Addict: are you a social media junkie?

Addict. These days, you can’t go anywhere—restaurants, cars, meetings, sporting events, concerts, even restrooms—without seeing people glued to their phones, tablets or laptops. What is it with us? Are we addicts, drawn to this 24/7 lifestyle, where instant connection and response are the norm?

Many of us have joked about and even wondered if our devices were addictive in some way. We’ve even suspected that social media really is addictive, but not like a “real” addiction. Not like drugs or food, right? A recent study says otherwise.

A study by two psychologists from Harvard University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that sharing information about yourself (the beating heart of social media) “engages neural and cognitive mechanisms associated with reward.”

We’re all at risk of becoming addicts.

That means that posting a selfie tweaks the part of your brain that produces dopamine, the chemical that controls the brain’s pleasure centers. So when we eat food that we really like, see a very attractive person, or use an illegal narcotic, dopamine runs amuck. Dopamine also encourages us to do whatever we can to get more of what makes dopamine. So, we dive for the bottom of the carton of ice cream, sneak an extra glance at that photogenic someone sitting across the room at the conference…or steal, lie, cheat or worse.

Or, we post more selfies on Facebook. And spend more time tweeting and texting, and we just can’t stop. Unfortunately, like so much that the modern world has created, too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

The British blackened their teeth from sugar addiction when it was first brought to England from the Caribbean in the colonial era. A little sugar? A nice way to sweeten one’s tea. A lot of sugar? Rampant tooth decay.

addictAnd so it has been with nearly every great new thing in the past 100 years that shapes our world today: radio, TV, computers, pain-killing drugs, and now the Internet.

This is not to say that your company should pull the plug on it social media presence. Not at all. But heed this warning: We’re all at risk of becoming addicts. Recent articles like the one on Facebook use and declines in well-being in young adults show that social media use affects how we feel moment-to-moment, how satisfied we are with our lives, and can even create serious psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.

The solution? Unplug. Set limits. Take a walk. Exercise. Talk to people face-to-face. As the visionary Roman playwright Terence wrote in the second century BC, “Ne quid nimis.” (“Moderation in all things.”)

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