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Monday, May 20, 2024
Opinions generic
Opinions generic

One of the most prominent addictions among my generation these days isn’t one of the things my parents warned me about becoming addicted to before coming to college: drugs, alcohol or sex. It is something normalized by friends and peers at all hours of the day, in public, during class and on holidays. 

It’s the first thing most of us are guilty of doing when we wake up in the morning, and the last thing before we go to bed. It’s something so unnatural that has yet become vital to our generation's social ecosystem. It’s the use of social media. 

I’ve always known that I used social media too much, with my daily screen time reaching anywhere from nine to 12 hours a day, but I only became acutely aware of this problem between myself and my peers when two of my professors this semester deemed our classes “technology free.” 

Over the semester, I’ve seen students (candidly, including myself) who have been unable to put their phones and computers away for the entirety of the 50-minute block. I’ve found that my excessive social media usage has shortened my attention span, making me itch for the dopamine rush that comes from using social media. 

It’s no secret technology has effectively shaped the system of our education but when I look at the sea of laptop screens in any big lecture hall, I see anything from social media, to online shopping, to New York Times games.  

The discussion of social media addiction was brought up during one of my ironically “technology-free” classes this semester called ethics, data and technology. One student said social media can be thought of as a slot machine where the money being played is equivalent to the amount of time spent online, and the money being won is equivalent to the dopamine rush we get when we receive social validation on social media. The ringing of that winning slot machine, or the hit of social dopamine, is what keeps us coming back for more. 

This model can be attributed to the attention economy or the idea that social media companies are fighting for our attention in the digital world as a means of currency. This is because the longer they can hold our attention, the more opportunities they have to monetize through advertising or other means.  

Most of us are guilty of getting lost in our social media feeds because these platforms are designed to be addictive, using algorithmic systems to understand what gets our attention and continuing to feed us content that keeps us hooked based on our user history. Social media has progressed from an outlet to keep up with friends and family to a never-ending echo chamber, personalized for you.

For how much time we spend absorbed in social media, our retention rate of what we actually consume is extremely low. Out of the hundreds of posts I scroll past a day, I can only actively recall maybe one.

I can’t help but wonder if the generation who grew up with unrestricted internet access is suffering from becoming social media sleepwalkers. If we all spent less time consumed by our screens, would the result yield more blossoming humanities? More real-life interaction? Higher attention spans? Better sense of self-esteem? 

Sabrina Castro is a UF journalism junior.

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