5 Things Social Media Addiction

Written by Marc Ashwell & Illustrated by Nicholas Nesbitt

Marc Ashwell isn’t a writer, but he is pretty good at strategy and marketing. If he wrote about everything he thought, he would be a cynic.

Nicholas Nesbitt is a Johannesburg based creative specialising in Illustration, Digital Design and Sound Design.

Subscribe to the 5 Things newsletter and receive an article monthly.

1. The early signs

It’s that you hardly speak at dinner anymore, or that all you can talk about is that post that Rob deleted (but not before you screenshot it). Have you seen that new Youtube video? OMG, I have to show you this hilarious thing on the internet that Kate posted, it’s so funny! It’s that this isn’t the first time you’re late for a human encounter over coffee, that you haven’t seen your best friend in months, or that you feel a burning desire to correct that typo on Lisa’s wall.

You’ve changed. You live in a bite-sized world, where life is tl;dr (too long, didn’t read, for those of you who are not in the know) and your social power is capped by clicking on a tiny black heart to turn it red.

2. Admitting you may have an issue.

Have you ever been woken up by the thud of your mobile phone on your face after you fell asleep? Have you ever had your heart rate quicken when you hear that ping of a notification or got a cold sweat when you have 5% battery and 2 hours left of the work day with no charger in sight?

Have you ever closed Instagram, promising yourself it was time to go to work, and then re-opened it and thought: “wait, wasn’t I just looking at this?” Have you ever found yourself having a conversation with someone, while you are trawling the endless scroll of Facie, agreeing with what they say when you should be apologising? Tick one or more of those off and, chances are you may be addicted to the reality distorting drug of social media.

Pick your poison, everyone remembers that first rush; the first time you looked up your ex (and found them, and stalk them, and realised that they have a really ugly new partner), the first time someone follows you, the first like, and soon after, the first DM. Now it’s all the same, endless scrolling, pings, randomly liking posts made by people you haven’t seen in years and would never be friends with IRL. Yes, real life.

You only believe you’re addicted when you have the realisation on your own. All those times your better half asked you to put your phone down didn’t quite cut it, but now that you see it for yourself, you realise it may be time to make a change.

3. Deciding you need to cut back

For me, the moment I decided to quit Facebook for good was both liberating and frightening. I knew I had to though — it had gotten too much.

Not only was I becoming more cynical by the day, but I was seeing the dark side of my friends and colleagues. The side that attacked strangers because of their opinions, the side that liked the post that was actually kind of racist, the side that only engaged with you when their notifications reminded them to. All in all, these interactions only provided a pseudo and slightly aggressive kind of engagement.

I didn’t quit it all, and I have shifted from one platform to another over the years, but the biggest time waster was always that damned timeline. I find comfort on Instagram, and I still have a voice on Twitter — but in my world they’re more manageable. For others it may be the exact opposite. All of the platforms out there speak to different primal urges that we chase as humans, which talk to recognition, being needed, being seen and showing your individual voice.

The key here is to maintain some kind of balance, and try and stick to your decision without the dreaded fear of missing something that isn’t really all that important IRL. Remember why you wanted to switch off in the first place. Know your trigger. Use your sword.

4. Resisting

A social media addiction is not physically life threatening (unless you’re driving and Instagraming or, walking and texting), but the social side-effects are way up there. Look, it’s not like smoking where you put on 5kg (okay, 10) by supplementing a craving, but there is an element of wonder. There’s a curiosity that needs to be fulfilled.

Resisting is not easy.

The first step is to try and kick the usual habits. Leave your phone after you’ve switched off the alarm, never take it to the bathroom (cause germs), “forget” your phone at home once or twice, stop charging it next to your bed, hell, switch it off for a few hours on Sunday. Break the cycle. And that cycle is almost always linked to boredom. And it’s ok to be bored.

The major key to getting through it all is by filling your time and space with intent; being purposefully productive, or purposefully unproductive is okay.

There are some negatives: I have had to re-create so many accounts that relied on my Facebook login to sign in. I’ve forgotten birthdays, missed out on events and missed the office party pics. I’ve missed my mom liking every post of mine and I’ve missed being judged on my personal choices and beliefs. Not so much the last one. But I haven’t missed the hours that have disappeared trawling the web depths.

5. Rediscovering

Quitting Facebook allowed me to rediscover reading, and I actively discover new music as well as write a lot more.

It sounds ridiculous, but you will be surprised at how much time you waste scrolling mindlessly through pictures of baby showers, strangers’ weddings and road trips.

It means rediscovering what makes you happy. Which may mean discovering something altogether new. Something that legitimately replaces the loading GIF with something much more real and meaningful.

There’s a beautiful troubled world out there. One that needs your actual attention, not armchair activism — one that needs you to be an active part of it. If that isn’t a damned good reason, I don’t know what is.

Marc’s Disclaimer

This article in no way means to belittle the harsh reality and dangers of substance addiction. That is a cause close to my heart. It is merely a reality check, a reminder that it is easy to be swept off one’s feet by something that elevates us, give us purpose and meaning only to find, when you look up, life has been passing you by.