Social media addiction gaining recognition from an unlikely source – Alastair Stewart

Some smartphones can now be set to lock out the user after a set amount of time (Picture: Greg Macvean)
Some smartphones can now be set to lock out the user after a set amount of time (Picture: Greg Macvean)
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Tech giants may be starting to treat addiction to social media and the online world much more seriously, suggests Alastair Stewart, as several major companies introduce options to limit use.

I never much pay attention to phone updates. Usually, it’s a fix of some sort and the occasional grand overhaul. But a curious thing happened the other day when I was flicking through the settings of my iPhone – I can now limit my screen time.

And when I say limit, I mean I can blanket restrict if needs be; individual categories, specific apps or the entire phone completely after a set time. What’s more interesting is it also displays my phone usage for the day and the previous seven days. Intrigued, I kept an eye on it for a week.

The process, curiously, kicked my mind back to an interview with TED speaker Simon Sinek. Speaking on Inside Quest, he makes the case that technology, and excessive use of social media, can produce the same quantities of dopamine levels in the brain as smoking, drinking and gambling. It’s a glorious one-part diatribe, one-part ‘Sermon on the Digital Mount’. Sending a text to 20 people and hoping for a response, constantly posting pictures and images on social media in a quest for ‘likes’ gives you a ‘hit’.

READ MORE: An hour’s the limit for happy smartphone-addicted teens

Professor Jordan Peterson made a similar point – young people, particularly young men under 25, play a greater number of video games because they give you that hit of accomplishment when you achieve the goals of the game. Paul Levy, the author of Digital Inferno, has also written extensively on the need to navigate the digital world and calls for a far more consciousness engagement with technology to stop it taking over our lives.

Over the years, there have been studies that have claimed many adults feel they couldn’t last a day without their smartphone. What’s curious is most people don’t need me or anyone else to tell them that this now extends to children, too. How many times have you been sitting in a restaurant or a cafe and a toddler has been sliding, flicking and tapping the screen of a tablet or phone? There’s new muscle memory at play, and it’s starting earlier and earlier.

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Digital and social media provides an unbelievably useful and valuable function to businesses and social enterprises, charities and schools – the list is endless. What has changed, very discreetly, is that tech giants are gradually coming around to treating the potential for digital and tech addiction far more seriously.

Is setting an iPhone or YouTube to block me out after a few hours, the same warning as damaged lungs on a pack of cigarettes?

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and journalist. He writes regular features on politics and history with a particular interest in nationalism and the life of Sir Winston Churchill. Read more from Alastair at and follow him on Twitter @agjstewart