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How to tell if you're addicted to social media

Eames Yates and Alana Kakoyiannis

New York University professor Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, explains how you can tell if you're addicted to Facebook, Instagram or any other form of social media. Following is a transcript of the video.

One way to think about the difference between addictive use and non addictive use is what the effect is of that use on your life. If you do something a lot and it makes you less well off, it hampers your social well-being, maybe it makes you sedentary so you’re not as physically well. Maybe it changes how well you do at work because you’ve got too much time spent distracted, then that is something that has the potential to become an addiction.

We know that people spend a lot of time, even when they’re not engaged with social media, thinking about social media. So there’s evidence for example that if two people are having a conversation in a room and there’s an iPhone turned upside down on a table nearby, the quality of the connection they form will be diminished just because there’s a phone there.

Withdrawal symptoms differ for different people, but the main thing that happens I think is preoccupation. You spend a lot of your time thinking about the thing that you can’t do. You need to become what’s called a behavioral architect. You basically have to design your environment the same way that someone who designs buildings or cities designs those things. And what that means is trying to work out how you can tweak features of the environment to prevent this addiction or these addictions from taking hold.

For most people what that means is you need a certain period of the day, whether it’s at work or at home, that you designate as screen or tech free. You need to enact these decisions because we’re very bad at resisting temptation. We’re much better at removing the temptation in the first place.

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