Man Fired Twice Over Twitter Addiction

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Larry Carlat Twitter addictionJust received my monthly text from AT&T informing me I have used 100% of my data usage. #sorrydaddy #Twitteraddiction

Just inserted a hashtag in a text to my mother.. Yep, that just happened #twitteraddiction

when i dont get on twitter i feel disconnected from the world #twitteraddiction

Larry Carlat's account in The New York Times of his addiction to Twitter transformed a playful hashtag into a harrowing cautionary tale. Since joining the site in the summer of 2008, Carlat lost two jobs, his wife, his house, and his pleasure in the very thing he compulsively consumed. A Twitter addiction is the same as any other addiction, it turns out, except for one one big difference. Unlike heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines, many workplaces encourage the use of Twitter. Some even require it.

Soon after a social media site gains traction, "addiction" to that site starts making headlines. "Facebook addiction" became a commonly searched term starting in October 2006, one month after the site became open to all, and its search frequency has been rising ever since (residents of the Philippines are apparently particularly concerned with the problem).

"Facebook Addiction Growing Issue" declared KITV at the end of 2009, its stern warnings legitimized by the weighty remarks of a credentialed psychologist. "Women say they're increasingly addicted to Facebook," crowed Computerworld in the summer of 2010. "Facebook addiction causes anxiety, depression in youngsters," announced The Times of India in January of this year.

"Twitter addiction" began making waves in early 2009, when the daily number of Tweets started growing by around 1 million a month. Self-help articles surfaced offering up the top 5, top 10, top 20, top 21, top 29, top 50, top 100+ signs that your use of the site had become pathological.

As Carlat proves, Twitter addiction can be a very real thing. He posted his witticisms and reflections every hour on the hour for three years, except for the day his father-in-law died. He even used a program that posted tweets while he slept. Carlat began thinking and talking in 140-character bursts, and when his boss at Men's Health magazine discovered his endlessly updated and often graphic Twitter account, Carlat was told that he had to kill it or resign.

He chose the latter.

Carlat stopped getting any real satisfaction from his Tweets. And after his wife left him, he posted, "I would've taken a bullet for my wife, but now I'd rather be the one pulling the trigger," deeply disturbing his son. Carlat committed "Twittercide" soon after.

While the Internet is probably dotted with Carlats, much of the noise about social media addiction leans to the hyperbolic. As Dr. Pamela Rutledge points in Psychology Today, the media loves to toss around the word "addiction," even though many of the studies on the subject don't prove addiction at all. News sites recently declared that 1 million British children were addicted to Facebook; the survey actually found that 970,000 kids aged 7 to 12 logged into Facebook at least once a day.

Doing something once a day isn't usually a qualification for a disorder. Regular use of Facebook and Twitter is in fact becoming a qualification for many fields of employment.

Branding oneself through social media has become almost a requirement in the fields of PR, politics, entertainment, fashion, and journalism. Small businesses too are increasingly using social media to market themselves, advertise products and deals, and lure customer loyalty with a speedily-typed exchange.

76 percent of small businesses use Twitter and 86 percent use Facebook, according to a report by Constant Contact, a social media marketing firm. A survey of 304 businesses' social media use by insurance provider Hiscox came up with the slightly more modest number of 53 percent.

As more workplaces take advantage of these tools, more employees are required to use them. Those 7 to 12 year olds who logged into Facebook everyday could be seen as addicts, or as honing a key marketable skill.

As social media experience becomes increasingly valuable in the workplace, labeling its frequent use as a sickness isn't particularly helpful. Social media instead shares a camp with all those other regular activities we must learn to limit, like caffeine, alcohol, eating, watching TV or staring at ourselves in the mirror.

As media psychologist Stuart Fischoff recently said: "Everyone is a potential addict -- they're just waiting for their drug of choice to come along, whether heroin, running, junk food or social media. All those substances can be streetcars of desire...."



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