Is social media addictive? The answer is probably yes if you’re always looking at your phone in between studying, can’t go to sleep without scrolling through TikTok, or always refreshing Instagram despite just visiting the app 20 minutes ago.
This is a problem that plagues many students of all ages. Documentaries and reports have long shown how children are unable to get off their phones or develop anxiety from an unrealistic online beauty standard propagated by Instagram.
This begs the question: why is social media addictive, and what exactly is it about such platforms that keep people coming back?
Why is social media addictive?
Social media is designed to keep you constantly engaged. For example, TikTok’s algorithm uses your likes, comments, watch time, and shares to rate how appealing a video might be to you.
More than that, The New York Times found that content moderators might be able to see the videos you send to your friends or upload privately. This information is then used to create a deeper level of personalisation.
This plays into our natural preference for dopamine — that is, the chemical released in our brain that makes us feel good. When we search and explore new things, our brains release dopamine, signalling to us that it is something new to pay attention to.
With their algorithms, these apps release large amounts of dopamine into our brains at once — creating a highly addictive platform.
The end goal is always to keep you coming back for more — and it’s working. Today, more than three billion people are on social media.
Research projects that the average adult will spend at least six years and eight months of their life on social media.
How to avoid social media distraction
The result is a society that’s becoming increasingly distracted by social media. Instead of focusing on their tasks at hand, we keep reaching for our phones or laptops, searching for bouts of instant gratification.
Is social media addictive in this sense? The short answer: yes. In fact, studies have shown that excessive social media use can be equivalent to drug addiction. As a social media user, it’s important to ensure that you won’t experience the same effects.
Here are some tips on controlling your social media use:
Turn off notifications on your phone
Notifications are designed to keep reminding you of your social media account. When your phone is idle or not being used, the app sends out a pop-up message — which, when clicked, brings you right back to where you started.
Try toggling with your notification settings on your phone and turning them off. If you’re worried about missing messages, you can personalise your settings to ensure you’re only getting notifications for these and nothing else. This will cut any excessive browsing or scrolling.
Use a productivity app
Need to get your assignment done or focus on your work for hours at a time? Downloading a productivity app is a great idea. They keep you focused, offer smart ways to organise your workload, set reminders, lock away distractions, and more.
For example, Forest is an app that keeps you from using your phone. Whenever you want to begin a new study session, you can choose to plant a “tree”.
If you exit the app to browse other areas of your phone, your tree will slowly wither and die. The longer you keep the app open, the more trees you are able to grow.
Schedule out times for social media
Is social media addictive? Yes. Is it impossible to control this addiction? Far from it.
You don’t have to eliminate social media from your life. You just need to learn to exercise some self-control.
The best way to do this is to block out specific times of the day which are dedicated to browsing. This could be an hour before bedtime, or mid-way through the day.
Either way, you’ll see your dependence on social media change drastically with this practice.