Three Metaphors of Screen Addiction

Omar Sosa-Tzec
3 min readFeb 15, 2024
AI-prompted Image (Sosa-Tzec & Adobe Firefly, 2024)

Mariek Vandeen Abeele, Annabell Halfmann, and Edmund Lee have written a piece in Current Opinion in Psychology titled “Drug, demon, or donut? Theorizing the relationship between social media use, digital well-being, and digital disconnection.” As the title suggests, this paper discusses three metaphors for social media overuse and their meaning for those who want to disconnect to improve their well-being.

In short, social media overuse is like a drug, demon, or donut. Disconnection is one way to deal with it; hence, it is essential to know how to support disconnection. Vandeen Abele et al. remark,

“To uncover how, why, and when different social media disconnection interventions affect well-being, we need to identify the mechanisms on which they are based. A theoretically informed classification of disconnection practices and how they approach the problem of social media overuse may be of help.” (p.2)

The drug metaphor tells us that we are hooked on social media because of the pleasure it gives, emphasizing that we are subject to our neurobiology. To stop the addiction, we can try to detox digitally or try cognitive behavioral therapy, according to the authors (p. 2,3).

For some people, social media can be a demon or monster we need to tame or fight. Unlike the previous metaphor, the root of the problem is social media’s addictive design, which causes us to develop an impulse-response behavior. To fight this demon, we must take control and determine when and how to use social media (p. 3).

When I read “donut” in the title of this paper, I immediately thought of Home Simpson and his pink donut. It is amusing to note how a short word can communicate a broad situation: think about sugar addiction, carbs addiction, health issues, how we socially behave around sweet foods, and so forth. The donut metaphor posits social media use as something that can become a form of unhealthy consumption. It refers to an inadequate and disproportional digital diet. Becoming aware and making the right choices can help us find a balance concerning social media use, which we could metaphorically interpret as having a balanced digital diet (p. 4).

These three metaphors are powerful. Each provides a straightforward direction to conduct user research and inform design decisions. However, we must remember that screen addiction is a complex issue and that designing for digital well-being is a difficult task. Each person is immersed in an evolving ecosystem of people, beings, and things, where past, current, and potential experiences influence how to live the everyday life. I appreciate that Vanden Abeele et al. recognize this in the paper, stating that there is no “one-size-fits-all” recommendation for disconnection and that “person-specificity and situational influences must be assessed in a methodologically appropriate way.” (p. 5)

So, what is your metaphor of choice to describe your current relationship with social media, smartphones, and everyday technology? Are you aware of your addiction or a potential one? Are you fighting a demon or taming a monster? Or are you not having a healthy diet?

[Background sound: Homer Simpson saying “Mmmmm…. Donuts.”]



Omar Sosa-Tzec

Assistant Professor of Design Foundations at San Francisco State University