Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. Most people have become familiar with these social networking sites, and many more. Some spend hours a day updating, tweeting, posting photos and videos. A few have even suffered a collision on campus from someone who has their nose in their phone. This is not the only danger an overdose on social networking can cause for students.
An article in “PC Magazine” points to a study by the University of Milan and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that suggests there is a chemical reason for our sometimes obsessive need to check social networking sites.
According to the article, “Researchers monitored 30 subjects ages 19-25 as they looked at photos of nature, tried to solve math problems and perused Facebook. They recorded physical reactions including skin conductance, blood volume pulse, electroencephalogram, electromyography, respiratory activity and pupil dilation to uncover a pattern.”
The article stated the study found that Facebook use brought out a state of arousal and a feeling of one person helping out another in a positive way.
“In addition to having features of a process addiction, internet use might be reinforced by pleasurable thoughts and feelings that occur while the person is using the internet,” said SJSU psychologist Karisman Roberts-Douglass.
Internet addiction is related to impulse control disorders, according to Roberts-Douglass.
Roberts-Douglass said if someone has another type of addiction, it can be more likely that they will become addicted to internet use.
“People with such other mental disorders or symptoms as depression, feelings of isolation, stress, or anxiety. They may ‘self-medicate by using the Internet in the same way that some people use alcohol or drugs of abuse to self-medicate the symptoms of their mental health issues,” he said.
Senior psychology major Michelle Renwick stays away from social networking altogether.
“One of the reasons why I don’t have a Facebook is because I know I’d get addicted to it,” she said.
Renwick said she learned from her previous experience with MySpace in high school.
She said she would go on the site every day, multiple times a day.
“I noticed also that if I had a crush on someone, I would totally automatically go to his page," she said. "I would see who he’s talking to and I just became obsessed over it. I knew that, with Facebook, it would be the same thing."
She said she remembers going on MySpace and feeling bad if she found things out that people didn’t tell her or if her crush was talking to another girl. It would immediately ruin her day, she said.
According to Renwick, she has a lot of conversations, and overhears a lot of conversations, with people that revolve around social media, including fights between friends and couples.
This makes her “literally overjoyed” that she doesn’t participate in social media when she hears about things like that happening, she said.
She said when she tries to explain to people why she doesn’t have one, they don’t understand.
“I really think it’s just because they’re already sucked in,” she said.
According to Renwick, social media is a good idea in theory, but once it’s put into practice, it is a social disaster because it brings out our natural tendencies to want to be the best and compare ourselves to others.
“It’s just this constant comparison that will drive me insane. Because that’s what I did with MySpace.”
Renwick said she sometimes feels the urge to post a funny quote or a pretty picture and that she is the last to know things, but those feelings subside quickly.
“I feel like it’s a small price to pay for not having one,” she said. “You could not pay me to have a Facebook.”
According to Renwick, she uses texting to fill the social media void and keep in contact with her friends and family.
She said she is busy and does not have the time for her friends in real life, let alone for social media.
Renwick said not having social media in her life frees her up to do so many more things, such as walking her dog.
She said not participating in social media is one of the best decisions she’s ever made.
Although there is no formal diagnosis for internet addiction, it is continually being researched, Roberts-Douglass said.
In his personal work, he looks into how much time college students are spending online, he said.
His research shows that the average student spends four to eight hours a day on the internet.
“I think for college students in particular, they are highly vulnerable to this … when you think about the college experience it’s about networking, interacting with people and Facebook and Twitter and who knows what else will come out in a couple of years,” Roberts-Douglass said.
According to Roberts-Douglass, some of the consequences of too much internet use are physical and functional problems.
Sitting on the computer for hours at your desk or on your bed can lead to bad posture, blurry vision and fatigue, Roberts-Douglass said.
“Obviously that can affect academics in a big way,” he said.
He also said that students who find themselves interacting online more than interacting in real life can experience increased feelings of isolation.
Another aspect that plays a role is the “feedback loop,” Roberts-Douglass said. When you get an email or notification, there is a sense of urgency to read and respond to it.
“Sometimes that can increase feelings of anxiety,” he said.
Internet use makes it harder to pay attention in class or to a verbal conversation because that notification or email is always in the back of your mind until you respond to it, he said.
Louis Vargas, a senior management information systems major, said although he only occasionally posts, he checks his Twitter account at least five times a day for about five to 10 minutes at each time.
“I think that since the characters are so limited and news is always coming in, you kind of have to check it just to see what there is," he said. "Because in five minutes, the news is totally different."
He said he mainly uses it to keep up with the latest technological developments and to check in on bloggers and companies.
According to Vargas, if he had to delete his Twitter account, he would find another social networking site to get his information fix.
According to Roberts-Douglass, part of what makes social media, especially Facebook, so appealing is that users can give feedback for things others post and get feedback for the things that they post.
“In a way, it provides an opportunity to interact without having to give that much effort,” he said.
This kind of interaction is ingrained within the culture at SJSU, he said.
It can also be appealing to a typically introverted person because it can provide an opportunity for them to be more outgoing and make it easier for them to have a social life, Roberts-Douglass said.
To learn more about healthy internet and social media use and how it affects sleep, mood and academics, students can go to the Healthy Social Media Use Workshop in the College of Applied Arts and Sciences Student Success Center 603 on April 4 from 1 -2 p.m.