Brittany Prince isn’t afraid to admit it. She’s addicted. How much does she use? "I’d probably say at least 12 to 13 hours per day,” said Prince, a 21-year-old employee, student, Oklahoma City mom and Facebook user. "It’s bad.” Her "addiction” to Facebook may be bad, but she’s not alone. Everyone from the balloon boy’s YouTube-posting family to the college kid next door to the kid’s mom shares characteristics that scream social media addiction. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and other social media help keep users constantly connected while also cratering face-to-face and verbal communication, said Judith Wright, self-help guru and author of "The Soft Addiction Solution.” "It’s become a huge problem,” Wright said. For many people, social media use is a soft addiction that begins innocently, she said. "Soft addictions are those seemingly harmless habits like checking your Facebook page or getting on your e-mail or Internet surfing or watching too much TV or shopping or gossiping or even overcleaning. Just normal everyday activities that we so often overdo and we don’t really realize the cost,” Wright said.
Popular mediumFacebook is one of the most popular outlets with some 300 million users who, on average, can’t resist checking their profiles 20 times per day, according to Facebook representatives and Wright. "It is easy to get addicted,” said Carmon Procell, a 20-year-old student at Oklahoma Christian University. "I was addicted at one point. It seemed like I never shut down my Facebook.” She said boredom sometimes still leads her to click on Facebook, "when, honestly, I should just read a book.” Facebook users collectively spend more than 8 billion minutes daily on the social medium. And a blizzard of quizzes, virtual gifts and games entice users to spend even more time tending their site. Michele King, 28, of Oklahoma City said she teetered on addiction to MySpace, then Facebook, before she and her husband started their family. "I was really addicted to it at first. I’d get excited because I’d find all these people (online),” she said. "Then I got sick of looking at the computer screen.” Now she likes to check up on old friends and family through Facebook about three times a day for 10 minutes each time. But she has noticed that some of her buddies have gotten sucked in by social media. "I know people who will spend hours harvesting their crops and taking care of their animals (on Facebook),” she said.
Connection costsWright said avid social media users need to consider the costs — beyond the time spent. Her research shows significant costs to both youths and adults. Teens complained their dads looked at their BlackBerry instead of them. Some said if they want to talk to their moms they had to send a Facebook message. "It’s a cost of substituting for real intimate relationships: a phone call, having lunch with someone, really interacting with someone,” she said. But Kaley White, a 19-year-old Oklahoma Christian University student, said the effect of social media on her relationship with her Facebooking father has been markedly different. "Some kids get weirded out that their parents are on Facebook. I enjoy it. He has a unique connection to my life ... I’m stressed and after I post something ... he’ll call and say, ‘Hey, I see you’re stressed. Let’s go get some Starbucks together,’” White said. Still, the neuroscience behind the matter shows that social media can activate an area of the brain that leads to excitement and edginess but fails to activate the area geared for social interaction, Wright said. "It never really gives you that ahhhh, that sense you get with a three- dimensional relationship. That eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart, to hear a human voice,” Wright said. She said dependence on social media can numb feelings and drop users into a trance-like state.
Social skillsYet social media can play a meaningful role for those dealing with shyness, insecurities or other social difficulties. Wright said people can begin interacting and connecting through social media when they might have otherwise avoided both. But the social media dependency can reinforce those social tendencies, she said. "You don’t have to stop there. ... You actually can work on the social skills that help you break out of substituting social media. It’s a good start for some people,” she said. White said her marketing position with a mortgage company involves teaching business people to use social media to establish trustworthiness and a way to say to the world: "I’m a real person. I have a family. I have a real life outside of business.” But she admits noticing a communication cost. "Overall my communication has gotten less personal and less deep because of how social media is geared toward little tiny bits of information,” she said.
Balancing actDouglas Gentile, video game and social media researcher at Iowa State University, said there is no drug-like physical dependence that people develop toward social media. Wright said connected teens, especially, have to reach out for real life even if it feels like it is moving in slow motion. "Talking to grandma,” she said, "or watching a sunset is nothing like they are used to.”
ONLINE"ï¿½Video To see a video on social media addiction, go to Today’s Paper on NewsOK. Newsok.com/ theoklahoman