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American addictions: Screens and sugar

Netflix has that annoying feature where it will freeze whatever is playing to ask, “Are you still watching?” after auto-playing multiple episodes. My fellow Netflix addicts know how disruptive this is. 

Ten episodes into the final season of a show you started this morning after promising yourself you would only watch one—okay, two—episodes and then start your math homework, this is not helpful. 

What the f***, Netflix! Why would you remind me not only that I’m still watching, even after the all good characters got killed off, but prompt me to look up from my screen to see the mounds of laundry I haven’t done and textbooks I haven’t opened? Thankfully, this guilt can be solved with the click of a button. Screen unfrozen, our eyes can glue back to watching Meredith Grey slice open a body or Gene stuff his face while Louise plots to take over the world and Bob helplessly tries to control the chaos that is his family.

Netflix is but one of the plethora of temptations available to us now. Everywhere we turn, there is  something flashy or new or sugary to satisfy our need for instant gratification. One has only to walk for a minute across Duke’s campus to see a sea of students checking and rechecking their phones. One study shows that phones are destroying our attention spans, and based on the amount of times I checked my phone while writing this, I can believe it. These examples are just the beginning of what is becoming an “addictive society.” 

Marketing has taken on an almost evil nature in its current form. Open any website or app or any commercial building, and you will undoubtedly see bright, appealing ads distracting you from your work, begging you to buy or read or watch whatever is shown. Not only is marketing present everywhere, it is being designed to capture you on a different level. A new class of advertisers called neuromarketers use neuroscience to create ads that illicit emotional responses at familiarized products, similarl to an addiction.

However, marketing would not be effective in addicting a population if the actual products advertised were not themselves addictive. Luckily, businesses have carefully crafted their wares to leave us craving more and more after the first sip, bite, or scroll. Many people have heard that sugar is addictive, so it comes as no surprise that we desire sugar like nothing else. Most people are also aware that caffeine is addictive and run to get their morning latte anyway. But businesses like fast food companies scientifically analyze their meals to ensure they are addictive, taking advantage of biological preferences for sugar, fat, salt, and high calorie foods. Every aspect of a fast food experience is designed to get customers a fast, easy “high” that will be etched into their brain, so they want more of that particular food again. The obesity epidemic in America that is largely traced to fast food serves as evidence for the negative repercussions of addictive food.

Another surprising result of excessive marketing is a new eating disorder called orthorexia nervosa. To contrast the addictive nature of unhealthy eating, healthy foods and behaviors can also be addictive, as seen with orthorexia. The condition is characterized by a destructive obsession with fitness and “clean eating,” as popularized with health food stores and social media. As seen through othrorexia, It is not just through substances that our addictive society promotes dependency, but also through addictive behaviors. 

If you have witnessed a parent wrestle their phone from the grasp of a screaming toddler, you may think the kid just is being a brat. In defense of budding phone dependents, science shows that technology is made to be incredibly addictive. Companies like Facebook and Snapchat gain more worth the more time users spend on them, so they are designed with this motivation in mind. Positive feedback loops with social validation through likes, autoplay features, and long pages of scrolling content keep users interested in technology to the point where they use apps and visit websites dozens of times per day. Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is not included in the DSM-5 manual for psychological disorders, but the psychological community recognizes IAD to be a significant issue.

Sadly, the length of my column does not allow me to fully explore the extent of addictive substances and behaviors fostered by our modern society—internet porn addiction, shopping addictions, slot machine addicts…the list goes on. While drug or alcohol addiction is devastating and requires incredible strength to overcome, one advantage the heroin addict possesses over a sugar or phone addict—let’s be real, this is most of us—is that they do not walk into any random public place and see heroin the way we see candy, iPhones, and screens everywhere. Heroin and other illicit substances are objectively more harmful drugs, but the seemingly innocent lollipops and iPads we hand to our children or consume ourselves do seem to cause negative effects in our daily lives. Do these addictive things allow us to feel in control of our diets, limit our technology use, or be as productive as we desire?

We are Instagram cravers, slaves to Youtube autoplay, and sugar-frenzied Starbucks abusers. Enticing products and conducive environments form what is now an American society of addicts. So maybe consider whether your usage of acceptable, but addictive substances and behaviors is getting you where you want to be the next time you slurp down a soda during a “diet” or check your phone while “working.” Oh, wait! You just did. 

Camille Wilder is a Trinity first-year. Her column usually runs on alternate Thursdays.

Camille Wilder

Camille Wilder is a Trinity first-year. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.


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