Is Tech The New Tobacco?

Josh Burt takes a closer look at our newest addiction...

For all the ill-effects of smoking, it never really stopped people. Yes, it could give you heart disease or worse, but there was a moment back there when it was all you could really do to kill timeWaiting for a friend; break from your desk; gap between courses. The smoking of cigarettes punctuated your day much in the same way that staring gormlessly at Instagram does now. Only it probably wasn’t quite as addictive. The days of awkwardly asking for a lighter have been superseded by asking for a charger.


The parallels don’t end there either for the innocuous little device in your hand. Just like the tobacco industry, the ruse has long been up for social media. The negative side-effects of too much tweeting and Facebooking have been brazenly spelled out over the last few years. A 2015 study in Denmark found that just one week away from social media left 1,095 participants feeling considerably happier with their lot. One former Facebook exec, Chamath Palihapitiya, was quoted as saying that her former employees have spawned a generation hungry for “dopamine-driven feedback loops”. You could honestly get lost at sea with the number of studies decrying these sites, noting the toll they take on (particularly younger) “users” searching for perpetual hits of validation, especially on their mental health.

Yet, just as there was a 2 percent increase in smoking-related hospital admissions as recently as 2016, likewise the amassing of disturbing scientific research has done little to quell our lust for a social media fix. There are still 1 billion Instagrammers out there, 2.27 billion Facebookers, and despite posting a moderate decrease in numbers, 326 million of us regularly use Twitter. Whatever the downside, we just can’t escape the allure of that parallel universe where we live life as a perfect version of ourselves, with carefully curated images, and off-the-cuff “quips” that have been secretly passed through numerous filters first. No wonder it’s been suggested that Facebook addiction looks similar on an MRI scan to substance abuse.

So presumably the big question is, will our collective iPhone addiction go the way of tobacco? Will the grip of a cyber-fix lead to mass disapproval in the same way it did for the ciggies? Excessive users ushered into cramped smartphone zones in airports and offices, health warnings depicting the most gruesome outcomes to your plight bombarding your subconscious. Might there even be an inverse reaction to the one which saw the traditional cigarette replaced with the technology of a vape, where social media addiction is countered by an increased number of face-to-face encounters with your friends?

To be honest, I’d take that any day of the week. But until the hungry masses pile in on these analogue interactions, and their number snowballs and they start preaching the benefit of an internet-free world with evangelical levels of persuasiveness (because, frankly, that’s what it would take), I’ve got a really important game of Snake to finish. Anyone got a light? And a charger?


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