The problem: Social Network Addiction (SNA)

During the last decade in particular, the way we conceive jobs and new working opportunities changed forever thanks to internet and the social networks.

Many people now can create and develop their own personal brand and corporations on social networks making of their favourite activities a source of income. One of the most explosive areas are e-sports and game streaming, and the idea on which I have thought about this article was born just thinking about the gamers that I follow.

The constant and frequent presence of youtubers and streamers all over the internet is an ever-growing trend and has created a whole new way we connect with our favourite people, our influencers.

The most successful influencers owe their success to the ability of building a community of followers that watch their videos and interact with them consistently, daily, on every possible social network platform.

I personally follow many YouTube channels, and all of them are great in maintaining the engagement with their public by creating videos consistently, at least once or twice a week and giving a direction to their activity, making you feel part of a bigger story of which you do not want to miss the plot (inducing you to subscribe, indeed).

The reasoning I have come up to lately regards those situations in which we become so tied up to our influencer that they become a reference point not only for our entertainment, but also for our very lives. This is an extreme condition that can be very dangerous for our mental health and our capacity of conduct our own life.

What I mean is that the most fragile people, those who are not able to build their own personality and need to refer to other people to define themselves and get inspirations for their lives run a great risk today more than ever: they entrust their own self-definition to others, and this is very risky because it is totally out of their control.

Ever growing cases of Social Network Addiction (SNA) are reported every year and this can be considered a real pandemic that spreads all over the world. The SNA is defined as a considerable concern for social networks, great interest in using social networks, spending much time and effort on social networks so that it harms other social, occupational, and academic activities, interpersonal relationships, or psychological wellbeing and health [1].

Especially in younger ages, when the psychological growth naturally brings the children to find approval not in their parents, but in their peers, this can be very harmful because they cannot control anymore the influence that other people on the internet have on them.

Given the demonstration of the potential severity of this condition, scientific studies have been proposed with the aim of suggesting strategies to contain SNA (e.g., [2]).

My experience

I found myself falling in some forms of social network addiction during my entertainment moments and playing time. Here is the most resounding example.

I once used to play Pokémon Go. You all may know what kind of game it is. It is one of those games that requires your consistency and time to build your character, it requires you not to lose the events that are set up by the creators and the community of other player because many things are temporary, and you need to be part of the system when you are given the occasion.

Even though it is apparently “only” a game, the reality is that as a player you cannot do many things without engaging with a local community that participates to the events and complex missions in the game. This makes Pokémon Go a social network as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are.

The first element of addiction is induced by the sense of urgency and scarcity generated by the game itself: if you do not participate to some event, you will miss this unique occasion/Pokémon/object/…This exists in many environments and context, and people are willing to sacrifice time and money so that they are not left out of the community of players and peers.

This need of homologation is very common in young ages, it is an innate psychological need, so it is not bad by itself. It becomes dangerous when young people are willing to sacrifice not only time and money, but also their personality, to be part of the group [3].

Pokémon Go is just the most relevant example I found in my personal experience within the last few years. I do not use much other social networks other than YouTube, but I found it to be very positive for me and my personality. In fact, I also stopped playing Pokémon Go at the end of 2019 and I uninstalled the app from my phone early in 2020.

 I was not playing the game in several weeks, but I still had the app installed on the phone, and there is a specific reason for that. That game, as well as social network profiles, is something that you build through time spending time; it is something that belong to you and it is very difficult to let it go, as if it never existed.

Even if you build a very simple profile, Pokémon team, virtual city, or anything in your games and social, it is your creature, and you don’t want to think of that as a waste of time. In fact, you enjoy building all of that, but at the end of the day it does not exists. Think only about the case of Niantic, the company that created Pokémon Go, suddenly decide to close. You lose everything you built and have nothing left. This is true for every digital content you can create or consume.

A bond with those things which is too strong, and on which your entire personality and self-definition relies can be so dangerous because you do not have any control on it. It can change, it can disappear. This are extremes, but there are a lot of people (even mature one) that link their existence on social network consumption.

I have come up with a simple thing that one can do to slow down this effect and, possibly, avoid it completely.

My solution (the 1st step)

At the very beginning of its history, Amazon used to sell books. You may remember that.

Jeff Bezos, the CEO and founder, once spotted this business opportunity in eBook Readers, those digital devices that allow you to read digital books on an eInk display (without the annoying LEDs flashing directly in your eyes). You can store hundreds of books on a single device, allowing you to carry with you your entire library (as MP3 player did for music).

This was a game changer for Amazon and many executives disputed that idea because their business was selling books. Bezos was trying to sell a product that would have destroyed their business: “this will kill our own business; it does not make sense to do that!” the executives said.

This is so hard to accept, but in fact they did it, and they became the world leading company for eBooks and eBooks Reader sales.

Here is what Bezos said to justify his decision:

If you do not reinvent your product, someone else certainly will.
It is better that we do it, than others.

Jeff Bezos

This anecdote is only to say that this can be applied to everything upon which we do not have control and upon which we are relying too much.

Here is my advice for you!

If your personality and self-confidence rely on something that you cannot control, try to get rid of it on purpose before it is taken away from you by others

Check this condition in your being periodically, and train yourself to lose reference points, so that when it happens by others will, it will not hurt you so much.

I did it with many things: Pokémon Go filled many hours of my life for years, and I decided to stop playing because it would not have made my life worse, but more independent instead. The same reasoning can be done with all other social networks. Try to get rid of Instagram or Facebook at least for a few times, and you will reckon that your life goes on anyway and you were missing many other good things; things that can be permanent and way more meaningful that volatile digital contents. You will understand that your life is not worse if you miss some posts of your favourite influencers, instead, you can try to develop your own influence. This last thing is very difficult, but I think that is the only way.

References

  1. M. Shafiee, A. Ashouri and M. Dehghani, “The Relationship Between Attachment Style and Social Network,” International Journal of High Risk Behaviors and Addiction, December 2020.
  2. D. Brevers and O. Turel, “Strategies for self-controlling social media use: Classification and role in preventing social media addiction symptoms,” Journal of Behavioral Addictions, pp. 554-563, September 2019.
  3. K. D. Rudolph, M. S. Caldwell and C. S. Conley, “Need for Approval and Children’s Well-Being,” Child development, vol. 76, no. 2, pp. 309-323, April 2005.

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