Addicted to the Web ‘Fidgitals’ can’t wait for their next fix
By combining the words “fidget” and “digital,” The New York Times has coined a description of people who compulsively use social media.
A recent study by the University of Maryland’s International Center for Media and the Public Agenda shows that people who frequently check their smartphones and other devices suffer withdrawal symptoms when they are taken away.
Molly Jameson Cox, an assistant professor of psychology at Youngstown State University, said people are becoming accustomed to having information readily available.
“We start to think that it’s the normal thing for people to do,” she said. Jameson Cox said people are becoming dependent on that ever-present access.
“We live in an immediate gratification world. We start to expect it all the time,” she said.
Jameson Cox said that in social interactions, there is still the expectation of things in our culture like eye contact, standing close and touching. Face-to-face communication is a skill that is going out of style.
“People are much more comfortable and protected when there is a piece of technology in between them and the person they’re talking to,” she said.
Joanne Cantor, author of the book “Conquering Cyber Overload” and creator of the Your Mind on Media website, said it is hard to break away from social media because it is so appealing and rewarding.
“No matter what else you need to be doing, you always know that there’s something interesting going on with your friends,” she said. “If you’re a college student, it’s like there’s always a party going on down the hall, so you have to have extra discipline not to drop your work and join in.”
Cantor said it is a problem not only for the college-student generation but also for older generations because of the constant interruption from your work to check email and Facebook updates.
“People end up multitasking all the time. Research shows that multitasking dumbs down your brain,” Cantor said. “It interferes with your brain’s ability to reason or to integrate what you’re doing with what you already know.”
Jameson Cox said she believes there is a generational gap that would eventually cause people to lose the ability to validate one another.
Cantor agrees that social media definitely interferes with the quality of interaction.
“We should think about what the goal of our communication is. Facial expressions and vocal tone are really important when we’re talking about relationships,” Cantor said.
Cantor said she wrote the book and began lecturing at schools because she discovered that she was a cyber addict.
“I wasn’t getting anything done. I couldn’t concentrate. I was really stressed out and my memory was going,” Cantor said. “I noticed that because I was always online, I was always multitasking and experiencing information overload. I looked at the research on multitasking and information overload, and what I discovered was that there were good reasons I was having these problems.”
Cantor said she uses mind exercises when speaking to students to help demonstrate the problem instead of just telling them.
Several faculty members, including Jameson Cox, are trying to tap into their students’ habits by using interactive social media in the classroom.
But a psychology of social media course has not yet been incorporated into the curriculum.
Jameson Cox said she uses social media to download websites, books and journal articles to use in class. She said it is convenient to be able to use different mediums.
“I also see that because it’s gotten so integrated into our society that people think they couldn’t live without it,” she said. “It’s led us to be a little lazier. We don’t have to work as hard.”
Rumors that social media addiction will be known as an actual psychological addiction is still a controversy, Cantor said.
“It’s clear that many people have trouble detaching from media, even when it interferes with important parts of their life,” Cantor said. “For many people, it’s hard to break the habit, but it can be done.”
Cantor said if students young and old are able to find a balance and take breaks from social media to have face-to-face conversations, they would be much better off.