Social Media: The Newest Addiction?

Social media:  The latest addiction?With the burgeoning popularity of social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter, some observers are beginning to wonder if a new type of addiction is now in our midst.

So-called “Internet addiction disorder” came to the fore in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with social scientists contending that some people were neglecting their interpersonal relationships, and instead were spending hours of time online every day.

Of course, since social media is about interrelationships, perhaps likening it to the solitary pursuit of web surfing might not be an apt comparison. But a recent study demonstrates that social media, too, appears to have addictive aspects.

The online consumer electronics shopping and review site Retrevo commissioned an independent study of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers distributed across age, income, gender and geography. Guess what? The study revealed that many people appear to be obsessed with their social media circles all throughout the day … and also checking in throughout night.

About half of the respondents reported that they check Facebook or Twitter feeds just before going to bed, during the night, or as soon as they wake up. Nearly one in five admitted checking in with these sites “any time I wake up” during the night.

It’s not a huge surprise to learn that owners of iPhones are more involved with social media; they use Facebook and Twitter more often and in more places.

Moreover, nearly one in five respondents actually view these two social sites as their most important sources for the news they consume, rather than Internet news sites, TV/cable programming, the radio or the daily newspaper.

As a truer measure of “addiction,” the study’s respondents were asked to estimate how long they could go without checking in on Facebook and Twitter. While about four in ten reported they could avoid checking in over “a long time,” a similar percentage indicated they could not make it any longer than five or six hours at a stretch without checking in on these sites. (The balance felt they would need to check in at least once a day.)

And how about tolerating electronic messages that interrupt their activities? Half of respondents under the age of 25 in the Retrevo study didn’t mind being interrupted during a meal. One-fourth don’t mind the interruption happening on the job or during a meeting. And a die-hard 10% don’t even mind an interruption during – you guessed it – lovemaking.

As for how respondents over age 25 answered these same questions, they’re only about half as tolerant, so it’s easy to see how the propensity for social media addiction might manifest itself more with the younger set.

Since the online social media revolution is a relatively new phenomenon, one might wonder if the attraction of social media bordering on addiction is just a passing fad in part because of its novelty.

That might be true. But it’s difficult to see exactly how behaviors and attitudes will change dramatically over time. After all, television viewing was extremely high when TVs first came out … and those numbers stayed high for decades thereafter. Social scientists started making rumbles about the phenomenon of TV addiction early on … leading some people to refer to television sets as the “idiot box” or “boob tube.”

And actually, with social media the temptation for “total immersion” is even stronger. After all, the TV viewing public was forced to watch whatever programming went out over the airwaves. But in social media, the content is whatever the participants choose it to be – and it’s interactive to boot.

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