It seems that everywhere we turn these days—in cafés, on the train, out on the street and even at home on the couch—people are staring at little screens. Why is social media so addictive? And is it a bad thing? We asked a professor, a new media expert and a psychologist to weigh in. You can read a gist of the article that was published in issue 11 here.
Patti Valkenburg, professor of media, youth and society, University of Amsterdam
For some people, the beeps and blips on phones really generate a sense of excitement. These sounds pique our curiosity and make us feel like something exciting is about to happen. The effect is powerful and hard to resist. It could be addictive, in theory, but we don’t know enough to say that yet. Game addiction has also only recently been recognized as an actual addiction. What we do know is that it’s important to get offline now and again. In addition to a good night’s sleep, people need time for their minds to rest during the day as well. So when you go for a little walk, leave your phone at home for a change.
Arjen van Veelen, journalist and new media expert
You do have to absorb an awful lot of information. When the car was first invented people said it’s too fast, that’s dangerous! They were right and that’s why brakes, seatbelts and airbags were invented. That’s the stage we’re in now with social media. It’s time for some airbags. It is all very logical: social media can give you confirmation that you exist, that you matter. And that’s what people need to hear. When you run a marathon and there’s no one there to cheer you on, why keep running? The applause people get through social media is so satisfying that you can’t expect them to resist that kind of primeval appeal.
Tony van Rooij, psychologist and addiction researcher
Smartphones create restlessness and lack of focus, but I don’t think you can really call it a serious addiction. When you’re addicted, you can’t control your own behavior; you can’t function properly. It might be annoying when people are looking at their phones all the time, but it doesn’t mean that they’re addicted.
Text by Renate van der Zee. Illustration by Annelinde Tempelman (Studio 100%).