In our July social media round-up, we touched on a story from BBC Panorama about social media apps being made intentionally addictive by developers. It comes as no surprise, as our smartphones become more and more difficult to put down. But how are the advances in technology affecting the way we think and feel?
We now live in a time where we look for validation and motivation online instead of from our family and friends. For most people, especially the younger generation, getting a handful of ‘likes’ on your latest selfie boosts confidence more than if you were to receive a face-to-face compliment.
Panorama went one step further, claiming that social media doesn’t just make us feel good – or bad – about ourselves, it’s as addicting as a class A drug: “It’s as if they’re taking behavioural cocaine and just sprinkling it all over your interface and that’s the thing that keeps you coming back and back and back.”
Social media has become a compulsion, rather than a choice. As users, it’s easy to feel that we’re choosing to pick up our phones ten, fifteen times a day, but the truth is that there are engineers behind the scenes who have created tech that’s impossibly addictive.
There’s no doubt that social media has and is doing some amazing things – bringing old friends together, boosting businesses and spreading positivity, but there’s also a dark side that’s coming to the fore.
It’s no secret that companies such as Facebook are cracking under pressure – the illegal gathering of user data through Cambridge Analytica started the #deletefacebook campaign, encouraging people to stop using the platform amid privacy concerns.
Engineers that have contributed to the social media features we’re so familiar with are deleting their accounts and expressing their regret in creating such addictive and ultimately damaging technology.
An engineer who created ‘infinite scroll’ – the ability to continuously scroll through content without stopping – has explained that he feels guilty for making something so addictive, but there’s pressure from social media companies to keep users on their platforms for longer.
“In order to get the next round of funding, in order to get your stock price up, the amount of time that people spend on your app has to go up,” he said.
It’s not just the functionality of the apps, it’s the way they capitalise on ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ to validate how important one person’s post is versus another. Following on from the Facebook scandal, reports suggest that they are working on a time limit feature that allows us to set daily limits and track usage over a period of time.
Social media has normalised documenting every part of our lives. The problem is, most people only share the best parts, leading others to compare themselves and believe the ‘perfect’ image being portrayed.
As we approach the end of August, ‘Scroll Free September’ is a campaign designed to encourage people to take a social media break, improving sleep, relationships and mental wellbeing. Going forward, maybe it could be the way to stave off social media addiction.