Social media addiction is an epidemic! It nulls our brains, wastes our time and causes mental health problems!
While the claims above may be true, rather than reading an emotionally charged argument by a popular news site, a more scientific and robust understanding of social media addiction will hopefully help you to make better choices about how long you spend on social media sites.
The following sections cover each of the four elements of the Hook Model, which is a framework to describe how a digital product becomes addictive.
A notification from Instagram can show you when your friend has just accepted your follow request, causing you to open Instagram for the 40th time today.
Notifications serve as external triggers. Advertising is an external trigger because adverts are embedded with information telling you what to do next. The ultimate goal of an external trigger is to facilitate the creation of a link between your mind and the product: an internal trigger.
Internal triggers rely on habit formation in the brain, meaning that you routinely check Instagram without the need for external triggers. Our emotions are our internal triggers, particularly negative ones, as studies have shown a positive correlation between social media use and depression. The most potent emotion exploited by Instagram is fear. Not opening the app for a number of hours could mean missing out on good content and this fear of missing out (FOMO) guarantees consistent engagement.
How easy is scrolling on Twitter? Effortless. With a swipe of your finger, content appears instantaneously. If there was a button shown after ten tweets which stated “click here for more!” you would predictably spend less time on the social media site. Making a decision costs precious mental effort and is a barrier to action. What Twitter does brilliantly is limit tough decisions. When something is easy we are more likely to do it. Would you rather walk a metre or run a mile?
Every photo, video, status or tweet you post is the same as pulling the lever on a slot machine. Your reward is in the form of likes, comments and retweets which can vary in quantity and quality (Nice comments vs. ‘wow you’re ugly’). Just how gambling addicts keep pulling the lever, social media addicts can’t stop posting, liking or scrolling.
We never know what piece of content will appear at the top of our newsfeed when we open Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. Just how we do not know which numbers will be drawn in the national lottery.
Social media exploits natural human behaviour such as our innate desire to feel loved, important and accepted. For primitive humans, not being accepted by a tribe was guaranteed death as one man or woman could not survive alone. Today, our brain is still wired to treat acceptance as critical to our livelihood. Social media can fulfil this desire by measuring our perceived acceptance through likes and comments, making our popularity on social media feel like a decision between life and death.
Signing up for a LinkedIn account demands more than just filling in your name and email address. Once you have made an account and after witnessing the numerous individuals who have better grades, work experience, awards, and smiles than you, you decide it is necessary to spice up your profile with your achievements. The more time you spend updating your LinkedIn profile, for example, mentioning how you developed magnificent communication skills by working at a pub over the summer; taking a fresh photo in your blue skinny-fit Topman suit and getting your best friend to give you a recommendation for Microsoft Office, the more you will value LinkedIn.
A completed LinkedIn profile can serve as your own online career portfolio offering more than any 1-page CV could, increasing your chances of getting a job offer and expanding your professional network. A completed profile also lengthens your time spent on LinkedIn as your initial investment has inflated your perceived value of the platform in two ways. The first is the positive reputation from an impressive LinkedIn profile and the second leads us to an explanation from behavioural economics.
Multiple economic experiments have shown that we irrationally value our own efforts. In one such experiment, participants were asked to make an origami frog or crane and then bid on their own creations. Participants, who made their own origami animal, valued their creation 5 times more than a third-party bidder and nearly matched the bid price for professional origami creations.
The next step from the investment phase is back to the trigger phase and the cycle of social media addiction continues. To end your addiction, you must eliminate one of the phases, such as removing triggers by disabling push notifications on Instagram or deleting the app altogether. Taking breaks from social media is something I have used in the past and the feeling of letting go is liberating.
Even though the world is becoming a more addictive place, most people have the ability to self-regulate their behaviours.
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