Psychological Addiction Is the New American Business Model

Daniel May
Oct 18, 2019 · 6 min read
Photo by Marc Schaefer on Unsplash

“No, sorry, I have an addictive personality,” is something you might hear from someone turning down a drink at a party. The idea of someone having an “addictive personality,” though, is actually a myth. Research has found that addicted people have all the same character traits as non-addicted people, and personality wise, nothing separates those with “addictive personalities” from those not addicted.

Addiction isn’t the new kid on the block

Using physical addiction to make money is no new business model. Tobacco has been around in the U.S. since the 1600s, and alcohol has been around for over 9,000 years. Pharmaceutical companies puppeteer doctors to get patients hooked on pills, and the food and beverage industry has been getting Americans addicted to sugar for decades.

In the 20th century, some industries used physical addiction to get customers hooked on products; Americans have a long history of addiction to tobacco, alcohol, sugar, and drugs. Most businesses, though, operated on an as-needed basis: department stores sold clothes, and people needed to buy clothes. Grocery stores sold food, and people needed to buy food. Businesses were created to meet a need, for the most part.

Since the turn of the century (and the rise of the internet), more and more corporations are turning to psychological addiction to control customers. The old business model of meeting a customer’s needs to make money simply isn’t profitable enough anymore. It’s much easier to create something new that consumers don’t necessarily need (but that you can get them addicted to) than to enter into an already existing, crowded industry.

What do we really need, anyway?

We’re at a point in our development as a country where most of us don’t have any needs that aren’t being met. We live in comfortable homes with our loved ones, have nice cars, enough food to survive for months, and enough entertainment to last a lifetime. Because all of our needs are being met (for the most part), companies have to create needs. It seems like tech companies in particular are especially desperate to create needs. When the iPhone first came out, many people felt a need to buy it. The first iPhone could do so much, and if you bought one it made a noticeable difference in your day-to-day life. New technology doesn’t really do that anymore.

We need what we don’t need

How many of us really needed Facebook before it was created? How many people created a Facebook account and finally felt complete, like they found the one thing that was missing in their life? Or Instagram, or Snapchat, or Twitter? We’re at a point now where new services and products aren’t being made to meet a need, but to create a need.

Facebook creates a psychological need to connect with people on a level we’ve never seen before. Humans have always been social creatures, and we were doing just fine before Facebook came along. We had friends, families, gatherings, communities, phone calls, letters, and emails. Facebook came along and created a need we didn’t know we had. Constantly checking up on friends is like a drug, and people who compulsively use social media have brain patterns similar to drug addicts.

Like any other addiction, an addiction to Facebook can be harmful. The ill effects of Facebook addiction, like self-esteem issues, depression, and anxiety, are becoming more commonly known. Surprisingly (but not really), despite the negative press, people are using Facebook more than ever before. Like other drug addicts, Facebook addicts are ignoring the negative effects of using because they are addicted.

Addiction affects society, not just individuals

I only pick on Facebook because they are the biggest social media platform in the world. Similar issues are found in almost every other social media platform. The harm of social media use isn’t limited to the individual, but is negatively affecting our entire society. Niche online communities where members share hateful views are amplifying racism and intolerance. Like-minded individuals everywhere are connecting online, and their beliefs and convictions are only becoming stronger and deeper.

Mustard haters, rise up!

Here’s an example of how online communities can amplify hate. Imagine someone who absolutely hates mustard. Can’t stand it. Their hatred for mustard is strong, but they don’t really have anyone to vent to. They don’t know anyone else who hates mustard, so it isn’t a big part of their life. They don’t spend hours talking with friends about how to get rid of all the mustard in the world, or why mustard is inferior to ketchup in every way. The issue doesn’t really affect their day-to-day life.

Now imagine the same person, but instead of hanging out with friends, they spend most of their time online. And imagine what would happen if they found an online community with thousands of other people who hated mustard as much as they did. They would spend time discussing the mustard problem our world has, and how to get rid of it. They would feel like they finally found their community, their home. They would probably consider mustard lovers to be inferior human beings, and grow to despise them.

Different is good

People are different, and that’s a good thing. I don’t think we’re meant to be in communities where everyone holds the same beliefs. In homogenous communities, beliefs become stronger and stronger, no matter if they’re positive or negative, or harmful or not. Our country is more divided than ever because we all have our online safe space where everyone thinks the same and has the same beliefs. When surrounded by like-minded people, our views and beliefs only become stronger. There aren’t many neutral feelings left in the world anymore; it seems like everyone has a strong opinion about almost everything.

There isn’t anything wrong with feeling strongly about something, but our divisiveness has reached ridiculous levels. Ellen DeGeneres was recently spotted at a football game with George W. Bush.

Timeout. How many of you reading this already have strong feelings about this event?

Online, people had very strong feelings. Many conservatives applauded Ellen for hanging out with the former President, and many liberals felt upset and betrayed that Ellen would give George Bush the time of day. And that’s the problem. People are picking sides about everything, things that don’t even matter. Some people reading this are probably upset I’m not taking a side.

The importance of diversity

Having people in your social network with different views and beliefs is really important. Not so your views and beliefs will change, but so you can empathize with groups of people who are different than you. In some cases, your beliefs may change or shift, and that’s okay.

I have really strong views and beliefs (on subjects that matter, not on Ellen and George Bush going to a football game…sorry), but I constantly expose myself to different perspectives. I read news all the time, ranging from Fox News and the Washington Examiner to the New York Times and the Washington Post to Jacobin magazine, a socialist publication. My views haven’t shifted, but I empathize more with how different people see the world. That doesn’t mean I think they’re right, but I understand how beliefs are formed, and how they’re strengthened and reinforced.

Back to addiction

I believe we all have addictive personalities. I don’t know anyone who isn’t addicted to something. In most cases, the addiction is harmful. But it doesn’t have to be.

I challenge everyone reading this to give up social media for a length of time, at least a day. During that day or week or however long you decide, try to be kind to everyone you come in contact with in real life. Don’t be too extreme, like if someone is really rude or mean don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, but try to spread as much positivity as you can while you aren’t on social media.

At the end of your hiatus from social media, take an inventory of your feelings. Are you struggling? Do you feel great inside? Continue the experiment if you feel up to it.

I have a second challenge too, and this one’s a little easier. Read something online from a publication you normally wouldn’t read from, and talk to someone you normally wouldn’t have a conversation with. This could be a stranger, acquaintance, or anyone that you normally wouldn’t talk to.

Love the person, not the belief

Christians commonly use the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin.” I like the concept but I prefer a more positive phrase like “love the person, not the belief.”

Believe it or not, it is possible to love others that have different beliefs and values than your own. I hope everyone who reads this decides to take on my challenges, because I really believe it will go a long way in promoting positivity and diminishing hate.


Originally published at timeandmoney.substack.com on October 18, 2019.

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Daniel May

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Helping you make the most out of your two scarcest resources, Time & Money. Writing here and at https://timeandmoney.substack.com.

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