If social media is the new smoking, should we get social media breaks?

I came across an interesting quote from American TV host Bill Maher today.
Berating the addictive power of social media, he called social media tycoons “tobacco farmers in T-shirts”.
“Let’s face it,” Maher says. “Checking your likes is the new smoking.”
He raises an interesting point.
It also reminds me of the difference between the older journalists and the newer hacks of my generation and those behind me.
Many old-style legends of journalism had little more tertiary education than the School of Hard Knocks (or a Doctorate at the College of Life, with a minor in Wisdom from the Bottom of a Bottle). Joseph Pulitzer didn’t speak Bahasa Indonesian or Cantonese, or know how to use Photoshop.
Yet during my generation, the days of the high school dropout working his or her way up from copy boy to editor were long gone. To be even considered for selection at top institutions you needed at least one “good” degree … preferably in Mass Communications and not something like 19th-century French poetry (Groundhog Day reference!).  Some candidates spoke second languages or had two or more degrees (Arts/Law was common). And at least one I knew of received a perfect score in the HSC.
(Part of the reason there were so many budding brainiacs in the intake pool were the unnecessarily high marks required to get into journalism degrees. It was supply and demand: so many people wanted to do the courses the entry scores required were on a par with law.)
Still, the essential qualities required of journalists haven’t changed too much since Pulitzer’s era. They include perseverance; learning how to keep a conversation flowing; knowing how to make contacts; developing news “instincts”; keeping deadlines; and knowing when to listen. Maybe even having the gift of the gab.
And the other differences between scribes old and new? The young ones dressed different: less suit and ties and more smart casual, mobile phones in their top pockets instead of pens. Hats had mercifully gone by the wayside – with or without the “press” tag stuffed jauntily in the brim.
But back to my central argument and the key point of difference between the old and new generations. It was indeed one of addiction.
Pulitzer might have been a smoker along with most men of his generation, toasting his T-zones with that sweet, sweet nicotine, but you didn’t catch many of the younger folk out of the front of the building with the rest of the gaspers.
No, their addictive form of time wasting was the internet.
If you see a young journo today out the front of their building – or, in fact, just about any Gen X-Y worker – odds are they don’t have a Winnie Blue or rolled-up Champion Ruby in their hand: they’ve got an iPhone.
You won’t see a Surgeon General’s warning on those iPhones. Yet in a more surreptitious way, social media has become just as addictive as smoking.
Pass a bus stop and you’ll probably see half the people on their iPhones. At lunchtime – and many times in between – people at their computers check Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, checking those “likes” Bill Maher warned about.
Depending on your perspective, social media is either a vital, pleasurable way of keeping in touch with friends and the world … or a time waster.
And if people are now filling their hands and their spare time with iPhones instead of cigarettes – and aren’t exactly sure why they’re so compelled to do so every half an hour so their brain gets that little dopamine hit – perhaps it’s time for us to be honest about it.
Maybe the veritable “smoko” should become a “social media smoko”.
Let staff take the time that used to be reserved for smoking to access their social media feeds.
Thus sated, they can go about their regular work.
Until it’s time to check for those “likes” again.

Hey, I’m just throwing it out there. But do you think it’s a good idea? Comment below!

My new thriller Game Of Killers: The Spartan is out now as an ebook and paperback.

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