Social Media Is The New Smoking

After watching a man almost wander into the street while browsing his phone, my wandered a bit; will social media become the new smoking? Will browsing your phone anticipating the next notification become a dirty habit that others will shun you for?

I was shocked when I received a request from a friend’s 10-year child asking to be my friend on Facebook. It set me back that this young soul is being exposed to the harsh reality of the social internet.

I am a parent, and I am not withholding the facts of life from my son. Up until now, I haven’t exposed him to the social side of the internet. There is no need for him to be there at this point in his life. There are far too many who are not in the right mindset to speak to him. I am not talking about the sexual predators and the evil-doers. But I am talking about the finger pointers, lynch-mobbers and the “negative Nancies.” He needs a little more time to build up his self-confidence and maturity before he faces the unbridled online world of “free speech.” Some may see this as being over-protective, I see it as being pro-active. He will eventually become an online socialite, but until then, we need to parent a little bit more to build up his defences.

What did I do growing up?

This brought me to think about my own childhood. I grew up in the 1980s, it was the tail-end of the acceptable smoking lifestyle. People could smoke in McDonald’s, and I remember playing with the little disposable aluminum ashtrays stamped with the “Golden Arches” that sat on the restaurant tables. Anyone could smoke in the shopping mall corridors, and I remember waiting around for my father to finish his smoke so I could go into a department store to check out the toy section.

Smoking anywhere was acceptable then, but the mood was beginning to change. More reports of cigarettes causing lung cancer made the way into the headlines. To a kid growing up in this era, it was understood that only grown-ups could smoke, I wasn’t allowed. Yet, my parents were not discouraged from smoking when they were teenagers, it was almost a rite of passage. When I would venture to question the law of smoking, “because it’s bad for you” was the response. “So if it’s so bad, why do you do it?” I would think to myself.

What does smoking have to do with social media?

By and large, social media is not good for you. There are times when it works well, but for every nugget of goodness that it brings, there are four bad. I know I am sounding negative here, but it is the truth. I almost never feel good after my experiences with social media. Over the years, I have been able to control my emotions and have adequately adapted to the online social phenomena, but as a rule, I always feel better after interacting with someone face-to-face; even if the interaction is not favourable. This comes down to our primal instinct to connect physically. Until we evolve to connect through electrons shared over a fibre line physically, social media will never feel like an actual genuine connection.

Once upon a time, I was addicted to smoking, and as such, I always craved that next cigarette, but I still felt unfulfilled after I squashed that butt. I was looking for something more. When I browse my social media streams, I feel much the same way: unsatisfied and wanting more. Like smoking, social media is just another addiction to distract our brains from what it is lacking. We smoke to reduce stress, aid in social situations, attain social status and to kill time. Isn’t that what we do when we consume social media streams? Instead of blowing smoke, we just stare at our phones and blow off our nearby friends.

Social media in the future

I have to wonder if someday there will come a time when social media will become the pariah of our social circles. That the dude off in the corner consuming his Instagram feed will be looked at the same as the guy standing at the street corner sucking on a Marlboro. I wonder when we will see TV and radio commercials about laser treatments to cure your addiction to Facebook games and Snapchat pictures.

Will there be social media consumption tables at restaurants or Facebook isles on airplanes?

Will social media consumption in large doses cause social cancer or some other horrific disease of the mind?

While naive to believe so, I have to hope that when my son becomes ready to consume the social media lifestyle, by then it will have been a passing fad and shunned like the cigarette packages of today. Until then, he can remain friends socially… without the media. He isn’t grown up to smoke yet.

UPDATE: Citing a weakness to avoid the pressures of social media addiction, I have vowed to refrain from social media feeds for the entirety of 2019. I want to find out who I am without the social media influence.

20 thoughts on “Social Media Is The New Smoking

  1. Very insightful! Evidence will have to be brought to light to “prove” that social media is harmful (just as in cigarettes). I believe it will take a lot longer for society to disapprove of it. It doesn’t cause cancer…but the disease is more insidious, if you ask me. It IS harmful. I worry about my teenage daughters who can’t stop looking at their phones. 🙁

    1. Social media impacts our mental state and you are correct, our consequence to consuming in large amounts it is less definite. You are right, it will take a while before studies are out to prove the side-effects of social media. Smoking has been around for hundreds of years and only deemed socially unacceptable the last 20 or so. Mainstream social media has only been around the last 10-15 years. We have a way to go yet! Thank you for your comment! 🙂

    2. We don’t have to wait that long. Even before there was solid evidence of cigarette’s harm there were MANY people who found the habit to be unhealthy and off-putting. I remember “smoking” and “non-smoking” sections at restaurants in the 1970s, long before there was any definitive proof of a link to cancer. I wonder if we will see restaurants with “phone” and “non-phone” sections?

      1. I am not sure you will see that as the reasoning behind non-smoking sections was the health and comfort of the guests around you and not necessarily the company that you are there with. That being said, I would love to go to a complete “dead zone” restaurant… it would be refreshing to see people interact without technology interruptions! Thank you for the comment!!

  2. Thank you for this! I like using the smoking comparison in conversation as it’s the easiest for people to understand.

    Similarly to smoking, once authorities have acknowledged or ‘decided’ that social media is bad for you, the Facebooks and Snapchats will need to put a banner ad with a picture of a depressed and lonely person of their demographic on their home or login page – just like cigarette companies have to put pictures of cancer-lungs on their boxes.

    There also needs to be pop-up warnings when they detect a mood or concentration change. They already have some of the smartest data scientists on the planet figuring out when best to strike on your emotions in order to sell ads. If you’re not an ad clicker, be sure they will tailor your news feed to mould you into one.

    And on games; as a new user after your first 5 minutes of play, a game like Candy crush has a disturbingly high level of confidence whether you will be playing daily in one month. I.e. Your level of ‘addictiveness’. Yet we see no warnings or notifications to parents that your concentration or sleep is dropping. Games _do_ have the potential to help people if the gaming company tracks and alerts users responsibly.

    We need a solid set of guidelines for responsible self-regulation. Tech moves too fast for real law or governing authorities to keep up and regulate these social media and gaming companies properly.

    In the mean time, to the players that are affecting a large chunk of our human population: Don’t make us a shitty and lonely civilization.

    1. Thank you for your comment! While over consuming social media can be bad for your healthy, I am not sure regulating it will help. We need less regulations in our lives and more freedom to do as we please. We need to be in control of our destinies and if that includes our own regulation of social media, then so be it. Thanks again for your comment, I appreciate your thoughts!! 🙂

  3. But all the cool kids smoke and I want to be one of them 🙂 then again, I’d look like a complete fool try to set my phone on fire 🙂 Although it would be awesome, then I could get my friends to record it, and we’d upload it to youtube, and share it, and become internet sensations and millionaires, and have all the blackjack, hookers and booze I want, and it wouldn’t be smoking that killed me, but the internet 🙂

    Now, I am off to smoke 😉

  4. Social Media does cause cancer. Idea cancer. Just look at the “post-truth” or “alternative fact” idioms. This would never work in a tangible world where interaction leads to social consequence. The anonymity affords people the “right” to hold whatever bullshit they believe or want to troll others into adopting, regardless if it’s for the lulz or some bigger picture worldview.

    1. If we are not creating, then we are consuming. Social media is nothing more than a showcase of already created material. So, by it’s very nature all we do is consume when we thumb through the feeds. That in itself becomes tiring and detrimental to our thought processes if we do not allow it to inspire our own creative genius. Thank you for your comment!

  5. It kind of already is for me, like smoking was. The difference is I am surrounded by “smokers”. I go to the coffee shop in my beloved city of the last 21 years and in that 21 years the majority of folks are on some device more and more. I sometimes walk through expecting a nod or a smile from one person hopefully and get none. I grew up as a kid in the 70’s and so I don’t use my phone for much. I detest using it and am always ready for a convo or a friendly nod at a coffee shop. I take a book or art paper to draw on, when I go. I do sometimes sit with my husband and son and my husband brings a tablet or laptop, my son either brings a device or shares my art papers and pens. I already feel surrounded by the “dirty habit”. I alternate between feeling scorn, or sympathy for the lost device users. I suppose most are afraid to look at me? They usually are alone and much younger than me and look like they probably moved here in the past couple years. I am married with a kid so I am not looking to date by the way.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story! I see this frustration more and more but it is mostly shared among those who have not grown up connected. Unlike smoking, I fear that this trend of being solely connected electronically will become the norm… as it appears to already have been.

  6. Social media is unbelievably addictive. It’s the same as sugar. Social media is especially corrosive to focus and deep work.

  7. Great post, very thought provoking. I deleted my Facebook/Instagram accounts about 4 years ago after realizing I was spending way too much time on them. I wasn’t able to limit my use, in the same way people can’t have just 1 or 2 drinks, or smoke occasionally . As someone that grew up remembering a time without the internet/social media/phones, I think some of us are having a hard time adjusting to this new “digital age”. I do think there is a certain place for it, and I have a friend who says we are all so new to it, it will take time for us to adjust as a society. I think social media will become more integrated into the background of our lives, when we need it, a bit the way electricity works. I can call up a family member and say hey check out this sunset, all from my google glasses, and we can enjoy it together, no posting, no likes, just a fluid experience where I can enjoy the moment while sharing it with a loved one. I also have to wonder if we are sitting on a billion dollar industry of self-help “unplugging” the way nicotine replacement therapy is today. Awesome read, glad you kept this blog going!

    1. Thank you for your comment! Social media has certainly changed our behaviour and it is here to stay. It will morph and change right alongside of us. Great idea on that “social media self-help” industry! I can’t help but feel as though my journey on this blog isn’t apart of that! 🙂

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