Social media dependence is a wrong concern

In short : there are more people wondering if there’s a real dependence on social media. In fact people, social animals are dependent on others. To meet their needs they depend on some tools, but not necessarily

It’s a recurrent discussion. It often happens on traditional media or as a question that emerges during a discussion, during a dinner. Are we too dependent on social media ? And depending on whom I’m with I often find myself in the position of the so-called “social addict” having to explain his illness to others.

Most of times I find nothing to answer. And the more I think of that question the more I find it senseless. What I politely turn into “it’s a matter of paradigm”. No , frankly. Even if I’m neither a Yer or a digital native, I can’t understand what such questions are about.

Ok. Let’s try to be a little bit more constructive. First let’s agree on what dependence mean. Being dependent may be being reliant on something to do something. Like being dependent on one’s car to go to work. But it sometimes also means addiction. Not being able to get rid of an habit that brings nothing good and can even be harmful.

So let’s have a new look at the question, from both these standpoints.

Social media are not essential. But doing without makes things complicated.

Are we reliant on social media ? The question sounds quite empty of we don’t try to find out what social media are used for. Get information on subjects that matter to us. Get news from the one we appreciate or love. Share ideas, thoughts or something we’ve seen or done with all of some of them. To do all this kind of things, media are only…media as their name tell. As a matter of fact such activities have always been natural from the mist of time.

Can we do this without social media ? Our parents and grand parents used to send letters to their friends and make phone calls. By the way my generation started doing the same. We used to read newspapers, watch the news on TV. Read specialized magazines. Et we used to make phone calls or wait for the next time we meet to say “hey…did you read/see this ?”, “what did you do this week end ?”. Etc.

But it was time consuming. Occasions to interact were scarce. Sometimes the matter did lose its interest, went from hot to tepid between the moment it emerged and the moment we were able to discuss it. Most of all having short interactions was not easy. Making 20 phone calls for 10 seconds conversations made no sens. Neither sending 30 2-lines letters. And calls and letters were one to one, not one-to-may or many-to-many interactions.

So, are we reliant ? I don’t know. What is sure is that we can do the same things in other ways but it will be longer, more expensive and we’ll lose opportunities to interact. Not vital but so easier.

From this standpoint we rely as much on social media than someone living on the 20th floor relies on elevators. It’s possible to do withtout but it’s going to be much more complicated.

It’s not about social media. It’s about mobility that changed our relationship to others and to space.

And what about addiction ? In fact that what many people mean by social media dependence. The best evidence being all these articles on “how to disconnect during holidays” etc. After all that’s a relevant question : why do we rush at our mobiles every time we have one second free ? Maybe the answer is more in the mobile than in the media.

The game changer was the generalization of smartphones and mobile web. Not by making people addicted but by helping them to make the most of their “weak moments”  : when in public transportation, queueing, having a coffee, waiting for someone… But is it an addiction ? What did we use to do before ? Read newspapers ? Get bored ?

It’s also about attention management and multitasking. Attention management because people focus their attention on the most interesting thing they have at hand. Smartphones are seldom used during a good movie, an interesting discussion, a good football match. But when the situation becomes boring, without interest, attention escapes. There’s nothing new here. Before it was less visible because we lacked devices and had nothing but our dreams to escape. Today we have alternatives. But at the very moment something mobilizing or interesting happens smartphones go back in our pockets. As for multitasking, it’s also the possibility of keeping an eye on something while having another primary activity.

Mobility allows to focus on what interests us.

What looks like addiction is rather the result of not being constraint by time and location anywhere. Before we used to do with those who were around us. For the best and the worse. Today, as a millennial recently told me, we can do with those we want to be with at any time. With his words “if you’re with me and are worth my interest I’m with you. If you’re boring or have nothing to say that interests me I’m going back with those I love to be with. They are always with me on chat, Facebook Twitter…”. A blunt but very pragmatic truth.

If there’s any kind of addiction it’s not about the tool or the media. It’s about being with those we want to at a given moment, those who want to hear, read, those we want to talk to. What makes me think of what “disconnecting during vacations” means to me. Why should I ? Why should I build a barrier between me and those I love to talk with ? By getting away from Facebook, send them postcards and wait for weeks or months to share with them things I could share in one second ? Disconnecting from the media makes no sense to me. But I’ll probably consume other information, read other things, focus on other sources and subjects. In the same way I’m not taking with me the same books and magazines I read at home. But leaving social media to send postcards and read newspapers makes no sense.

People are not addicted to social media. They’re addicted to others.

Morevover, by experience, the arguments for disconnecting in vacatation are of another kind. First there are roaming costs for those who go abroad. Second, and most of all, that’s because our attention is mobilized by things we had wanted, desired and expected for a long time. At least when we can have the vacation we want. If not…

People are social animals. They’re not addicted to social media but to others, to discovery. And that’s a good thing. If we remove “others” there’s not any reason to use social media anymore.

So I starred saying it was a matter of paradigm. It suggest you to try to make Google translate this excellent interview from french philisopher Michel Serres on the changing world that’s ours. He says, among other, that:

We are outside of the computier. Petite Poucette [the name of the character he uses to embody the new generations] lives INSIDE the computer. For her the computer is not a tool but is a par of her life conditions. She’s on Facebook, on social networks, her phone is connected…

Wondering about dependence is being in a paradigm. The one where we’re outside of the network. In a couple of years such questions won’t make ansy sense. We can discuss the fact young generations make (or don’t) a wise and relevant use of social media and networks. But they’re in. Using it is as natural to them as picking up the phone for older ones, turn on the light to read etc. Tools are becomming an extension of our senses, our thinking, our will. We don’t use them, they just extend our intentions, our actions. We don’t use tools or media, we live. That’s that simple.

As Forrester’s Melissa Parrish wrote :

Increasingly, “going online” isn’t something we do. It’s something we are. Instant access to information and services isn’t just convenient—it’s how we live our lives.

If there’s any kind of dependence it’s on others, information, exchange. Then some tools allow to meet our needs faster and in a more intensive way than others. But the matter is not tools but the world we live in and the need for instantaneousness that’s ours.


Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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