The compulsive urge to check social media every second could be a sign of an addiction. It is shown that social media addicts show brain patterns similar to drug addicts. However, unlike those of drug addicts, the part of the brain that is responsible for inhibiting such self-destructive behaviour seems to be functional among social media addicts. Which means getting out of such an addiction could be easier.
Nir Eyal in his book “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” describes four elements in social media sites that glue people into them. The first is a trigger. Initially, the trigger is merely internal, i.e. boredom, stress or loneliness; soon external triggers emerge in the form of notifications. With time we can find ourselves reaching for that dopamine rush every window of an opportunity we find. The second is an action: logging into Instagram or any other social media. The third is a reward. A reward that is novel and unpredictable; and that is the social media feed. It is a mix of exciting news/images amidst some boring ones. The anticipation of an unexpected reward floods our brain with happy chemicals, particularly a hormone called “Dopamine”. Dopamine loves unpredictability and makes us feel happy. Finally, there is an investment that the user makes on the site such as posting a picture, commenting on a post, etc. that makes those social media a part of their identity.
Despite all these, social media has benefits too. They let us stay connected to our friends and family, keeps updated with the news and might even bring us business opportunities. Therefore, quitting social media altogether might not be a solution. Better and the more realistic option would be to be more mindful of our own behaviour and to self regulate our behaviour. Installing a browser plugin / mobile phone app to block yourself from social media might just be the fix you need without going hermit full-on!