Is social networking addictive, like caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and narcotics? The only test would be to try and wean yourself off and see what happens. Would you break out in cold sweats, suffer headaches or panic attacks? Or,much worse, would you cease to exist.
Are we all fighting against solipsism (the belief that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist). As Proust said, a solipsist is someone who cannot cope with the disappointment of being ignored. Let’s face it, no-one truly likes being alone.
The psychotherapist Michael Hausauer relates how “teens and other young adults have a terrific interest in knowing what’s going on in the lives of their peers, coupled with a terrific anxiety about being out of the loop. If they stop sending messages, they become invisible.”
Once you’ve established an online presence and become a regular contributor, it is hard to withdraw. You don’t want the online wheels to turn without you. You’re not stupid enough to believe you’re indispensable, but you’d like to think you’d be missed.
So what about all those who have defiantly resisted social networking? Are they suffering these anxieties? I don’t think so. Social networking raises your expectations. It increases your self-worth (after all, look at all those friends and followers you have). I’d imagine celebrities must feel the same – while they moan about all the intrusions, they dread being out of the public eye.
As the philosopher Mary Midgley remarks in The Solitary Self(Acumen, 2010): “Although we all need some solitude and independence, total isolation is for us a desolate and meaningless state. In fact it is the worst thing that can happen to us.”