Addicted to Social Media? Signs, Symptoms, and Solutions from a Digital Native
My name is Jason, and I am the originator and CEO of BOLDFISH. I was spurred to begin research on digital addiction after seeing the epidemic spread amongst friends and peers. While working in China, I learned of the phrase 低头族 (dītóuzú), which literally translates to bowed-head group, or, rather, smartphone addicts. The phrase aptly portrays heads that are constantly in a dipped state towards a smartphone. After seeing them (us) first hand, I started doing informal polls and coincidentally, the news and media backed up my suspicions. Other than being Facebook (and Instagram) free for 3 years, I, alongside my team, am uniquely positioned to tackle this problem because we understand both millennial tech life while being just old enough to remember a time without technology.
At BOLDFISH, we’re here to nurture digital wellness and strive for a long-term solution to mental unrest caused by tech life imbalance. Do you want to determine if you’re addicted to social media? Start with our checklist below!
SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION CHECKLIST
1. DISTRACTED EATING
It is impossible to eat your food without taking a picture of it first? Regardless if you are alone or with your bosom buddy, you are hardly seated before your phone comes out -- assuming it wasn’t already in-hand.
2. COMPULSIVE PHONE CHECKING
Is your phone is the last thing you see at night and the first thing you see in the morning? You probably check it before you’re even fully awake. You need to (begrudgingly) check your emails. Hyper-connectivity is starting to feel like less of a convenience and more of an obligation. Is it not?
3. FIGHTING TO BE PRESENT DURING CONVERSATIONS
Your friends and family have caught you updating your Facebook status (or Tweeting) in the middle of a serious conversation. “Yes I’m listening” you’ve said while thumbing an expression of boredom into your social app of choice.
4. BRINGING YOUR PHONE TO THE BATHROOM
You have forgotten what it was like to go to the bathroom without your phone. You are so accustomed to your smartphone that if forgotten, you end up reading the labels on random bathroom paraphernalia.
5. SHIFTING EXPECTATIONS
A new week rolls around and someone asks you how your weekend was. You feel confused - why wouldn’t they know about your weekend from your three different social media uploads? You remember, not everyone may be as plugged in as you.
6. CHECK-IN ADDICTION
You feel such a compulsion to “check-in” to every place you go that you even consider sarcastically “checking-in” to the restroom. Of course, you don’t check in until you’ve liked your own status on how Facebook is unfairly monitoring its users.
7. SOCIAL MEDIA SLANG MAKES ITS WAY INTO YOUR VOCABULARY
You speak in online shorthand sarcastically as a way to shore up against recognizing how our digital lives have observably bled into our offline day-to-day. “LOL! That’s hilarious!” “OMG, like, the hashtag struggle bus has arrived. LOL!”
Digital addiction isn’t all hashtags and LOLs, however. The results are in and Instagram has the highest risk of damaging the mental health of our youth. This survey of 1,479 young adults ranging from 14 to 24 years in age, found that the social media was a place to be a positive space for expressing and identifying the self, but conversely and concurrently negatively impacted body image, sleep habits, and anxiety levels such as #FOMO.
Digital addiction has skewed our offline perception. Some see a beautiful landscape and wonder how their online “followers” will react. Being obsessed with our phones, we thumb wrestle our screens to exhaustion. We check our phones compulsively even when we have no service. We just do it. We feel a need to. Digital addiction is the new norm.
THE SOLUTION IS DIGITAL WELLNESS
Digital wellness can be defined as taking back control from addictive technology in order to improve our daily lives. In an age of information overload, we need to relearn how to interact with technology. A granular example of this would be to first understand what apps we use, how much we use them, and act to tailor our in-phone behavior accordingly. This is important as sometimes what we see online isn’t reflective of reality -- i.e. “fake news,” social media, etc. Content providers, be it the social media user or the company itself, will often times put out sensational and tantalizing click-bait. This, in turn, encourages the reader/viewer/user to click, swipe, or “like.”
Another way to think of digital wellness is akin to a digital detox (or a digital diet). Let’s transmute technology for a second. Picture your favorite app as if it were your favorite food. Now imagine this favorite food of yours free flowing and available on a space gray platter, 24/7, 365. The fact that your digital addiction doesn’t affect your waistline, like your favorite food would, belies the true insidious nature of the problem. That’s to say you cannot see its immediate effects, but you can feel them. These are not new discoveries either. As with every change, it is easier to wean yourself off of a crutch rather than go cold-turkey. With a little personal accountability, we can learn to use less and take back control by not blaming chance, fate, or anyone else for our outcomes.
DIGITAL DETOX CHECKLIST
1. TURN OFF ALL NOTIFICATIONS
There are two types of cues that bring us back into our phone: 1) Thinking about something we can do by using our phone — e.g. making a phone call. 2) Notifications. The constant dings, pings, and buzz of push notifications remind you that there are a thousand little fires that need to be extinguished. Every single app on your phone has a notification setting that is “on” by default. More often than not, they are annoying and uninformative. Do some mental spring cleaning and consider removing all notifications that do not require immediate attention. By cutting down on notifications, smartphones are less of a distraction and battery life lasts longer to boot. A definite double-win!
2. SET UP “DO NOT DISTURB” ON YOUR PHONE
For iPhones, the DND mode allows you to customize who and when someone can reach you. Check out Apple’s Support page for more details on how to setup DND on the iPhone.
For Android devices, the DND mode allows you to customize who, when, and what form of communication can pass through when someone is trying to reach you. With Android, you can control calls, messages, reminders, and event notifications. Check out this page for more details on how to setup do not disturb on an Android.
3. KEEP YOUR PHONE OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND
Unconsciously, people take out their phone because it’s easy to access. Wherever you are, keep your phone out of sight and off your person. If your phone is not easily accessible it won’t tempt you.
4. SLEEP WITHOUT YOUR PHONE
Start a new bedtime ritual that does not involve stress-checking emails or bingeing on the newest memes. The National Sleep Foundation has conducted studies that show cutting down your exposure to digital screens prior to bedtime is crucial to getting a good night’s rest.
SELF-CARE AND PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
Even if a Gen-Z’er might be predisposed to tech addiction because s/he grew up in the “digital age,” that’s not a sufficient reason to lack the understanding around our digital decisions. There is too much of a “good” thing. If fact, too much of anything is not good, why would it be any different for the tech that impresses upon us, day-to-day?
Digital addiction, in many circumstances, is not an easy thing to identify and, consequently, not an easy thing to break free from. As with most addictions, the first step to a solution requires acknowledgement, tolerance, and patience. This trifecta of mindfulness can catalyze the desire to change. This change is what drives us to get a handle on our addictions. By placing the blame on the companies, we play the fool by absolving ourselves from personal responsibility. The addictive cycles that our digital products thrive on are reinforced by the habitual consumer.
I hope these checklists help you assess your social media addiction and implement healthy habits! Want to try blocking social media? Sign up for BOLDFISH today.
Jason graduated from Columbia University. Prior to working on BOLDFISH, he was at Sinovation Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm in Beijing, China. During his time at Sinovation, he worked closely with the Investment Director to analyze and assess potential investment opportunities.
Learn more at goboldfish.com