Could an addiction to social media be crippling your personal life?

My friend Alice is hooked on social media. At a recent dinner with some friends, her iPhone rested beside her plate for the entire evening, lighting up and vibrating periodically with a new notification and she would mid-conversation to flick through her feed. Despite being surrounded by conversation, wine and good food, all Alice was interested in that night was her online life, Instagramming photos of every meal as it arrived, checking us all in to the restaurant and liking every comment made on her statuses.

Apart from her terrible table manners, Alice was getting more agitated each time a new notification would pop up and she would then interrupt discussion around the table to explain why it was significant that somebody had commented on a photo she was tagged in, or not commented, or liked‚ something a mutual friend had posted.

Social media has taken over, and is crippling Alice’s personal life.

And it was only a few weeks that Charlotte Dawson was rushed to hospital after a very public online spat with a Twitter bully.

Both Alice and Charlotte would be perfect candidates for a social media switch-off.

This withdrawal from social media is gaining ground with users. Everybody knows somebody who has gone AWOL from an account for a while because they got too busy, too tired or too wired.

Social networking sites and apps have generated a fundamental shift in the way that people communicate, much like email did before that, and the telephone earlier still. And now, with the advent and continuing development of smartphones we are on‚ π and accessible like never before.

I love social media. It’s allowed me to find people I thought had been left behind in yearbooks, connect with a whole new range of people and opportunities and explore and share my likes and dislikes.

When somebody tells me that they’re not on Facebook, I look at them as though they’ve just told me they don’t have electricity switched on yet! How do they communicate with people that they haven’t seen in years and didn’t particularly like to begin with?

But while I’m an avid user of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, I’m not quite ready to hand over my personal life in exchange, I still want that balance.

For all the great aspects of social media, there are drawbacks:.

  • It takes up too much time

It used to be that we made New Year’s resolutions about reducing time in front of the television. Now with the average person spending seven hours, forty five minutes and 49 seconds on Facebook each month, there’s a new bad habit in town.

  • Is the communication meaningful?

Sure we all talk about social media’s unparalleled capacity to increase communication, but oftentimes the engagement isn’t as meaningful or genuine as it would be face-to-face. After all, how much can you really convey with a digital thumbs up?

  • Huge potential for misinterpretation

Although social media users have developed their own language to cope with this (everyone knows that ALL CAPITALS MEAN YOU ARE SHOUTING!!! And most people seem to have picked up that ending a mean remark in lol‚ π means you were just kidding although there are some that use it as a replacement for a full stop), the nature of the medium means that true communication can be difficult, with the ability for things to be misrepresented or taken out of context without the cues that can come with face-to-face communications.

  • Everybody’s life is perfect…on Facebook

Social media provides context for our daily interactions, it’s become a yardstick for how we’re doing in life and many users are in a rush to keep up with the Jones, which can lead to feelings of unfounded inferiority in their follower’s believe the hype.

Still, Psychologists are largely undecided about whether or not the use of social media has a detrimental effect with many claiming that there hasn’t been enough research into the phenomenon. However preliminary studies suggest that adolescents who are frequent users of social media are more at risk of mental and physical health problems.

Common sense suggests though that if like Alice, you can’t look away; or like Charlotte, it drives you to emotional extremes, social media could be taking over your personal life and you could do well to switch off for a while.

Is social media taking over your life? Have a quick look over the symptoms below to diagnose your addiction:

You’re worried you’ll miss something‚ if you switch off ‚ are you crippled by anxiety wondering what’s been going on while you’ve been away from your Twitter feed?

  • You can’t look away even when you’re in a social situation ‚ ¨ like Alice, even though you’re enjoying a nice catch-up with friends, you’re distracted by the activity on your Facebook wall. That said, if you’re watching a movie with friends and can’t remember what you last saw Liam Neeson in, putting out to a poll on Facebook or checking is perfectly reasonable.
  • You find yourself having lost several hours trawling through people’s feeds ‚ ¨
  • it seems like you only just finished dinner and now you look up and it’s almost time to make breakfast!
  • It’s all you can talk about ‚ ¨ if all you have to talk about in the real world are goings on in the digital one, you need to reclaim your life!!!!

By Bianca Stapleton