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The Addiction of Being Plugged in






The theory of media addiction isn't some new or radical notion. Parents and guardians have widely worried about media and the effect it has on youth and society at large. Video games make children prone to violence, they say. Phones have become an extension to the human body, a new appendage that monopolizes the masses attention, turning them in to psuedo-zombies. These opinions are debatable. What isn't debatable are the feelings of isolation and disconnect experienced by becoming "unplugged". Worldwide students and teens have experienced the same phenomenon, and have begun to worry about whether media is like a drug, addictive and hard to kick. Here are just a small sample of students thoughts after going unplugged.





To say that there is a correlation between addiction and media, it would be conducive to define addiction. Drug addiction is defined by the National Institute of Drug Abuse as "chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences". Behavioral addiction follows the same modus operandi, with any behavior or action that is compulsive, difficult to control, and causes negative consequences being labeled as addictive. The physical response of addiction is that the reward circuit in the brain becomes over-stimulated, after receiving large doses of dopamine. So what is dopamine?


Dopamine is a neurochemical known as the “reward molecule”. It is released after activities such as exercising, setting and achieving a goal, and it is also released when we look at social media. Marketers use this to their advantage. According to a study of Australian consumers by San Francisco-based media-buying firm RadiumOne, "social media usage is a dopamine gold mine. Every time we post, share, ‘like,’ comment or send an invitation online, we are creating an expectation, according to the study. We feel a sense of belonging and advance our concept of self through sharing.” Knowing this, it is easy to understand how social media can become addictive.



Dopamine controls the pleasure systems of the brain, therefore it causes us to seek certain behaviors. Anytime we get a "like" on a Instagram post, or a text message comes through on our phone, it causes us to feel pleasure in the brain similar to that of sex, food, and drugs. The dopamine doesn't cause the pleasure, it causes the actions that lead to pleasure. Basically, dopamine is the driving factor behind everything we post on social media.



Dopamine is to wanting as opioid is to liking. They are complimentary, making social media the perfect breeding ground for this addictive reward seeking frenzy. Technology has become so advanced and so prevalent in our culture, that we are connected everywhere we go. In today's time it would be considered abnormal for someone to not carry a cellular device. This means we carry the breeding ground for wanting vs. seeking in our pockets on a daily basis. Psychology today quotes, "With the internet, twitter, and texting you now have almost instant gratification of your desire to seek. Want to talk to someone right away? Send a text and they respond in a few seconds. Want to look up some information? Just type your request into google. Want to see what your colleagues are up to? Go to Linked In. It's easy to get in a dopamine induced loop. Dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text."

“New notifications or the latest content on your newsfeed acts as a reward. Not being able to predict when new content is posted encourages us to check back frequently,” Hormes said. “This uncertainty about when a new reward is available is known as a ‘variable interval schedule of reinforcement’ and is highly effective in establishing habitual behaviors that are resistant to extinction. Facebook is also making it easy for users to continuously be connected to its platform, for example by offering push notifications to mobile devices.” - Julia M. Hormes, University of Albany




According to brain scan research, it has been found that the brain shows more activity when anticipating a reward than when the brain actually receives the reward. This is how people get stuck in dopamine loops. An example of this would be constantly checking back and forth between your email, texts, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook feed to see if we have received any comments, likes, or notifications. With the internet, twitter, and texting you now have almost instant gratification of your desire to seek. Want to talk to someone right away? Send a text and they respond in a few seconds. Want to look up some information? Just type your request into google. Want to see what your colleagues are up to? Go to Linked In. It's easy to get in a dopamine induced loop. Dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text. Unpredictability is also a stimulant of dopamine. We know our emails will show up, but we don't know when. This stimulates a dopamine reaction in the brain, which leads to pleasure seeking behavior, which can lead to getting stuck in a dopamine loop.

Marketers are fully aware of the addictiveness of social media, and they use it to their utmost advantage. Fear of missing out, ego, perceived value, control, social comparison and self esteem are all important components to why social media is so addictive, and in turn, effective as a marketing tool. Unlike ten years ago, mega brands are not in a position of power anymore, but the users and buyers are. It is for this reason that marketing strategies have changed, they have become for psychological, personal, invasive and tactical in nature.
Take Instagram for example. This social media outlet uses the hashtag (#) as a way for users to discover images in certain categories. For example, a photographer looking to expand their following might choose a target audience, and post a picture with hashtags directed at that audience. A photographer for instance, may want to reach a larger following of college graduates in the hopes that they might book a session to have their graduation pictures taken. The photographer might post an image on Instagram from a recent senior photo session and use the hashtags #collegesenior #collegegrad #georgiastate #atlantaphotographer #gradpics. These hashtags allow the photographer to reach an audience that might not otherwise be reachable without the help of social media. It becomes an endless cycle of popularity, followers, likes an audience reach, and consumers not only fall for it daily, they become addicted to it on a daily basis.


According to psychology today, there are preventative measures you can take to keep yourself from falling into this vicious and attainable pattern. "One of the most important things you can do to prevent or stop a dopamine loop, and be more productive is to turn off the cues. Adjust the settings on your cell phone and on your laptop, desktop or tablet so that you don't receive the automatic notifications. Automatic notifications are touted as wonderful features of hardware, software, and apps. But they are actually causing you to be like a rat in a cage. If you want to get work done you need to turn off as many auditory and visual cues as possible. It's the best way to prevent and break the dopamine loops."


So to sum up the chemistry of it all:




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So maybe partake in a social media break once in a while and break that dopamine loop.



Works Cited


Hormes, Julia M., Brianna Kearns, and C. Alix Timko. "Craving Facebook? Behavioral Addiction to Online Social Networking and Its Association with Emotion Regulation Deficits." Addiction. N.p., 10 Nov. 2014. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/add.12713/abstract>.

"'Irresistible' By Design: It's No Accident You Can't Stop Looking At The Screen." NPR. NPR, 13 Mar. 2017. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/03/13/519977607/irresistible-by-design-its-no-accident-you-cant-stop-looking-at-the-screen>.

Jr., Robert Evans Wilson, Samantha Smithstein Psy.D., Loretta G. Breuning Ph.D., and Susan Weinschenk Ph.D. "Why We're All Addicted to Texts, Twitter and Google." Psychology Today. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-wise/201209/why-were-all-addicted-texts-twitter-and-google>.

Sputnik. "'Insta-Gram' of Dopamine Could Be Behind Social Media Addiction." Sputnik International - Breaking News & Analysis - Radio, Photos, Videos, Infographics. N.p., 10 Jan. 2017. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <https://sputniknews.com/europe/201701101049448968-dopamine-social-media-addiction/>.

"Social Media Offers Sex-like Brain Reward, Says Study." Public Radio International. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <https://www.pri.org/stories/2012-05-15/social-media-offers-sex-brain-reward-says-study>.

Troni, Naomi. "Digital Addiction, Social Media and the Future of Marketing." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 05 Oct. 2011. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/naomi-troni/social-media-advertising_b_996071.html>.