21 Symptoms of Social Media Addiction

A recent article argued that Social Media should be banned for those under 16. Outrage!

What are the warning signs that we have been imprisoned by our screens? Is it possible that the addiction to social media could be harming our physical, mental and spiritual world? I would be the first to admit that there are worse activities such as mindlessly TV channel-surfing.But I have noticed the addiction in others!

You all make so many excuses for spending so much time online. For many people this is not a cause for anxiety at all. We are increasingly cyborgian, and any wish to return to the old ways (3-5 years ago) is nothing but a futile, hopeless and romantic nostalgia.

Having allocated myself a timetable that now stipulates a progressive increase in my time away from the screen I have noticed an improvement in my general health and sense of well-being. Perhaps the experience of having recovered from cancer last year has led me to rethink the primacy of direct interaction with people, rather than digital mediation. I'm certainly not a luddite by any means, but I may well be a social media recovering addict.

Don't take this too seriously. You may even object to the use of addiction in this regard. I'm interested to hear your thoughts, online or off.

So here is my personal and rather intuitive list of symptoms that might be associated with an unhealthy addiction.

Have you experienced any of these symptoms in the last year?

Or perhaps you have noticed these characteristics in other people?

  1. Repetitive Strain Injury

  1. Back Pains and other discomfort associated with a screen-based lifestyle

  1. Delusional sense of exhilaration associated with the online flow of interactions

  1. Being online is my first activity of the day

  1. Being online is my last activity of the day

  1. Spending an hour or more online without being aware of the passage of time

  1. Less comfortable with face-to-face encounters

  1. Sense of being awed or overwhelmed by the abundance offered by the internet

  1. Being online while you are speaking to friends or family on the phone

  1. Being online while watching TV, or listening to music

  1. Convinced that multi-tasking is an effective way to work

  1. Decreased length and frequency of direct encounters with people

  1. Increase in weight, BMI, or change in body shape and general fitness

  1. Constantly mobile connected and status updating

  1. Missing deadlines for work, or failing to meet your own objectives

  1. Increased tendency to procrastinate, with less efficient productivity

  1. Increase in irritability, stress, and anxiety; decrease in patience and listening skills

  1. Frequently checking in online, at every opportunity

  1. Sense that life is becoming fragmentary or hollow

  1. Decreased attention span and ability to focus on major project requiring sustained effort

  1. Preference for micro-engagement rather than in depth reflection.

I'd be delighted to hear your views, or meet with you face--to--face.

Perhaps you could keep a note of how much time you spend online and then question its genuine value to your life?

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.

Also worth a look: The PhD Roadmap: A Guide to Successful Submission of your Dissertation / Thesis.
Further Reading

Young, Kimberly S., and Robert C. Rogers. "The relationship between depression and Internet addiction." CyberPsychology & Behavior 1.1 (1998): 25-28.
Park, Namsu, Kerk F. Kee, and Sebastián Valenzuela. "Being immersed in social networking environment: Facebook groups, uses and gratifications, and social outcomes." CyberPsychology & Behavior 12.6 (2009): 729-733.
Indeok Song, Robert Larose, Matthew S. Eastin, and Carolyn A. Lin. "Internet Gratifications and Internet Addiction: On the Uses and Abuses of New Media."   CyberPsychology & Behavior. August 2004, 7(4): 384-394.

O'Keeffe, Gwenn Schurgin, and Kathleen Clarke-Pearson. "The impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families." Pediatrics 127.4 (2011): 800-804.

Correa, Teresa, Amber Willard Hinsley, and Homero Gil De Zuniga. "Who interacts on the Web?: The intersection of users’ personality and social media use." Computers in Human Behavior 26.2 (2010): 247-253.

LaRose, Robert, Carolyn A. Lin, and Matthew S. Eastin. "Unregulated Internet usage: Addiction, habit, or deficient self-regulation?." Media Psychology 5.3 (2003): 225-253.

Baudrillard, Jean, and Marie Maclean. "The masses: The implosion of the social in the media." New Literary History 16.3 (1985): 577-589.

Stern, Steven E. "Addiction to technologies: A social psychological perspective of Internet addiction." CyberPsychology & Behavior 2.5 (1999): 419-424.

Yen, Ju-Yu, et al. "The comorbid psychiatric symptoms of Internet addiction: attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, social phobia, and hostility." Journal of adolescent health 41.1 (2007): 93-98.

Watkins, S. Craig. The young and the digital: What the migration to social network sites, games, and anytime, anywhere media means for our future. Beacon Press, 2009.

Ehrenberg, Alexandra, et al. "Personality and self-esteem as predictors of young people's technology use." CyberPsychology & Behavior 11.6 (2008): 739-741.

Park, Woong. "Mobile phone addiction." Mobile Communications (2005): 253-272.

Wang, Wei. "Internet dependency and psychosocial maturity among college students." International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 55.6 (2001): 919-938.

LaRose, Robert, Dana Mastro, and Matthew S. Eastin. "Understanding internet usage A social-cognitive approach to uses and gratifications." Social Science Computer Review 19.4 (2001): 395-413.

© Dr Ian McCormick. 


  1. I don't think it is this simple. If you are addicted to computer games or pinterest or some clearly leisure activity it is fairly simple to draw a line which shows what forms part of the problem and how much of your "ordinary" life remains. If you work online, with people all over the world as I do, and being connected using skype and forums is an essential part of the work, it becomes very difficult to disentangle this and know if there is a significant problem. Many people I know from working in virtual worlds have a significant relationship online, a partner even, and once again, this clouds the issue.

    I think you can say with most other addictions that if it interferes with the pattern and balance in your life it might be a problem... but you will experience that sort of disruption in establishing a new business, or in the throes of a new relationship too.

    The wealth of information and interesting stuff on the internet is equivalent to the wealth of nice-tasting and easily obtained food. If you start to feel worse and not better for it, you're probably doing it wrong.

  2. Thanks for taking time and care to engage with this blog and indeed to dispute its lines of thought. I agree that it is more common to be addicted to a game, or an app. But perhaps there is an underlying addiction going on that is more about surface and flows rather than depth and pauses. I'm concerned that our brains and minds are being re-wired not just by technology and software, but by the corporate powers that gain from these 'social' modes of consumption.

    I guess I'm partly influenced by an antagonism to the notion that technlogy is innately about freedom and progress. it is not, in my view.

    Have you come across Sherry Turlkle's books? --- The Second Self; Life on the Screen; Alone Together. She argues that tech drains us because we try to do everything everywhere.

    You are, of course, completely right about the realities work, food choices, and the comlications of long distant relationships. But have we got the balance, and our priorities right? is there anything we could change, if we tried?

    Again, thanks for commenting. It is much appreciated.

  3. From The Guardian

    More online marketing, less time writing ...

    "As Joanna Penn says: "In a world with lots of talent, success requires more than simply being great." She advocates, "more effective networking, of course!" Self-styled eSpecialists such as Penn often invoke the 80/20 rule which advises that, as a sales person (in this case an author), you should spend 20% of your time writing and 80% of your time networking through social media. In tune with this, self-epublishing author Louise Voss recently informed me that the success of her ebooks came about as a result of spending about 80% of her time marketing (her writing partner also had a marketing background)."


  4. Addiction may be too strong a word, but remember that I'm not advocating zero internet, just interrogating the tech takeover.

    WIKI: "Addiction is the continued use of a mood altering substance or behaviour despite adverse dependency consequences, or a neurological impairment leading to such behaviors." Strong indeed.

    But note ...some people's utter dependence of mobiles and social media "This state creates the conditions of tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance is the process by which the body continually adapts to the substance and requires increasingly larger amounts to achieve the original effects. Withdrawal refers to physical and psychological symptoms people experience when reducing or discontinuing a substance the body had become dependent on. Symptoms of withdrawal generally include but are not limited to anxiety, irritability, intense cravings for the substance, nausea, hallucinations, headaches, cold sweats, and tremors."

    If you take away someone's mobile, you've removed their life support system, I'm told.

    1. Thanks for this post - it is thoughtful stuff that supports some of my fears for this aspect of teaching and learning. I feel that currently not many of my colleagues and students are at the 'addiction stage' but from a variety of sources there is considerable pressure to 'up the ante' and significantly increase their online activities.

      If students are already feeling overwhelmed and stressed by their undergraduate studies then surely it is irresponsible to lump another swathe of expectations onto them?

      Part of the pressure to increase this kind of work is coming from managerialist influences that prioritise surveillance and monitoring as part of a tutor's job. Could increasing paranoia therefore become the 21st symptom?

  5. Brilliant, I love your final comment, and I'm sure there's some truth in it as well:

    "Part of the pressure to increase this kind of work is coming from managerialist influences that prioritise surveillance and monitoring as part of a tutor's job. Could increasing paranoia therefore become the 21st symptom?"

  6. Information Diet: A case for conscious consumption http://shar.es/7j2mE @mark_carrigan

  7. The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember... http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1848872275/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_.j9pqb0857KQS … #edtech

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  10. Very interesting post. I'm pretty much sure I'm addicted to social media and the internet/connections on the internet in general. Not even one particular app or site; I just flick mindlessly between Facebook, Twitter, and emails. I would say this is partly due to 'fear of missing out' and partly due to being a lonely grad student living away from my family, which is emotionally tough. The internet makes it feel like I'm interacting even though I'm usually not!

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  14. Comment 1:
    It's refreshing to see a discussion on the real impact of social media addiction. As a therapist in Melbourne, I often witness the toll it takes on mental health. Your insights on the warning signs resonate deeply. It's time we acknowledge the importance of seeking support, whether through Melbourne psychology and counselling or other avenues, to break free from this digital trap.


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