we fall apart when our crops die on Farmville. But, is social media addiction a real sickness? Studies show social media addiction is very real, and students at the University of Maryland, College Park have made the first step to recovery: admitting they’re addicted.
Two hundred students at the university participated in an International Center for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA) study accessing the level of media addiction among college students. After 24 hours of media abstinence, students blogged about their experience, their emotions and their failures. Together, the students wrote more than 110,000 words describing their day without media.
The results? We’re addicted. Students described the same emotions that patients addicted to drugs or alcohol use when speaking with a specialist: disconnected, anxious, worried, alone, secluded, cravings and more. Many couldn’t go the full 24 hours without experiencing some type of media.
One student in the study said he or she was “frantically craving” technology upon returning home from class. The student “cheated a little” and eventually succumbed to the lure of media.
“At that moment, I couldn’t take it anymore being in my room … alone … with nothing to occupy my mind so I gave up shortly after 5 p.m.,” said the student. “I think I had a good run for about 19 hours and even that was torture.”
In the age of new media, we use social media to stay connected. We use it for news, and we often use it instead of a text message or phone call. It’s one more medium that brings us together — who wants to be a social media outcast?
This study isn’t the first of its kind. When Retreveo sent out a survey to gauge social media use, it found that 61 percent of people under the age of 25 have to check Facebook at least once a day, and 48 percent of people check or update their Facebook or Twitter account right before going to sleep.
Who’s to blame for this constant craving of social media? For many, it’s the iPhone. In a Stanford University survey, as reported on TechNewsDaily, only 6 percent of 200 iPhone-owning students said they were not addicted to their iPhones. Fifteen percent said the iPhone was turning them into a media addict, and 30 percent called it a “doorway into the world.”
I relate to the iPhone addiction; my iPhone is my social media dealer of choice. First thing in the morning, I check e-mail and Twitter before getting out of bed; right before I go to sleep, I check e-mail and Twitter one last time for that one last fix. I check Twitter constantly throughout the day on my iPhone or on a Twitter application on my Mac’s desktop. A day without Twitter may as well be a day without water; if I’m too busy to check my Twitter, I’m thirsty for it the second I’m free.
Is there a place for us social media addicts? Absolutely. The Social Media Addicts Association, founded by “Jerry,” aims to help recovering social media junkies by offering opportunities to recognize their problems and confess on the anything-but-serious Web site. He sells T-shirts warning friends to “Stop writing on my wall,” or defriend him and encourages visitors to sign a petition banning social media.
Although a judge may never sentence someone to 28 days in social media rehab, the addiction is very real. Think about the last time you went an entire day without checking Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace or whatever you consider your poison. How did you feel?
If you’re an addict, and you’re ready to admit it, what’s the next step in recovery? Should we quit cold-turkey or slap on a social media nicotene patch? Should we even quit at all?
In this day and age, social media use is a must for PR people. The key to keeping an addiction from taking control: tweet, Facebook and connect in moderation.
by Allison Cook