Social media addiction

In his 2012 master thesis titled Ludified Culture: Gamification, Ruud Koorevaar defined gamification as a concept that “…entails the use of elements of games to alter and add to our daily landscape of activities by engaging us in non-game contexts.” Ludification is a term derived from the Latin for Ludus which has a semantic cluster of definitions associated with it that range from games, training, sports and learning to deception.

Both terms are center stage today as we look critically at the social media addiction loops they make possible and wonder just how we can better manage the sociotechnical platforms we use to stay connected with each other and the wider world without succumbing to the addictive nature of their deployment.

We truly live in an attention economy. Neuroscience shows us that paying attention is a cognitively expensive activity which governs choices, decisions and even moods. It is therefore a desirable attribute to capture. By definition sociotechnical platforms need our attention in order to acquire value and provide free access. The problem is that we, as individuals, are very susceptible to the approach they employ and the result of that susceptibility is then measured in behavioral adaptations that form part of the conditioning social media imposes upon us.

I admit it all sounds bleak. Yet it shouldn’t. As the author of The Social Media Mind I am all too aware of the benefits unleashed by the connectivity we establish. Social media is the great equalizer in terms of reach and power, it creates radical transparency and enables us to do more with less, it breaks through the traditional gatekeeper model of information of the past and it significantly accelerates growth, learning and opportunities.

But there is no free lunch. In return for free access and connectivity we provide data. Personal habits, usage patterns, likes and dislikes alongside our behavioral dynamic all of which is harvested by the owners of each sociotechnical platform to be used towards a direct benefit to them. For Facebook and Twitter it is so they can serve better ads and sponsored posts on their platforms, for Google so it can serve better ads in search.

The thing is that this is uncharted territory. The ability of these organizations to collect data and understand it is unprecedented. Our own ownership of data is also equally new. Social media, despite its age, is still new.

Creating a New Balance

Silicon valley execs are going to new lengths to unplug from the web. New initiatives are trying to make everyone sensitive towards achieving some kind of balance, alongside a sense of responsibility and a conscience.

Ultimately it comes down to us. Unlike the real world where we have to live because our flesh and blood body needs to exist somewhere, have a house, acquire food and then, the brain it houses needs to have a circle of friends and acquaintances that form its social net, online we are always intentional. We don’t have to be on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus. So, if we are there it is purely by design which means that we have some purpose in mind.

When that purpose is not very clear things get murky.

Here’s how to untangle them:

  • Define your reasons for using social media.
  • Set specific goals for yourself in the use you make of social media.
  • Determine how you are going to assess those goals.
  • Set boundaries on what you do, when you do it and for how long.
  • Constantly assess your reasons, goals and boundaries.

Social media is not the enemy. As usual our inexperience is. But things are changing. We ought to change with them and learn to be more practiced and intentional in the digital tools we use. That way we will get more out of them and mitigate some of the risks associated with them.