We all know how addictive it is to grab your smartphone and check up on what’s happening in in our Facebook and Twitter feeds. But just how addictive? A recent study in Germany, in which participants were given a Blackberry and told to frequently report how often they were tempted to check Facebook and how often they gave in, revealed that social media was harder to resist other things, including sex.
The reason that cigarettes, alcohol and even drugs can be less addictive than using social media says Hoffman, is because these things usually cost money, and resisting these particular vices is sometimes due to financial circumstances rather than will power.
“With cigarettes and alcohol there are more costs—long-term as well as monetary—and the opportunity may not always be the right one,” noted [Wilhelm] Hofmann. “So, even though giving in to media desires is certainly less consequential, the frequent use may still steal a lot of people’s time.”
The study also found that even though urges for sex and sleeping were stronger for people than temptations to check social media, resisting social media was a much harder task to achieve.
The study’s lead author also noted that “Desires for media may be comparatively harder to resist because of their high availability and also because it feels like it does not cost much to engage in these activities, even though one wants to resist.”
In other words, we don’t think that checking Facebook is that big of a deal, especially given how easy it is to do with our phones, and so we give in to checking it more frequently. We hardly put up a fight. I know that’s certainly true for me. I’ll be preparing dinner for my family, or waiting for the kids to go potty before bedtime, and suddenly find myself with a few seconds to spare. Almost before I know it, I find myself pulling out the iPhone and quickly checking Facebook because it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. I figure that I can multi-task, that I can quickly switch from one mode to the other.
However, is that the most effective and productive use of my time, even those few seconds of apparent downtime? On the one hand, it’s nice to think of ourselves as being “present”, as being fully invested in the here and now. So even though I have a few seconds to spare while waiting for dinner to finish cooking, those few seconds could be used for something thoughtful, e.g., reflecting on the day and practicing a small moment of gratitude for the food that has been provided for my family.
On the other hand, it’s so easy to check out and log in, especially given the immediate sense of gratification that occurs when something new appears on my Facebook feed. What’s more, I find that personally, it’s easy for me to check in but not so easy to check out. As my wife can readily attest, what I think will be a quick peek at Facebook soon becomes much more involved as I get caught up in liking things, posting comments, and clicking on links. That’s what giving in to temptation gets me.
Obviously, I’m not trying to imply that “giving in” to Facebook is inherently sinful, just as I would never imply that “giving in” to sexual urges is inherently sinful. Context matters. But a study like this should raise questions about effective time stewardship, i.e., how we can best use the time that has been allotted to us for God’s glory and our good.