A Virtual Detox: Social Media As A Drug

Substances that cause addictions and overdoses are legally restricted to minors. Could social media be added to the list?

The medical definition of an addiction is “a condition that results when a person ingests a substance or engages in an activity that can be pleasurable but the continuation of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary responsibilities and concerns, such as work, relationships, or health.” Checking your timeline, for some people, meets these criteria.

Fifty years ago, kids got home after school and turned on the TV, or played outside. Nowadays, when kids are done with a long day of checking their phone at school, they come home to be glued to their phones all night, eventually falling asleep next to it and checking it as soon as they wake up. Replace the phone with a bottle of whiskey and it’s illegal.

This rule applies to people of all ages all across the board in America — from nine-year-olds to nineteen-year-olds to your grandparents (well, maybe), we’ve all got our devices all the time. If you’re anywhere between the ages of ten and forty, I’d put money on the bet that you check your social media once a day. If I was right, you should be scared.

As I write this piece, I’m listening to music on my phone. I’m not saying that I’m superior or exempt from this addiction, but simply reminding everyone reading this that the first step to ending an addiction is realizing that you have a problem. I’ve deleted all of my social media from my phone. (They’re still available from my computer, but, you know. Baby steps.) The effects of mediaddiction (see what I did there?) are already present among adolescents.

Teen depression and suicide rates are steadily increasing, and so are the amount of teenagers on social media. Anyone on social media will tell you that to try to “detox” from it would result in withdrawals and short-term depression. A CNN study revealed that the more often teenagers check their social media, the more emotionally distressed they were.

In an interview with Inside Quest, Simon Sinek, motivational speaker, discusses how social media is a crippling, hindering substance that can destroy teenagers’ lives by not preparing them with skills they need to survive, like gradual gratification and patience. He says:

“It’s like an alcoholic. The reason you take the alcohol out of the house is because we cannot trust our willpower. We’re just not strong enough. But when you remove the temptation, it actually makes it a lot easier.”

Now, I’m a libertarian. You know this. I prefer that individuals have the free will to make choices rather than be forced to. But the alarming factor of this addiction is that the choice to try to overcome is so unpopular.

Have you ever seen the show Black Mirror? One of its most popular episodes, Nosedive, shows a society built on a social meritocracy, where simply being nice to people or buying others lunch will improve your star rating, a credit-score-type of ranking that shows where you lie in society and affects where you can go, what you can buy, etc. Long story short, it doesn’t end well for the protagonist. And if you couldn’t figure it out already, this is not a reliable system for a society. First of all, it’s built on a subjective criterion, meaning that anyone with an unpopular opinion or lifestyle is automatically purged. Individuality would be exterminated. There are so many more terrible things to be said about this concept, but the time for concepts is over. It’s the time for action. In China, this concept is becoming a reality. You like capitalism? You just lost your job. You like how Mao Zedong killed millions? Awesome! You just got a raise.

If society keeps bending backwards for the newest gadget, some sort of restriction might be beneficial.

The author of the above article even describes how she became obsessed with checking her social credit score in China. It may seem luxurious and lush now, but soon enough this addiction with reach everyone in society and have terrible effects on society as a whole. How do we fix this? Two ways: force or social influence. With force, the government could implement restrictions on social networking sites and restrict minors from using these sites, and I don’t mean “check this box if you’re 13 or higher”. I mean going to jail for having a Twitter account. I don’t support this method, as it’s pretty damn autocratic, but if society keeps bending backwards for the newest gadget, some sort of restriction might be beneficial. The other method is more ideal; however, it’s also more difficult. In our technophilic way of life, a cultural revolution to focus on individual satisfaction and not materialism would be like winning the lottery. All we can do is hope that we don’t have to learn the hard way.

Mike Lee is an editor for Liberation Day and a Student Ambassador for Prager University. As a cultural libertarian and Objectivist, he writes about the importance of free speech and intellectual diversity.

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