February 6, 2021 – “Addicts” who changed their lives through digital detox confess that social media was killing them. Imagine that you’re a typical middle school student having dinner with your family. Your mother takes your smartphone away and puts it in a lockbox that won’t open for an hour.

Would you: (a) go ahead and eat dinner with your family? (b) try to pry open the box? or (c) smash the box with a heavy tool when your family is sufficiently distracted? The health-care industry has capitalized on this digital detox trend, depicting extreme use as the norm. Scholars, too, debate ways to define and prevent addiction to digital media.  It’s a mistake, however, to equate frequent social media use with addiction. Just the label carries stigma — a personal failing or pathology that has significant negative outcomes to the user and their family, such as lost jobs and destroyed relationships.

As researchers who study habits and social media use, we have found that excessive social media use can be a very strong habit. But that doesn’t make it an addiction.

Unlike addiction, frequent social media users sometimes benefit and sometimes suffer. That’s why a more accurate description is “habit.”

Habits form naturally through repeated use. Use any site or app enough, and you’ll form associations in memory between cues, such as site alerts and your smartphone, and responses, such as logging on. Once habits have formed, perception of cues automatically makes you think of logging on.



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