There’s No Nicotine in Social Media, So Why are You Puffing so Hard?

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addictive social media

Who wrote this?

We are in the business of relaxing people who are tense and providing a pick-up for people who are bored or depressed. The human needs that our product fills will not go away. Thus, the only real threat to our business is that society will find other means of satisfying those needs.

If your first thought was that it might be quote from someone like Mark Zuckerberg or the guy or gal who invented Google, well, you’re not far off the mark. That snippet was actually pulled from a 1970s internal memo from tobacco company Philip Morris.

Is there really a similarity here? Well, you won’t find an Instagram patch at your local drugstore, but a number of people these days are batting around the idea that social media and cigarettes share a number of dopamine-to-your-brain addictive qualities in common. In fact, USA Today recently published an article titled: Why quitting tech and social media is harder than quitting cigarettes.

That article examined the struggle of several people to unplug from the habit-forming “matrix” of their smartphones, even just for a short period of time, and just how tough those attempts were. And the people at the core of the article aren’t simply a gaggle of oddballs, either. Social media can plant its hooks in anybody.

Researchers from the University of Vienna recently gathered together some volunteers to see how difficult it might be for them to set aside their apps and platforms for just a week. The study revealed that the participants exhibited some interesting withdrawal-like symptoms. For me, some of the most telling numbers weren’t even directly part of the study. For instance, of the 1,000 people invited to set aside their phones—again just for a couple days—only 15% of that group even wanted to attempt the week-long breakaway. And of those that did brave the ordeal, almost 60% of them “cheated” and slipped back in for a few surreptitious app-puffs during the test period.

If you do a quick Google search for “quit social media,” you’ll turn up reports from a lot of people who found that setting aside their online connections to be surprisingly unsettling. And whatever their reason for putting Facebook et al aside (during a break-up, an extended overseas trip, a social media fast, etc.) the writers posted some very similar reactions.

First, they found it very awkward to explain to friends why they unplugged. Some friends would even take the separation as a personal affront. Second, the quitters would go through a panic stage, where they’d feel like they were missing out on really vital stuff. They’d even find their hands subconsciously groping for their phone and their fingers automatically flipping to where their favorite apps used to be with a muscle-memory twitch. In a third stage, they’d slip into a boredom phase where their brains were screaming that there was absolutely nothing to do.

But given a little time, just about every blogger and article writer I read also admitted that when they went off social media, they had more actual conversations and face-to-face interactions with people; their productivity went through the roof; they gained a fresh awareness of the physical world around them  (Hey, there’s a mountain over there!); and they received a mental health boost (unplugging from a constant stream of negative comments, online trolls and toxic political commentary can do wonders).

Now, I’m not suggesting that social media is a horrible thing or that everyone needs to run quickly to the nearest exit. But, if the very idea of not looking at your phone for the next hour or so sends a surge of anxiety through your system, or the concept of accidentally leaving your phone at home makes you gasp as if you were being buried alive, well, you might want to take some baby steps to ween things back a bit.

I watched a YouTube video of a young woman who said she accidentally dropped her phone in the pool and was without it for a day-and-a-half, and subsequently, her body began to involuntarily spasm and vibrate. She realized then that she had a problem, so she began unplugging for a series of three-hour periods for her own sense of mental health. Ironically, she made a YouTube video chronicling her first three-hour ordeal: it looked painful, but ultimately rewarding.

And you could give a short separation a try, too. Who knows what new mountains you might see.

Who wrote this?

Bob Hoose is a senior associate editor for Plugged In, a producer/writer for Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey, a writer of plays and musicals and one-half of the former comedy/drama duo Custer & Hoose. He is a husband, father of three and a relatively new granddad.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 12 days ago

This article thoroughly engages its audience by presenting a quotation from a tobacco company that seems like it could have been stated by a social media company. This exemplifies a skillfully-developed aspect of the article that intrigues the reader, and the decision to lead with it furthers this intriguement. It also has a good awareness of its attitude, as it doesn’t degrade the reader but rather informs them of the potential dangers of addiction to social media. Furthermore, it clarifies that its purpose is not to demonize social media, as it is aware that it can be used for good. The truth is present throughout the duration of the text as it gives statistics and cites other research studies within it. The recognition and upholding of the dignity of the human person is an underlying theme throughout the whole article, as the author desires the welfare of his target audience. Despite these positive aspects of the article, it does tend to fall short in as an inspirational work. The tone throughout the article often focuses on the negatives and doesn’t offer a lot of hope to the reader, other than suggestions to the effect of  “take some breaks from social media”. 


Anonymous 12 days ago

This is a significant report on the addictive nature of social media. It’s essential that it utilizes several research studies on media and the internet, and can be evaluated using the 7 media keys - balance, attitude awareness, dignity of the human person, truth-filled, inspiring, skillfully developed, motivated by experience. This article addresses balance when it says that many people spend much more time online than they should. People have a hard time balancing it with their life outside of media - some even going through withdrawal symptoms when off their phone for extended periods of time. This also relates to the dignity of the human person. We are not meant to spend all our time online and should have more focus on others in our life. This is important because as human beings we all have shared experience and should use media in a way that connects us, not separates us. Keeping the 7 media keys in mind can help us to consume media that is truth-filled and inspiring, and keep us from using it as a crutch to distract us and fill all our time. All in all, this is a very important topic.


Anonymous 12 days ago
This comment was well thought out, and contributes well to the readers understanding of the article. The seven media keys are very important to a critical piece of media, so I like how you relate aspects of this article to these keys. Have a good day, sir/ma'am.
Anonymous 12 days ago
Thank you, good sir! This made my day. Your comment above was truly enlightening to me as well.