Unsocial Media


Addiction, withdrawal and even unnecessary plastic surgery? With advances in technology, portable social networks may not be so social after all.

Hand-held technology can be addictive – no surprise here. The front-facing camera phone makes it easy to shoot a selfie and smartphone apps help create imaginative Facebook posts. But when does social media use become a problem? It’s a technological phenomenon that, for some, is spiraling out of control.

Oxford Dictionary’s 2013 word of the year was ‘selfie.’ At one point or another, it’s safe to say most of us have held our front-facing camera phones at arm’s length to take a photo and post it to Facebook. Yet, some people take it too far.

“Studies show that those seeking reassurance and approval through selfies consistently take themselves out of social interaction,” explains Kimberly Young, PhD, a psychologist and founder of the Center for Internet Addiction. Dr. Young, who founded the inpatient program for Internet addiction at Bradford Regional Medical Center in Bradford, Pennsylvania, says, “The concern lies when people are using selfies to create a persona that will be approved of, e.g. how many Facebook ‘likes’ they get.” And some have even developed an unhealthy obsession with their selfie appearance.

“People come in all the time with their selfies and say, ‘Look at my neck; it looks terrible,’” shares Julius Few, MD, of the Few Institute for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. “But it’s not a true representation of what the world sees.” To further illustrate his point, Dr. Few has his patients take a selfie in critical, plastic surgery lighting and then takes a picture of them with a professional photo system. “Nine out of ten times it doesn’t even look like the same person,” he observes, noting that part of his responsibility as a plastic surgeon is educating his patients that a smartphone picture doesn’t allow for a realistic representation of what someone looks like. And usually there’s nothing problematic with their appearance.

Scrolling through your Facebook feed may pass the time, but having to wade through all the Buzzfeed poll results and #foodporn pictures to find more substantial posts can become exhausting. “We all know someone who shares too much,” says Dr. Young. “It’s a sign that someone needs validation and attention.” In other cases, too much feedback may spark narcissism and they may develop an addiction to social media. “Sharing too much and getting constant feedback for it is likely to give a person a heightened focus on themselves, leading to a negative introspection and low self-esteem,” explains Dr. Young.

Forgetting your phone for the day is more than inconvenient, but it can also be liberating. A day of disconnection from social media means no emails, no texts and best of all, no Facebook updates.

Smartphones help us share experiences with friends and family. But documenting an entire vacation or rock concert on social media may negatively affect your memory. A study conducted at Fairfield University in Connecticut found that people are losing their memories due to constant digital picture taking and sharing. Researchers hypothesized that “we are less likely to remember information if we think we can retrieve it later.”

Dr. Young has developed a list of diagnostic questions that indicate whether or not someone is addicted to social media. If an individual has displayed five or more of the signs, they may need to seek professional help for their addiction.

  1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet, think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session?
  2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
  3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop Internet use?
  4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
  5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
  6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship job, education or career opportunities because of the Internet?
  7. Have you lied to family members, therapists or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
  8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or relieving a dysphoric mood (i.e., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

Dr. Young’s practice offers web-based or face-to-face sessions at her practice in Bradford, Pennsylvania. She says, “Depending on the situation, patients will travel to my office or we’ll do a session via Skype.” She finds most often that primarily friends and family will contact the clinic on behalf of the social media addict. It’s pretty impossible to swear off snapping pictures and posting to social media, because doing so is the norm. But Dr. Young advises to “keep it in perspective. Don’t post away your entire life; keep some things private.” Remember to enjoy the moment and tuck your phone away. If there’s something you want to take a picture of that really speaks to you, then take out your phone and snap a picture. Otherwise, relax and open your eyes to the vast world around you.

By Danielle Spence


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