Social Media is Smoking, and You’re All Addicts
“Anyone got a Like?”: is Social Media the Modern-Day Equivalent to Smoking?
By Fraser McGeachin
It is said that by the 1940’s eight out of ten British males were addicted smokers. If that statistic was released today it would cause a national crisis, inflaming the now primarily smoke-adverse British public. Of course, during this period, the health risks of tobacco smoking were seen to be minimal, and cigarette propaganda was rife – without the knowledge of the dangers of indulgence, smoking was seen as glamorous and was seen to denote a higher status. People were, for lack of better words, enthusiastically killing themselves, and the corporate interests behind them were branding it virtuous. Sound familiar?
Today, of course, we know better… right? In my opinion, a disturbingly similar trend can be seen with the way we are all now interacting with social media. Seven out of ten people in the United Kingdom use social media every day. Many of these users, granted to vastly different degrees, are victim to indoctrination by a system which portrays popularity and the perception of social prosperity based the allocation of their peers “likes.” For some, their success in social media has even become a major constituent of their self-esteem. It is the modern equivalent of inhaling rat poison. Much like smoking, if abused, participation will clearly have majorly detrimental effects to the mental health of its users.
Then shall we all just stop? Sadly, we might already be too far in. In the early days of mass tobacco consumption, it could be argued that its users simply didn’t know any better. However, as science and medicine progressed and an increasing amount of clinical studies relating to tobacco were performed, the implications of long-term smoking became apparent: yet many continued to smoke. Why?
Addiction is attributed with being the leading reason people continue to smoke even when they became aware of the serious health risks involved. Recently, with ‘Social Media Addiction’ being unearthed as a new and growing problem among young people, it is hard not to draw comparisons. Furthermore, it is well known that the more an individual smokes, the more likely they are develop smoking-related illnesses. It has been discovered that people who spend more than five hours a day engaged in social media activities are more likely to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression. With Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs reportedly all limiting their children’s screen time, one has to wonder what kind of long-term damage social media is really doing to us.
However, the most damning comparison comes when one analyses the most striking similarity of the two, the way they both seemed to thrive off perceptions of ‘glamour’ or allocations of status. Smoking was considered glamourous partly due to its ability to supress appetite thus aiding in weight loss among its users. You only have to look as far as a Lucky Stripe poster from the 1930’s to see the message: “when tempted to over-indulge, reach for a lucky instead.” This overt suggestion that one should have a cigarette instead of eating with
the intention of losing weight is one that today would be destroyed by controversy. Unfortunately, this accusation could also easily be levelled at social media. It is well known that platforms like Instragram and Facebook act as their users ‘highlight reels,’ demonstrating with angles and photoshop the very same unrealistic standards of beauty that are causing untold pain to Generation Z. Without any corrective influence on these social media platforms young people are resorting to more dangerous methods of weight-loss like self-starvation or extreme dieting endlessly in hopes to attain bodies which are physically impossible. Smoking is bad enough, but social media has the potential to do far more damage to both physical and mental health.
The sad reality seems to be that history has repeated itself. Much like smoking, the negative effects of social media are now plastered everywhere, but we all continue to use something which we know is ultimately very bad for us. With the meteoric rise of ‘Reality TV culture’ flooding onto social media platforms, and while corporations continue to make fortunes from our presence on them, an end doesn’t seem to be in sight.
Maybe years from now the children of future generations will look back at us and wonder why we exposed ourselves to the damaging effects of social media addiction, even if all it brought us was the ever-fleeting rush of getting a like or two; much like how we look back at older generations and question why they continued to smoke while aware of the harm it is doing, even if only for a few stress-free minutes.