Is Facebook Today’s Heroin? Comic Book Art Explores Tech Addiction as Drugs

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Art is often a mirror, reflecting the social issues and problems of the day. With the rise of addictive technologies, it’s not hard to see how phones have permeated everyday life, and become an intrinsic part of how we engage with one another. Over the last decade, this relationship with technology once illustrated with hope has soured, and a flood of satirical art displaying our enslavement to technology replaced that positive sentiment.

Today, hundreds of articles drill into the technology companies’ broken promise to make our lives happier, instead highlighting their ability to hijack our attention and negatively affect our lives long term. As more executives from top tech companies exit their jobs and discuss their guilt for intentionally making addictive products, it has become clear things went too far, and that those leaders who ushered in this brave new world, didn’t or weren’t able to see what it would do to society.

While the scapegoat for tech addiction has been social media (and more specifically Facebook), every part of our lives is affected by this relatively recent ability to feed any craving at any moment. It’s given rise to an epidemic of behavioral addictions including gambling, shopping, pornography, gaming, the list goes on.

But before we start burning our phones, let’s come back to this notion of art as an arbiter for progress and moving an issue forward by forcing us to think about controversial problems. We (at Onward) are believers in the arts as a vehicle for change and work with talented illustrators from time to time to represent technology addiction in a new light.

Recently we commissioned Matthew Warlick to illustrate five images of behavioral addictions and what it would be like if they were substances in the real world. What he sent back blew us away, and we took a few liberties telling short stories that adjoin each of the images.

Doug started playing games when he was a little kid. It was a fun way to spend time and a nice break from homework. He got every new console that came out and picked up the latest releases. Then he got into massively multiplayer online role-playing games, World of Warcraft to be exact, and joined a guild. He started playing more and found himself grinding until dawn most days. It felt like someone had pressed fast forward on life and suddenly Doug was 28 years old. His responsibilities in-game started clashing with those outside of the game. Now he struggles to keep a job, but the lure of games is just too much…

The first time Michael saw porn was at a friend’s house when he was 11 years old. While it made an impression he continued growing up without visiting adult sites until he started 7th grade. Around the same time, Michael had a few short-lived relationships, and his last one ended in heartbreak. That was when he watching porn became more of a habit. After a few years, desensitized to it, Michael dove deeper into more intense and unrealistic videos. Eventually, he preferred spending weekends in front of the screen over meeting up with others or engaging in new relationships. More than ever he wants to feel connected to someone romantically, but the reality of it is farther away than ever before…

Angela liked shopping as much as anyone and would go to the mall once a week to her favorite stores. Usually, it resulted in a few bags of clothes. After all, retail therapy was her preferred sort of therapy. When she turned 18 she finally was able to get her own Amazon account and immediately splurged on Prime — it would save her money in the long run. But that wasn’t exactly true. She found herself buying something when she felt the slightest anxiety. Family crisis? Splurge. Bad day at work? Splurge. Bored watching TV? Splurge. Now she has more than she could ever want, but something is still missing…

Susan was a middle-class woman: a decent job, salary, and good benefits. She had presences on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. Everything seemed fine, but a new horrible boss at the office brought a renewed focus on things that made her feel good: her friends. It wasn’t as if she set out to be hopelessly addicted, but two years in she paid more attention to those likes, shares, and comments than pretty much anything else. Pretty soon the thing that was her ‘happiness delivery mechanism’ was anything but that. If only she could figure out how to put down the phone, but every time it buzzes is such a buzz…

 

Sam loved going to Vegas. Her first girl’s trip was exciting, and she came out having won over $800. Over the years Sam went back a few times, and even though it was fun, there was never enough time to satiate that craving. She tried playing lotto again in her home state of Iowa, but it didn’t really give her much of a rush. Eventually, Sam found a casino app that gave her that feeling all the time, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. She connected her credit card to the app, for awhile she was winning, but then she was losing. After maxing it out, she got another credit card. Sam was winning again, but there were just too many expenses, and gambling had become a full-time job. It’s not that fun for Sam anymore, but she’s in too deep to stop now…

 

Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza
Juan Carlos is Head of Product & Content at Onward. An acclaimed filmmaker, his two features are "Second Skin" a documentary on virtual worlds, and "Know How" a musical written and acted by youth in foster care.