Here's the whole prologue :) hope you like it!
Prologue to S.M.A.D and the Strange Case of Will Newman
Will Newman had lots of friends on Facebook, 679 of them to be more precise. Scrolling down his friends list on his laptop screen, the names resembled an endless array of strange looking thumbnail photos, all individually labelled with jumbled up symbols and characters. Who on earth were all these people, he wondered to himself,embarrassed there were so many he didn’t recognise. It was almost as if he hadspent the last year accumulating fake postage stamps for his precious stamp collection! But how the list had been collected wasn't important - what mattered most was that he was now in possession of a long list of “friends” tohold up high and wave about as if he were competing in a school popularity contest.
His thoughts were interrupted by a high pitched shrill coming from downstairs that caused him to panic. Before he had the chance to log out of Facebook, his mum had rushed up the stairs and entered his bedroom. She stood there, shaking her head pitifully as she began the monotonous delivery of her morning sermon on how he was wasting his life on stupid internet “stuff” like Facebook. Will sighed,suddenly depressed.
For Will, Facebook was justa hobby but for his mum, Facebook represented the devil himself. It didn’t seem to matter that all Will’s friends were on Facebook or that he was just a normal teenager with appearances to keep up. Only recently, she had dragged him alongto the nearest psychiatrist for a second opinion on his Facebook issues. Evenafter a long two hour session, the psychiatrist had been unwilling to give a diagnosis because his mum was constantly interrupting the proceedings and refused to allow Will to say a single word in his own defence. He could tell that the psychiatrist had a strong urge to strangle someone as he looked so angry! Anyway, based on the limited evidence available, it was the psychiatrist’s opinion that Will was a normal teenager who was experiencing typical teenager issues with his self-esteem. This opinion naturally disgusted Will’s Mum and so, in order to placate her and keep her well away from his medical practice, the psychiatrist had proffered a diagnosis of ‘Social Media Anxiety Disorder’, SMAD for short, despite the fact that it was still not officially recognised by the medical profession.
To be fair to the psychiatrist, even if he had locked Will’s mother in the surgery toilet and had a pleasant one to one chat with Will, he still would have been unable to spot the vital clues needed for a proper diagnosis because Will’s symptoms only manifested themselves in the privacy of his own bedroom, hidden away from the cruel realities of the outside world.
Living with a mum who worked long hours at the family run local restaurant a few miles away, he was often left alone and thus able to devote his life to the fickle world of Facebook notifications: brief messages informing the user of any activity they might be interested in such as replies, feedback to posts, photos, comments, chats,events and so on. Will seemed to be at his happiest when he was excessively checking and posting on his Facebook wall and hungrily examining other peoples’profiles and photos. He spent endless hours counting how many friends and followers he had for particular topics, bookmarking hundreds of links to articles, pictures and videos despite knowing he would never look at them again. Above all, his favourite Facebook pastime habits were ‘liking’ other peoples’ posts and writing infantile and trivial comments on them. Devoting his whole life to Facebook meant everything else in his life became secondary.Every possible spare waking moment of his day was devoted to ‘doing’ his Facebook.
The trouble with the diagnosis of “Social Media Anxiety Disorder” however, apart from being unofficial, was that the headline grabbing description was inappropriate and inaccurate because social media had nothing to do with Will’s illness. Will was simply a person with a serious addictive personality trait so his illness and symptoms weren’t caused by Facebook at all: Facebook was just a symptom, an innocent catalyst for his addictive behaviour. If Facebook and social media had never existed, Will would have instead become an alcoholic, an online gambler or a ‘WOW’ addict. Facebook’s only crime, if any, was to become popular worldwide at a time when Will reached the most vulnerable period in his life.Will latched on to the grip of Facebook and social media because it was trendy and everyone he knew was doing it.
The reality of the situation was that engaging himself on Facebook helped Will tackle his fragile self-esteem by fabricating everything he wrote into an extroverted version of his introverted self. The initial thrill and self-gratification he received from his activities were always quickly followed by a strong shot of pride and self-admiration. This feeling of euphoria never lasted very long because it always bounced back to him in the form of more events, actions and comments which he was then forced to digest, second guess, ascertain and evaluate. The result was that he became over anxious from all the constant worrying about what other people thought about him, trying to remind himself of his own value and worth, while also at the same, trying desperately to prove it.
Social networks’ seemingly never ending reward system meant he was unable to turn off the need to continue engaging himself because he was fighting an inner battle not with Facebook but with his neuropeptides, small endorphins that affected his brain when it came to pain, reward, learning and memory. Because they provided a vital link to his body’s feelings of excitement, fear and love, his body was overdosed on chemicals that made him feel euphoric and despondent at the same time. The more he relied on Facebook to feel normal, the more pronounced the withdrawal became when he was forced to manage without it, causing him anxiety, irritability,intense cravings, cold sweats and tremors. He simply could no longer function properly unless Facebook was constantly in his life.
In common with other people who suffered some form of addiction, Will refused to believe he had a problem and hence lived his life in a state of constant self-denial. As the long term effects of his addiction took hold of him in the guise of bad school performances, lack of sleep and exercise, it was only his close family and friends who noticed he was in trouble. But, because they didn’t have the means to properly diagnose his condition, they simply blamed all his problems on Facebook, the devil’s incarnate!
Copyright Roger Gerald Scott
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