Addiction has been in the media lately, with the drastic increase in heroin and opiate use across the US. I don’t blame addicts. Life can be hard. The world often leaves something to be desired. We live in a capitalist system. Work is hierarchical, precarious, and low-paying. People are estranged, and stressed out that they can’t pay their bills. Okay, it’s not totally fascist (yet) but there’s a more insidious rule of the almighty dollar. Addicts usually aren’t proud of what they do, but they can’t stop. The same goes for Facebook as it does with heroin. Sometimes, when a person is alienated, oppressed or isolated, it’s understandable that they would seek an opiate.
Marx called religion the opium of the masses, the heart of a heartless world. Our generation is post-religion, but we find things to fill the void. Such as consumerism, but also, and very importantly, because it is so often looked over, the screen. Since the invention of TV, we have been glued to screens, and with the Internet and smartphones, that opium has just become stronger – screen crack. Unfortunately, screens offers little heart in a heartless world.
The Internet is the opiate of our generation, more so than TV. While drug addiction is a pervasive escape from life under capitalism in both the lower classes and upper classes, screens are much more ubiquitous. They’re everywhere, and we’re usually watching them – whether we’re texting with a friend, watching Netflix, or looking at Facebook or Twitter.
A series of experiments on rats found that they would compulsively drink water laced with cocaine when trapped in a cage with it, until they killed themselves. Yet, given a nice cage, with other rats, toys and food, the rats hardly touched the coke-water.
This says a lot about addiction, because it shows we use because we are unhappy, lonely, or perhaps we have (or perceive we have) nothing to do. When the rats were able to be social, they avoided the cocaine – whereas when they were isolated, they sucked down that coke-water like a nursing baby.
We go to our screens, particularly social media sites like Facebook, in part because of our desire for human interaction. We humans have deep social needs. This is what Facebook offers, but usually fails to deliver. Addictions are all similar, really, based in the same longings, pain, or boredom, which is why many people flit from drug to drug. Many of us are lonely, and bored, and we self-medicate. But why are we lonely in the first place? In part because we’re on our screens too much. It’s a vicious cycle, and more common than you might realize.
Having a Facebook conversation is just not the same as looking someone in the eyes and laughing out loud, feeling the nervousness in someone’s voice, pouring out your dilemma in a minute’s rant, or building empathy for the person across from you. It doesn’t quite fill the void, but we keep on going back for more, because just like cocaine, those likes give us a little dopamine boost.
Imagine if Facebook were a physical space and we were all saying these things in real life. If every post and the following comments represented us, sitting at a table and saying these things out loud to each other. Imagine how much more stimulating to the senses it would be to see, to hear, to touch and feel these things — how much sensory deprivation the screen leaves us with.
Real life socializing isn’t always the most fulfilling thing either. Yet, after I do it, in contrast to social media, I find I have this strange sense of wellness, even if I didn’t have the most amazing conversations. After I socialize, I feel less of an urge to do compulsive things. It’s subtle, but noticeable. The same goes for yoga, or taking a long walk. You know, healthy things.
Sites like Facebook, and screens in all their forms – whether it be a computer, a TV, or a smartphone – keep us from being social, from interacting with each other. How often have you been so glued to a screen that you ignored your family or your partner? Or that you stayed in with your screen instead of going out? Screens are in large part to blame for our generation’s lack of community, the loneliness epidemic, the fact that one in ten people have no close friends, which of course, feeds into drug addiction (remember the rats). So not only does screen addiction well rival drug addiction as an epidemic, but fuels it.
One hundred years ago, before screens, when people had problems in their communities, they would organize. They would read, talk to each other, and come together, for example to form unions or stop evictions. Now we don’t have that community. We are fragmented, each one of us inside watching our little screen instead of talking with our friends and neighbors about what matters.
I feel attracted to the blue light even though it strains my eyes, my back muscles hurt, I long to do something else, and yet, something about this backlit captures my attention so strongly I can’t look away, even when I am fully aware that I want to do something else.
Like a drug, there is something that pulls me to this blue light, and I can hardly control it.
Facebook promises connection, but when I use it I go to sleep at night feeling empty. And yet, when I take that alone time and really embrace it (or connect in person with others), explore the contours of silence and solitude and my psyche, I feel refreshed.
The human eye is attracted to light and motion. Our reptilian (or rat) brain takes over when a screen dominates our visual field. Light, movement, and of course, the illusion of sociability. The same reasons TV is so popular.
It leaves me feeling so empty. Like a drug, I want MORE. I want more notifications, I want new websites and distractions to whisk me away into Something Really Interesting.
But like a drug, it hardly ever satisfies.
Recently an ex-Facebook exec admitted Facebook is “ripping society apart” and was designed to addict people for the sole purpose of profits.
Yesterday I was temporarily relieved of my laptop and so I found myself actually thinking instead of being lost in blue light, and having thoughts that lasted more than 10 seconds between notifications or random scrolling/googling impulses. For a moment there – reminiscing, contemplating reading – I remembered what it was like before social media, when I read real books and magazines. When I had really real conversations in real life. Instead of waiting for momentary dopamine boosts conditioned by dings. Wondering, being imaginative.
I am tired of switching tabs. My eyes are tired of soaking in that light. Yet I feel I cannot move away from it. The revolution will not be on Facebook. With each passing second, I feel like I am losing a part of my life. And yet I cannot turn away. It’s sick.