An addiction kept in hand

Apps that provide us with harmless entertainment become more dangerous once exams roll around

One of my favourite films of all time is The Social Network, a biographical drama detailing the creation of Facebook and the hubris, lawsuits, and downright iconic laptop-smashing that ensues thereafter. Along with the exceptional performances and razor-sharp dialogue, it’s fascinating to see the sordid origins surrounding the platform that became the benchmark for online communication. This kind of film is not only appealing because of the finesse, intrigue, and the ever-handsome Andrew Garfield, but because we’re so invested in the social media networks that permeate the twenty-first century. Students today have only a vague recollection of life without social media; we’ve spent most of our lives watching it evolve like an artfully crafted film.  

In the past, when young people wanted to amuse themselves, they would have to seek out a television or a radio or strange circular objects I believe they called “CD’s.” Today, there’s a whole whirlpool of distractions sitting right in our pockets. From a historical standpoint, I see the rapid progress in technology as the sequel to the invention of fire. As a student, I would very much be tempted to travel back in time and smash every single computer Mark Zuckerberg owned if it meant social media wouldn’t exist and I might finally be able to focus on work every now and again. Facebook isn’t the sole source of my procrastination, but it’s certainly the blueprint. 

Social media apps are truly viruses when it comes to work and focus; instead of running through pages of textbooks that would help me get a degree and an actual job, I always find my fingers itching to scroll through my phone. And Facebook is not the only culprit; there’s a whole cast of computer-coded characters whose ultimate purpose is to waste my time. But what is the most addictive social medium right now? Which app is the current foil to a productive study-routine? Like all trends, social networks rise and fall, but a certain few across the years certainly lead the way.  

“There’s no denying Facebook created the formula for success; the ease of access, constantly upgrading features, and a variety of available content made it immediately addictive.”

I do love The Social Network, but, nowadays, I’m more entertained by the film than the actual app it was based on. Of course, when it comes to engagement, there’s no denying Facebook created the formula for success; the ease of access, constantly upgrading features, and a variety of available content made it immediately addictive. It took the daunting world of social interactions and put it online for a much more convenient, effortless experience. Instead of having to pluck up the courage to talk to someone in person and pretend to be cool, all you had to do was send a friend request from an impeccably curated profile and craft a message that would convince anyone you’re the suavest twelve-year-old around.  

From my perspective, Facebook hit its addictive peak around 2013, when “poking” was a valid form of greeting, Troll Meme pages were the peak of comedy and art, and the strength of friendships was measured by how many body paragraphs and inside jokes you could include in a birthday post. I would spend entire evenings scrolling through Facebook, revelling in all the selfies with over-saturated filters; all the John Green quotes that flooded my page; all the groups I was in with my friends. According to The Social Network, Zuckerberg created Facebook to make you feel like you are part of a wider group with little effort. It was the ease of access to a gigantic community that made Facebook so addictive, and it’s this accessibility that is the core of any addictive social media app.  

I’d rather not cultivate my online personality and obsessions where my aunts can respond with Minion memes.”

Nowadays, Facebook is nowhere near as addictive as it once was. I suspect our growing indifference towards the app is directly correlated to how much our parents use it. I’d rather not cultivate my online personality and obsessions where my aunts can respond with Minion memes. Older people catching on to social media and having their own addictions has simply made some platforms less cool. For most young people now, Facebook is akin to checking your emails; it’s reserved for keeping up to date with college societies and liking comments from relatives as per your mother’s instructionsoverall, not as detrimental to someone’s study routine as it might have once been.  

Today, social media apps are even more devastating when it comes to focus and routine, since the technology that we need to work from home is also the technology that is so good at distracting us from work. Though Facebook might not be the main offender anymore, the apps that distract us the most now seem like sequels and reboots to that original gateway drug. I’ve always thought that, once Facebook lost its allure, users would migrate to both Twitter and Instagram to fill the virtual hole in their hearts. You can go to Instagram to endlessly scroll through picture-perfect forms of friends and celebrities and present your own aesthetic, and you can go to Twitter to delve into an endless array of hot takes and humour. Using these apps doesn’t feel like an addictionit’s just a given that I keep up with the latest trends on Twitter and deep dive into friends’ accounts on Instagram. It doesn’t even feel like I’m wasting time on these apps, especially in today’s world where I can’t just meet up with friends to stay updated on their lives. I might spend a bit too much time staying updated instead of studying, but as a student today, I would most definitely lose my mind if I didn’t have some way to maintain connections with other students.  

Be that as it may, there is one platform that has perfected the strategy to become the most addictive social media app, and I can’t even justify the hours I spend down rabbit holes of lip-syncing, short videos and home-made musicals about animated rats. I am of course referring to the final boss of social media platforms, TikTok. What started as a Vine knock-off has become a sprawling online powerhouse that has grown so popular and has shaken up the world so much that grown-up-baby Donald Trump tried to issue an executive order against it, probably because Charli D’Amelio never followed him back. 

“It’s so easy to tell yourself you’ll just watch a few little videos on TikTok and then suddenly it’s been three hours and you’re behind on lectures.”

From the moment you open TikTok, short and punchy videos reel you in. You might not enjoy every video recommended to you, but the ability to scroll endlessly through a page made by an algorithm catered to your preferences means it’s very hard to get bored. You might find yourself on the make-up side of TikTok one moment, the next on the alternative side, the next on the frog side. The way the algorithmic functions curates a unique “for you page” while also promoting videos from smaller accounts, giving them the chance to reach a huge audience. The typical length of the videos also aids the addictive nature of the app; you might have the restraint to stop yourself watching a twenty-minute video on YouTube, but it’s so easy to tell yourself you’ll just watch a few little videos on TikTok and then suddenly it’s been three hours and you’re behind on lectures, but at least you have all the details of the Olivia Rodrigo drama. The rate at which trends come and go on TikTok means there’s always something to keep you hooked, while the convenient disappearance of the clock at the top of your screen doesn’t make things any easier when it comes to keeping track of time.

TikTok provided the perfect escape during the first lockdown; these days I romanticise the times where my page was full of whipped coffee videos and Willy Wonka thirst traps. Back when I had little to do, TikTok truly filled an empty space in my head in need of a quick fix. Now that I should be filling my head with a healthy study routine, TikTok isn’t cushioning a space so much as it is colonising my brain with a battering ram. There isn’t even a justification for how much time I spend on the app; it caters to the mindless fun that we all deserve, but I don’t think staying up until three in the morning engrossed in POV’s and astrology videos counts as self-care. TikTok is like popcorn for the brain: addictive, buttery, empty satisfaction.  

It’s never been as easy to waste time as it is right now. 2020 was a disaster film that no one wants to watch again. Without the variety of real life, real people and real places, we seek entertainment out online. As the internet becomes an ever-growing source of entertainment, it is also becoming our place of work and focus. I don’t think we can be blamed for struggling to balance online work and play, especially when the social media apps are so adept at keeping us distracted in all kinds of ways.

Ellen Kenny

Ellen Kenny is the current Deputy Editor of Trinity News and a Senior Sophister student of Politics and Sociology. She previously served as Assistant Editor and Features Editor