Earlier this week, I wrote about Alyssa Rushing, a 20-year-old college student whose mom is offering to pay her $300 if she can stay off Facebook for a month and devote that time to study. Lots of people wrote to say they didn't think anyone should have to be paid to temper their passion for social networking. That story also prompted an e-mail from Dr. Nicole Radziwill, a Charlotte native who teaches about computer technology at James Madison University.
She recently wrote a book about her own "social media addiction." She wrote that she'd been checking Twitter about 130 times a day, and checking her Droid for text or Google chat messages at least 400 times a day. By her count, that was roughly 44 minutes of every day. She even dreamed about checking Twitter in her sleep! To snap out of her compulsive checking, she imposed a 42-day social media blackout on herself earlier this year. She came to realize that, in overusing Twitter, she was subjecting herself to an "interruption-driven existence." Instead of using Twitter and Facebook to keep in touch with friends, the networks themselves -- with their constant stream of random, attention-grabbing information -- became attractions unto themselves.
The experiment led her to cut back. She checks her Droid about 50 to 75 times a day now, an amount she admits some might still see as excessive. Her experience made me wonder if the problem is less about the addictiveness of Facebook or Twitter than it is about the addictiveness of smartphones. You put your entire life into the things -- bank accounts, passwords, contacts, photos, e-mails -- and you carry it all around with you in your pocket. Having all that information and communicating power at your fingertips is ... well, irresistible. I didn't think anything of Facebook myself until I got a Blackberry and saw how easy it was to keep in touch with my friends through it.
I've never kept track of how many times I check my Blackberry. But I do know when the little notification light blinks, signaling incoming e-mail, texts, or social network data, I feel compelled to check it. (I actually put the thing in my pocket when I'm busy and need to focus, just so I can't see the blinking light). If I had to guess, I'd say I check the phone about 40-50 times a day. If I didn't use the thing for work, I'd have to wonder if maybe I had a problem...
How about you? How many times a day do you check your phone? And how much is too much?