Twitter: Could You Quit Anytime?

You say ‘addiction’; I say ‘healthy interest’.

Often I hear myself explaining to people that I use social media as a primary part of my livelihood, justifying my seemingly always-online presence. A recent study could blow the cover off a bigger issue that even I am not completely ready to admit. This research shows that for many checking e-mail, posting to Twitter and updating Facebook is not just a pastime; it is more like an addiction. An addiction that researchers say could be harder for some to kick than cigarettes and alcohol.

According to an article in The Guardian (the same study was also reported in Medical Daily), a study of 205 people aged between 18 and 85 revealed that it may be more difficult for people to ignore the desire to tweet, post and e-mail than it is to resist the urge to drink alcohol and smoke tobacco. The study tested the willpower of participants and required they report their “desire episodes,” according to The Guardian article.

Other cravings such as sleep or sex could be stronger than the urge to use social media, the study team reported, but people are more likely to give into the desires for social media. That could be because the stronger desires simply aren’t feasible, say, if an individual is at the work place. But study leaders said resisting the lesser desires to give into tobacco or alcohol could be because of perceived long-term consequences.

“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,” said team leader Wilhelm Hoffman of Chicago University’s Booth Business School, in The Guardian article. “With cigarettes and alcohol there are more costs – long-term as well as monetary – and the opportunity may not always be the right one. So, even though giving in to media desires is certainly less consequential, the frequent use may still ‘steal’ a lot of people’s time.”

For someone like me who has never smoked, rarely drinks (now) and really doesn’t see the point of gambling (boy do I sound like a whole lot of fun or what?), this idea that I could be addicted to social media is at first amusing. Then upon deeper inspection, I would have to admit I am acutely aware of my “numbers,” at least on Twitter; so aware that I am often mocked by colleagues for knowing and caring. But it’s a core function of my job, right? This is how I pay the bills; I should be aware. (Full disclosure: I should be clear that the reason I took a job involving social media is because I enjoy it both professionally and personally.)

Yet being a new mom I am often up at 3 am or so. It’s at those times that I probably don’t need to respond to my “Words with Friends” requests on Facebook. Same goes for forcing the iPhone to update my e-mail accounts so I can see what to expect when I get the day started in a few hours. I don’t know; I still say I could quit anytime.

What about you? Has social media gone beyond a pastime for you? Do you find yourself compelled to engage online? Please leave a comment here, let me know via Twitter @DDubie or e-mail me directly at Denise.Dubie@ca.com.

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Denise Dubie

About Denise Dubie

Denise Dubie (@DDubie) is Principal of Strategic Content in CA Technologies Thought Leadership Group. She is charged with creating content relevant to today’s most pressing technology and business trends for industry leaders and IT professionals. Prior to joining the company in 2010, Dubie spent 12 years of her career at Network World, an IDG company, covering the IT management industry and all of its players (including CA Technologies and its competitors) as well as high-tech careers, technology trends and vendors such as Cisco, HP, IBM and Microsoft. As Senior Editor at Network World, Dubie also authored the publication's twice-weekly Network and Systems Management Alert newsletter and contributed to the Web site's Microsoft Subnet blog. Before IDG, she served as Assistant Managing Editor at Application Development Trends, managing writers and the monthly publication's production process. Dubie started her professional journalism career as a Staff Writer/Reporter at The Transcript, a small daily paper in Western Massachusetts.
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