The strength of social media is deeply rooted in a person’s need to connect with another. The affirmation one gets from online friendships, however, is balanced out by new dangers on the Internet: cyber-bullying, online stalking, and identity theft, among many others. The most subtly dangerous of all these though, is addiction.
“Addiction is something that controls you,” says Myrna Sanchez, a senior counselor at the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM). “You can’t not do it; it will keep gnawing at you until finally, you have no choice but to give in to the urge to do whatever you’re addicted to.”
Before dial-up and Wi-Fi...
Before the Internet shrank the world in the 1990s, people used less sophisticated means of communication: a telephone with a landline, handwritten letters sent via snail mail, actual face-to-face conversations. Back then, telling people in New York about your dinner in Manila—while you were having it—was unheard of, even absurd.
Fast-forward to 2012, the time of ubiquitous gadgets and high-speed technology. The Internet is on an unprecedented roll connecting people globally through social media, among its many other functions. Its most popular social networking tool, Facebook, announced five months ago that it had 955 million active users worldwide. Of these, 552 million logged on daily. Since then, the numbers have soared.
The instant connection with others that people get from social media makes it too good to resist for many. For some¬, however, the pleasure the Internet provides sometimes turns into a social crutch and, eventually, an addiction.
“Most addicts are not aware of their addiction,” Sanchez observes. “It’s the people around them who can tell there’s a problem.”
“There are many red flags when someone gets hooked on social media,” she warns. “The first sign would be staying online for more than three hours every day. As a consequence of this, the [person] will neglect school and sports, will stay up all night to stay online, neglect his family, friends, and health—since he will lose sleep and miss meals in favor of the Internet, will lose interest in the things he used to do before, and will start lying to cover up the addiction.”
From national defense to virtual communities
Born as part of the U.S. military defense plan against the Soviet Union, the Internet was conceived as a country-wide communications network—packets of data transferring from computer to computer. Since then, the Internet also became a commercial tool for vendors in the early 1980s, a vehicle of knowledge in the early 1990s, and eventually, the home of social media.
Various social networking service sites have since popped up: Napster, Friendster, MySpace, Yahoo 360 and Multiply. But none of them could take on the king of all social networking sites that was created by college kids. Mark Zuckerberg, with a couple of pals, launched Facebook from his Harvard dorm room in February 2004. In less than a year, it had 1 million users. A year and a half later, Facebook had 6 million users.
Today, Facebook and the micro-blogging site Twitter rule social media. With each status update and each tweet, they bridge gaps and fill in empty silences.
There lie their blessing and their curse.
Emilie Nolledo, a vice president at a multi-national bank, sets clear parameters regarding Internet use at home for her two daughters, a high school senior and a sixth-grade student.
“I let my daughters go online for a maximum of 30 minutes every weekday, unless they need to stay on longer for homework,” says Nolledo. “On weekends or holidays, my younger daughter uses Facebook for an hour. The older one is a Twitter person and uses it throughout the day until I threaten to get her cell phone.”
Nolledo’s rules are flexible, depending on necessity, but her daughters know that these are rules they have to abide by. “We use the honesty system,” Nolledo says. But implementing her rules sometimes requires harsh consequences. “Sometimes, at the extreme, I confiscate my older daughter’s phone and laptop so I am sure she doesn’t use them,” she shares. “Once, I even changed the password to Wi-Fi access when I caught [my older daughter] on the Internet past midnight, still tweeting.”
The techie mom’s approach—being present through rules, rewards, and consequences—is echoed by Byron Guazon, IT director of Don Bosco Technical College. “When it comes to limiting your time online, nothing beats setting a schedule for Internet use at home.” he says, and lists a number of remedies, such as blocking certain sites, setting up an email log in time, and so on. But nothing beats being disciplined, claims Guazon.