Column: A widespread addiction to social media is affecting our everyday lives

Mary Arden Guyton
Oxford Stories

As an active user of Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, I often wonder why we must have multiple social media accounts and why we even use them at all?

It’s pretty simple. We use them because everyone else does, and we wouldn’t want to feel left out, right? But would you believe it if I said that using these accounts makes us feel more isolated and alone?

The constant battle at family events that everyone has heard – your parents telling you to put your phone down and pay attention. You look up from your phone to realize an hour has passed, and you’ve been scrolling down the dark hole of your “explore page” on Instagram. You’ve missed a precious hour that could have been spent with loved ones, but you chose to look at silly cat memes instead.

Social media is not all bad, which is what keeps us around. We often outweigh the negatives for the positives. We can connect with a friend we haven’t seen in years or a friend that lives too far away to see every day.

I have a friend who lives in England, so social media is fantastic for us to stay connected in each others’ lives. This can make us feel connected. However, we can feel very disconnected from the ones sitting right in front of us because there are two phone screens between the two of you.

In fact, one day recently, the internet service on my phone went out for about an hour, and I panicked. Not because I needed to reach anyone or I was nervous to miss an important call, but simply because I had an hour to kill and nothing to do.

So throughout this hour, I mindlessly picked up my phone numerous times forgetting what had happened because it’s simply a reflex to open up my Instagram feed and start scrolling. Isn’t this sad?

User on his iPhone scrolling through Instagram. Photo by Mary Arden Guyton.

So, are we truly addicted to our phones, and how is this addiction affecting our everyday life? My answer is: yes. Many users are addicted, and their addiction is affecting the way they view the world around them, or don’t view.

So often we are so entranced by what is on our phone that we miss some of the biggest moments. We miss that big home-run in the game we’re attending, or the cute little dog that just ran by, or the friend who was trying to wave at us from afar.

Why? Oh yeah, because we thought that scrolling through Instagram would be better use of our time in those quiet moments before the “really big stuff” happens.

Ironically, right about here in my writing is where I moved away from the computer to pick up my phone, and my muscle memory allowed me to click the Instagram icon without even realizing what I was doing. This is because of dopamine in my brain that needed to be rewarded after not having been on my phone for the past 30 minutes.

Science can back up this addiction we have to these social interactions through our smartphones and social media. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is associated with the brain’s pleasure and reward system. Therefore, when we receive many likes on a photo or a nice comment on a video, it can be a positive social stimulus, thus releasing dopamine and encouraging our brains to repeat that action, such as posting another photo to get positive feedback.

Users on their phones in front of the television. Photo by Mary Arden Guyton.

The science behind our addiction can make us feel a little bit better to understand that it isn’t just us, but it is also haunting. If this is an issue within our brain, how can we fix it? If it’s a subconscious decision that we’re making, can we fight it?

I believe we can if we are making a conscious effort and put things in place to become more aware of this mindless scrolling that we all seem to do during the mundane parts of our day rather than looking up to see the beauty around us.

We always talk about limiting our children’s screen-time, but we must limit our own screen-time even as adults. We are constantly missing so many moments around us because we decided to scroll through and see what our friends’ neighbors’ cat is up to.

The amount of time we spend on our phone is absurd. I challenge you all to download an app that tracks your screen-time and what you use the most. It will shock you. I know it shocked me. And maybe use this data to limit your time with your face glued to your screen to talk to a neighbor, walk your dog, or take some time to meditate.

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