“The people in Silicon Valley have plans that make you think that the whole place should probably be bombed just for the safety of the rest of us, because there’s tremendous danger in that rapid acceleration of machine intelligence, and we have absolutely no idea where that’s headed.” – Jordan Peterson
What if you woke up tomorrow and had all your social media accounts permanently deleted? Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter – all gone. All your followers – evaporated. Would you feel OK with your life?
I remember when the Facebook craze started around 2005. I was in the military, and it was fun. We’d post music videos on each other’s wall, upload photos to our group, it was this novel thing for everyone.
The idea was groundbreaking. It was, as the name suggests, a book of faces, an online catalog where you could find and keep in touch with people you lost contact with, like friends from old days.
Back then, there was no Like button. There were no ads. There wasn’t even a mobile app, because smartphones didn’t exist. People naturally spent less time on it, because you could only use it on a computer.
Fast forward to 2021.
The monster is unleashed. We now have computers inside our pockets. Everyone from Canada to Cambodia carries one, and within seconds can plug onto their social media app of choice. The moment you log in, you find yourself in a trance, scrolling an endless feed of opinions, selfies, ads, videos, news both fake and real, and some more opinions.
Interruptions are everywhere.
Talk to a friend for a couple of minutes, his phone suddenly buzzes with a notification. Boom. He’s gone. Before you know it, you lost his attention. Before he knows it, he’s cruising on a dopamine trip on his Insta-feed, his senses inundated with images from others’ lives. He’s a cocaine addict dropping a line. You see this pulling-out habit all the time.
The world has changed. Social media used to be an escape from real life. Now, real life feels like an escape from social media.
And we are all feeling it, all the time.
When Deloitte surveyed 4,150 British adults in 2017, most 16-24 year-olds reported using their smartphone too much. More than 50% said they check their phones within 15 minutes of waking up, and nearly 80% said they check their apps in the hour before they go to sleep.
Social media never takes a break. We never take a break. Distractions have always been there, but not all the time, not every morning.
I belong to an exquisite group. I’m of the last generation to have grown up in an offline world. The last generation to remember how “life used to be”, life where phones were simple wall-plugged devices through which you could call your aunt abroad to say happy birthday.
Therefore, I’d like to share what I’m sure many are feeling deep inside. After dedicating time and thought into it, I am now certain that most people would do themselves a big favor by minimizing social media use. After almost two decades of the whole world trying to be liked, it’s time to take a serious look and decide for yourself.
Social Media Disadvantages
“You are on platforms, run by multi-billion dollar companies with near-infinite resources in research and development, designed to make it as sticky as possible for your monkey brain to get lost in the noise and links and photographs on these various platforms. You are completely outgunned.” – Tim Ferriss
I’ll start with the most insidious social media harm. It is the mental abuse and manipulative tactics deployed to keep you hooked.
This demands the obvious question:
Is Social Media Addictive?
Yes. I’ll let AddictionCenter.com speak:
“Social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram produce the same neural circuitry caused by gambling and recreational drugs to keep consumers using their products as much as possible. Studies have shown that the constant stream of retweets, likes, and shares from these sites have affected the brain’s reward area to trigger the same kind of chemical reaction as other drugs, such as cocaine. In fact, neuroscientists have compared social media interaction to a syringe of dopamine being injected straight into the system.”
The brain area that social networks light up contains chemical pathways that affect decisions and sensations. When you get a like, comment, or notification, your brain sends dopamine down these pathways, giving you a small rush of euphoria. Unlike anything else in human history, the apps are giving us an endless supply of instant rewards for minimal effort.
This is how you get hooked.
The scary part, through daily experiments on both you and the underlying algorithm, social media companies constantly update their apps with more addictive versions. They incorporate gambling techniques into the code to create psychological cravings and dependencies.
In other words: it will keep getting worse.
Professor Daniel Kruger says, “there are whole departments trying to design their systems to be as addictive as possible. They want you to be permanently online and by bombarding you with messages and stimuli try to redirect your attention back to their app or web page.”
What if, just imagine, liquor companies were continuously manipulating the DNA of their grains to become more and more addictive when fermented into alcohol? And what if you discovered that they were also running covert experiments on every customer, so that they could promote to him or her the most addictive formula for them?
Of course, most people would never agree to subject themselves to that, unless of course, they didn’t know it was happening. That’s exactly what social media does behind the curtain.
The algorithm, the code behind the app, is constantly being improved and tested for the goal of getting people hooked to the apps for as long as possible, so that the value of ad space for advertisers increases.
Instagram and Facebook would like you to believe that they exist to help you express your individuality, share daily moments, interact with your friends, and find support and encouragement (those are the words they use). The truth is, they exist to sell as much of your time and attention as possible, to the highest paying advertiser.
Facebook is the business. Advertisers are the customers. Your attention is the product being offered. That’s a very unhealthy triangle.
For example, my own company sells injectable B12 to pernicious anemia patients. My revenue increases in proportion to the number of lives that I help (and very often save). Ethical businesses work that way. On social media, the product is alive. It is human beings’ attention spans. Your attention has become an extractable resource. You are being sold. Your attention is now similar to lumber, extracted for profits.
The business model is simple:
- Create addicts.
- Track each addict’s behavior and profile the data.
- Charge businesses to advertise, based on that data, in attempt to reach the maximum number of relevant addicts.
Please read that again.
The business model is to addict you, and then sell your data and attention span to third parties to take advantage of your addiction. And you don’t even realize it’s happening. Everything is subtle and algorithmic.
Ever had an itch to launch Instagram or Tiktok, and before you knew it, you had just spent 40 minutes of your life? It’s never an accident. The tech companies are employing behavioral experts for a reason. Behind the scenes, engineers are working full days fine-tuning the algorithm, to get you more and more hooked and turn you into a zombie on a screen. Disengage, and you get all those notifications to pull you back in.
You think people just have weak self-discipline?
Tristan Harris, a former designer at Google, blames the software. The attention economy, as he calls it, has kicked off a race to the bottom of the brain stem. He says “you could say that it’s my responsibility to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage, but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.”
Again, the root cause is the business model. The more time people spend on the apps, the more these tech companies can charge advertisers for displaying ads. Of course, you can express your individuality and interact with friends, but that’s not the main goal. The goal is to keep you glued, steal your attention from the competition, and sell it to advertisers.
How do the engineers make the underlying code so addictive?
Here are some examples.
As you’re using a social media app, its algorithm studies what you focus on, and generates a model for the type of content that captures your attention the most. It then uses that model to select what content to show you first when you login next time. This is how they grab you.
Of course, each person is different, so the algorithm will manifest itself differently for every user. Every phone will load different content. As an experiment, launch a social media app from someone else’s phone. You’ll find it much less appealing than what you’re used to.
Now here’s where it gets ugly.
To prevent you from exiting, the algorithm paces your favorite type of content at set intervals. Instead of flooding you with interesting stuff, they distribute the delivery of good content in-between a lot of junk. That way, you’re in a cycle of dissatisfaction, which will keep you scrolling, because maybe the next scroll will bring something you like.
Or maybe not.
Maybe it will a silly cat video. Or maybe an ad. It doesn’t matter. It’s that maybe that hooks us. Reminds you of anything?
Slot machines make more money in the US than baseball, movies and theme parks combined. More people are addicted to slots than any other form of gambling. Natasha Schüll, who has studied gambling addiction her whole career and wrote Addiction by Design, says people get hooked to slot machines 3-4 times faster than to other forms of gambling.
The secret is in what psychologists call variable rate schedules, schedules of reinforcement where a response is reinforced after an unpredictable number of responses. This creates a high, steady response rate, which both gambling and social media companies use to their advantage.
When people play the slot machine, they’re pulling a lever. This action might lead to a reward. The might is the key word. If it was 100%, it’d get boring. With variable rate schedules, people just can’t stop.
Your phone is a slot machine.
When you pull-to-refresh, you’re pulling a lever to check for updates. When you swipe on Tinder, you’re pulling a lever to see if the next girl is hot. When you scroll the feed, each scroll is a lever pulled to see good content. It is no accident when the app takes a few seconds to load. The expectation infuses the reward with addictiveness. The delay is artificial – the app isn’t loading anything except for your expectation.
You pull a lever, wait a few seconds, and get either an enticing reward – a Tinder match, a new comment on a photo, a Like, etc – or nothing.
The designer who created the pull-to-refresh mechanism (first used to update the Twitter feed) is Loren Brichter, admired in the tech world for his sleek designs. Brichter says the mechanism was never meant to be addictive, but he can see the comparison to a slot machine. He says:
“I have two kids now and I regret every minute that I’m not paying attention to them because my smartphone has sucked me in.”
Since then, his pull-to-refresh design has become a core feature in most apps. But Brichter is puzzled why this feature is still alive. Since we now have push notifications, there’s no need for the users to nudge their apps for updates. But, the tech companies discovered what you now know, and the feature serves a different, more psychological function today.
It’s a lever.
Brichter says, “I’ve spent many hours and weeks and months and years thinking about whether anything I’ve done has made a net positive impact on society or humanity at all. Smartphones are useful tools, but they’re addictive. Pull-to-refresh is addictive. Twitter is addictive. These are not good things. When I was working on them, it was not something I was mature enough to think about. I’m not saying I’m mature now, but I’m a little bit more mature, and I regret the downsides.”
Variable rate schedules are key to why social media users repeatedly check their screens for notifications, or why they spend so much time on the apps. They are drawn into repeated cycles of uncertainty, anticipation and feedback, and the rewards are just enough to keep them going. As Dr. Mark Griffiths, professor of behavioral addiction, says:
“Social media sites are chock-a-block with unpredictable rewards.”
Just like the pull-to-refresh, the Like button was also accidental. Justin Rosenstein, one of the button’s original creators at Facebook, says the idea was to “make positivity the path of least resistance.” The intention was good – nobody predicted it would lead to a whole system of hijacking the reward part of the social brain, the part the craves social validation.
Rosenstein, who left Facebook to create his own company, says “It is very common for humans to develop things with the best of intentions and for them to have unintended, negative consequences.”
What he hates most is the push notification. He says “the vast majority of push notifications are just distractions that pull us out of the moment. They get us hooked on pulling our phones out and getting lost in a quick hit of information that could wait for later, or doesn’t matter at all.”
Rosenstein, by the way, has set up self-imposed time limits on his Facebook use. Leah Pearlman, his colleague at the Like button team, has also left the company as she has grown unhappy with the addictive mechanisms. She still uses Facebook to promote her business, but has hired someone to manage her page. She protects herself from being sucked in, by using News Feed Eradicator, which hides the feed.
Of course, there are plenty of other addictions in the world. But social media is unique because of the endless loop of interaction between you and the algorithm. As you’re watching an app, the app is watching you, and keeps changing the output – to improve the probability that you’ll come back and use it for longer, programming you into an addict.
These manipulative designs must stop. Those addictive feedback loops of positive reinforcements followed by bouts of dissatisfaction are stealing away our time and create harmful dependencies on pieces of code.
The worst part?
We don’t even know what the long-term side effects are going to be. Social media is a completely uncontrolled experiment. As for the short term, I think we can all feel it. The addiction, the overwhelming stimuli, the emptiness and regret at the end of another mindless feed scrolling.
Want an example for a better, more ethical software design?
Take a service like Couchsurfing. Their mission is to create as many long-lasting relationships between strangers. How do they gauge success? Partly, by the amount of time a guest was using their app while they were being hosted by someone. In their algorithm, less time is the desired result, since it indicates the guest had a better experience.
This is the complete opposite of what Facebook does.
If Instagram or TikTok gave you the option to pay $5 a month to use their platform free of addictive algorithms or ads, would you pay?
Right now, you’re paying a lot more. You’re paying with your sanity.
Unfortunately, nothing will change without first changing the business model. All of the platforms are currently built around the needs of advertising agencies, not human lives. As long as social media networks have an incentive to make their platforms as engaging as possible, the arms race forcing them to addict users will continue.
That arms race is real, and it’s not just Facebook and TikTok optimizing their content delivery algorithms. Netflix auto-plays videos, depriving you of a choice for a reason. Snapchat encourages constant communication (and drives teenagers nuts) through their Snapstreaks feature, which displays how many days in a row two friends have snapped each other. Everyone’s fighting to steal your attention.
Here’s a good watch to share with others:
To sum up, tech companies engineer their platforms to be addictive and dependence forming. They track your behavior and build models based on it, to predict your actions, and orient it in the direction necessary to increase engagement, and ultimately global growth and revenue. They use behavioral science to tap into your neural system and prey on your evolutionary adaptations. If you let it, it’ll govern your time like a tyrant, turning you into a self-obsessed zombie. Read ex-Facebook executive Tim Kendall’s testimony to House Committee:
“My path in technology started at Facebook where I was the first Director of Monetization. I thought my job was to figure out the business model for the company, and presumably one that sought to balance the needs of its stakeholders, its users, its advertisers, and its employees. Instead, we sought to mine as much human attention as possible and turn into historically unprecedented profits. To do this, we didn’t simply create something useful and fun. We took a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook, working to make our offering addictive at the outset. Tobacco companies initially just sought to make nicotine more potent. But eventually that wasn’t enough to grow the business as fast as they hoped. And so they added sugar and menthol to cigarettes so you could hold the smoke in your lungs for longer periods. At Facebook, a simple directory was engaging and kept people returning to the service. But business realities necessitated that we make the service even more engaging. To that end, we added status updates, photo tagging, and likes, which made status and reputation primary and laid the groundwork for a teenage mental health crisis. Allowing for misinformation, conspiracy theories, and fake news to flourish were like Big Tobacco’s bronchodilators, which allowed the cigarette smoke to cover more surface area of the lungs. But that incendiary content alone wasn’t enough. To continue to grow the user base and in particular, the amount of time and attention users would surrender to Facebook, they needed more. Tobacco companies added ammonia to cigarettes to increase the speed with which nicotine traveled to the brain. Extreme, incendiary content — think shocking images, graphic videos, and headlines that incite outrage — sowed tribalism and division. And the result has been unprecedented engagement and profits. Facebook’s ability to deliver this incendiary content to the right person, at the right time, in the exact right way; that is their ammonia. Social media preys on the most primal parts of your brain. The algorithm maximizes your attention by hitting you repeatedly with content that triggers your strongest emotions, it aims to provoke, shock, and enrage.”
The Toxic Negativity
“I stopped using Twitter because it’s like a bunch of mental patients throwing shit at each other.” – Joe Rogan
Social media is a hate machine, where negative content goes viral a lot quicker and more reliably than positive stuff. This is no accident.
The algorithm is looking for your reactions. It is normal human behavior to react more quickly and sharply to negative emotions like fear, anger, or envy, than it is to positive emotions. Where humans evolved for 99.9999% of their history, positive things could make us smile. Negative things could kill us. You’re especially wired to react to negative social approval, because to your brain, your reputation depends on it.
By exploiting and amplifying negative content, social media introduces unnecessary stress into your life. As a result, you get this perception that the world is as stressful as what the algorithm shows you.
That is in direct contrast to what you’d see if you put the phone down and walked outside. The streets are alive with smiles and movement. People are helpful, friendly and peaceful. Things seem to be OK.
There are other reasons to the hate and negativity you’ll find on social media, beyond the algorithmic preference of negative content.
First, the removed nature of social media itself is a problem. In real life, you’re civil, you learn not to hurt others. You treat others with courtesy and respect. You’re polite and behave cordially. If you happen to say something bad, you feel guilt when you see their facial expression.
In social media, there’s none of that, and behaviors significantly diverge from those you’ll find face to face. The distance releases users from the environmental constraints that usually shape their behavior, and allows them to be as obnoxious and nasty as a human being can be. There are some mean people out there who would say things they would never dare say in real life.
As an example, when we talk to someone in real life, we spend about 30% of the conversation sharing about ourselves. Online, our narcissistic tendencies are on steroids, and that number skyrockets to 80%.
Second, it is well-established now that the more time people spend on social media, the more depressed they are. But, how do we know if it’s social media that causes depression, and not the other way around – that pre-existing depression leads to social media use?
Well, how could someone not become depressed when the moment they log in – usually when they have nothing better to do – they’re bombarded with photos of gorgeous couples kissing in the Maldives?
And let’s assume it was the other way around, that people do tend to use social media when they’re feeling low. My question:
Does it matter?
Either way, that means what you’re seeing and reading on social media come from people who aren’t at their boost mood. Either the app drops their mood, or they go on the app to escape bad mood and stress. For you, the end result is similar – a depressing, unpleasant experience.
Rather spend your time elsewhere.
Nothing like Kevin Hart to illustrate a point:
Jennifer Aniston recalls feeling extremely stressed after temporarily running an Instagram account for her makeup company Living Proof, and finding it a less-than-enjoyable experience. But, how can social media be so addicting if it’s so bad, negative, and stressful?
Addicts don’t get addicted to the reward. They get addicted to the process. For example, a gambler isn’t just addicted to winning. He’s addicted to the whole cycle of gambling, where he mostly loses, but it’s those intermittent winning streaks that keep him coming back.
Social media elicits unpleasant feelings and contains a lot of abusive textual exchanges and negative crap, but it’s the intermittent rewards (likes, good comments, fun content) that keeps you addicted.
And it’s extremely stressful. Notice what happens:
You get a new friend request. You login to see who it is, thinking it’s gonna take a minute. People are very bad at forecasting the future, and half an hour later, you’re still scrolling the feed. And it all started with a friend request! The news feed is the first thing you see on any app, because it’s what is best at captivating us, and it’s also where most ads are. It also consists of your friends’ every activity and photo, making sure you know exactly how much fun everybody else is having.
You scroll and scroll and scroll. It’s an endless stream of stimuli, a river of dopamine, an overload of stressful demands. Wish me a happy birthday! Like my photo! Fund my Kickstarter campaign! Like my post venting out to the world how it’s not OK to be abusive! Not only have you wasted 45 minutes of your life, you’ve also welcomed a lot of stress into it.
And when it’s your turn to vent out, you get your likes and feel relieved, but now you transplant your stress onto others. It’s a nasty cycle.
Sociologist Keith Hampton says that women, the more caring gender, tend to pay the price of this stress even more so than men. “When you’re aware of bad things happening to people you know, not only does it bring stress to your life, but it also allows you to provide them with social support and empathy,” he says. But on social media, there are hundreds of contacts we rarely ever see in real life. “For the first time in modern history, ties are persistent in a way they haven’t been before.” Now you need to comfort hundreds of people simultaneously, not just one or two.
To sum things up:
If you want your daily dose of stress or toxic, intolerant and anti-social spite, nowhere is better than social media. Or, as Mila Kunis said, “It took an ugly turn and became all about who can be the loudest, who can be the angriest and the most negative. Then it’s just not a fun game to play.”
Social Media and Mental Health
“Social media is kind of like cotton candy… it looks so appealing and you just can’t resist getting in there, and then you just end up with sticky fingers and it lasted an instant.” – Julia Roberts
Let’s talk about the relationship between social media (and especially those platforms that serve as an ad for how great your life is) and mental health. As for what we talked about on the last section, the relationship does seem to be causal rather than correlational.
A major study from Korea found online social networking to be associated with negative psychological well-being of students, measured in terms of self-reported mental problems and suicidal thoughts. To find out whether it was simply that unhealthier students were more likely to go on social media in first place, mental measures from previous year were added.
Even after controlling for this measure (and many other measures), the association between social media activities and mental health remains robust. Executive summary: for every one unit increase in online social networking, the odds of suicidality rise by more than a third.
Using longitudinal data, the research offers more conclusive evidence on the direction of causation, rather than just correlation. Meaning, social media directly causes negative mental well-being.
Here are other things we know:
In to a study from 2014 (I lost the link), participants were split into two groups. One group was given a task to surf the internet, the other to scroll Facebook. The results: the participant group who scrolled Facebook, but not the other group, experienced a sharp decline in mood.
Similarly, a study from the Florida State University randomly assigned regular Facebook female users to either use Facebook for 20 minutes, or use the internet to research the ocelot cat. The women who researched ocelots were likely to report a decline in anxiety and the preoccupation with weight, while the Facebook group did not. The authors said:
“That these effects could be discerned after only 20 minutes of typical Facebook use in a laboratory setting raises concerns about how the use of the site throughout the day may impact eating disorder risk.”
Another paper concluded that people feel depressed after spending a lot of time on Facebook because they compare themselves to others. This is reinforced by Kross and Verduyn’s study, where within hours, passive Facebook users (who only consumed the content of others, without posting any of themselves) reported a drop in mood due to increased envy. Another study found Facebook erode self-esteem due to unfavorable comparisons. Those photos you put up of your perfect life are promoting a whirlpool of envy and distress, making your friends feel like losers.
The reactions you get may be more universal than you realize. When you scroll through post after post describing how amazing someone’s spouse or kids are, or how they’re all about to make a home-cooked pesto from the basil that they grow, right before they hop on a week-long vacation to Seychelles, it’s no accident that you feel miserable.
If people tend to use social media when they’re not at their best, it makes sense that looking at beautiful photos would only make them sadder. Take a look at this study from Utah, with its self-explanatory title: “They Are Happier and Having Better Lives than I Am”: The Impact of Using Facebook on Perceptions of Others’ Lives:
“The multivariate analysis indicated that those who have used Facebook longer agreed more that others were happier, and agreed less that life is fair, and those spending more time on Facebook each week agreed more that others were happier and had better lives. Furthermore, those that included more people whom they did not personally know as their Facebook “friends” agreed more that others had better lives.”
Studies from Germany showed that 1 in 3 participants felt dissatisfied with their lives after spending time on Facebook. What triggered the most emotional pain and resentment were viewing the number of birthday greetings, like counts, and especially other people’s photos.“This is something that keeps showing up in the research,” psychologist Craig Malkin says. “Some people out there wind up negatively comparing themselves to what’s portrayed on Facebook by their friends.”
And if Facebook makes people envious, then imagine what Instagram or TikTok do. Few studies exist, but it’s tempting to extrapolate the effects from the Facebook studies. Of the many activities that Facebook offers, Instagram and TikTok purify the most dangerous “compare and despair” element: the curated, well-edited moments of one’s life shared through visual means, such as photos, videos and stories.
“You get more explicit and implicit cues of people being happy, rich, and successful from a photo than from a status update,” says Dr. Hannah Krasnova, co-author of a study on Facebook and envy. “A photo can very powerfully provoke immediate social comparison, and that can trigger feelings of inferiority. You don’t envy a news story.”
A study from Denmark suggests that leaving Facebook for a week can boost emotional well-being and life satisfaction, especially for heavy users, passive users, or those who envy their Facebook friends. The study involved 1,095 people – 86% of them women. They were 34 on average and spent just over an hour a day on the social network. Just imagine the effects on young kids who spend triple that time on social media.
Another study, this time from NYU, finds similar results and suggests that deactivating Facebook for a month may lead to small but significant improvements in well-being, happiness and life satisfaction, decreased depression and anxiety, less political drama and attention span agitation, and increased time spent with friends and family. The only “drawback” is decreased awareness of the news. The authors conclude:
“We find that four weeks without Facebook improves subjective wellbeing and substantially reduces post-experiment demand, suggesting that forces such as addiction and projection bias may cause people to use Facebook more than they otherwise would.”
Perhaps most interesting is the longitudinal study by Holly B. Shakya and Nicholas A. Christakis. This study had three strengths over previous studies associating social media use with compromised well-being:
First, the researchers used three waves of data over a period of two years. That allowed to track how changes in social media use were associated with changes in well-being. Most studies use a single period of data.
Second, the authors used objective measures of Facebook use, pulled directly from the subjects’ accounts, rather than self-reported data.
Third, the authors also had information regarding the participants’ real-world social networks, which allowed them to directly compare the two influences – face to face versus digital communication.
Real-world social interactions were positively associated with overall physical and mental well-being. Facebook use was negatively associated with it. Results were particularly strong for mental health. Here’s where it points at causality: higher Facebook use predicted a decrease in mental health in the following year. Consistently, using Facebook significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported well-being.
The results remained intact when accounting for a person’s initial levels of well-being, real-world networks, and Facebook use. Again and again, increased use of Facebook predicted diminished future well-being. In short, social media interactions are no-substitute for the rich real-life interactions that humans deeply crave. To quote the authors:
“There has been a lack of consensus on the impact of online social network use and well-being, no doubt because of the complexity of these associations but also because of the difficulties inherent in measuring social media use and assessing impact using observational studies such as ours. We overcame some of the weaknesses of prior research by using objective measures of Facebook use and 3 waves of data. Our results are consistent across 3 distinct outcomes, which suggests that overall, Facebook use does not promote well-being and that individual social media users might do well to curtail their use of social media and focus instead on real-world relationships.”
And it’s not just depression. How about your ability to focus?
One study shows that the mere presence of your smartphone may reduce your available cognitive capacity:
“In this research, we test the “brain drain” hypothesis that the mere presence of one’s own smartphone may occupy limited-capacity cognitive resources, thereby leaving fewer resources available for other tasks and undercutting cognitive performance. Results from two experiments indicate that even when people are successful at maintaining sustained attention—as when avoiding the temptation to check their phones—the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity.”
It’s as if, deep inside, you’re always prepared to be interrupted with distractions and notifications when you’re next to a phone.
Is Social Media Bad For Kids?
“I think social media is a crazy-ass experiment on society. The way people use it to get validation from a bunch of strangers is dangerous. What’s the point?” – Cameron Diaz
This past March, Mark Zuckerberg stood in congress to answer questions about the effects of social media on kids. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers asked if Facebook has conducted any internal research as to the effect of Facebook’s products on the mental health of our children, but Zuck tried to dodge the question. After pressuring him, he relented and said yes. McMorris Rodgers and three other lawmakers requested the research, but Facebook declined to share it.
We now know why. One internal Facebook file revealed that among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British and 6% of American users traced the issue to Instagram. 32% of teen girls said that Instagram made them feel worse when they already felt bad about their bodies, and 14% of boys in the U.S. said Instagram made them feel worse about themselves.
Rohit Chopra said, “Facebook apparently knew for years that Instagram is causing serious harm to teens around the world. Given the financial incentives embedded in its surveillance-based business model, it is yet another sign that the company cannot be trusted with our data.” To quote congresswoman McMorris Rodgers, “This also leaves us wondering what else they are hiding.”
In The Social Dilemma, it was reported that the number of teenage girls admitted to hospital for self-harm, which was stable for many years, rose up 62% for 15-19 year olds, and 189% for 10-14 year olds. It was after social media became available on mobile, and after the Facebook like button was added. Suicide also rose, by 70% and 151% respectively.
Is the association causal? Consider this:
Scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health say the human brain continues to mature until age 25. Our kids’ brains are still developing, and are constantly assaulted by back-lit screens and nefarious code.
If you grew up before social media existed, consider yourself lucky. It was a time where kids were playing outside with other kids around the clock. Those real interactions build confidence, personality, and social skills. In contrast, kids today have their time and attention robbed by corporations through addictive algorithms, barely able to make eye contact.
Think about it. Is it not telling that many of the techies who helped design the systems are condemning their own creations, sending their kids to elite Silicon Valley schools where digital devices are banned?
Let that sink in. Your kid is worth more to Facebook as an addict glued to a screen, than as a thriving child playing under the sunshine. Social media companies don’t want your kids socializing with real friends, falling in love, or enjoying the beauty of nature, unless they’re doing it while posting stories and selfies. Life itself is anathema to social media, because it competes with it for attention. The more time your kid enjoys an actual life, the less time they swipe down that feed.
Does Instagram enrich your kid’s life, or does it leach it away?
It is your responsibility as a parent to intervene.
Overuse of social media is dangerous to kids or teenagers, because in this critical stage of life, their brains are still developing. Research shows that adolescents who use social media from a young age have severely stunted social skills, with higher rates of depression, negative body image, social anxiety in groups, and lower levels of empathy and compassion.
In a recent study, researchers at the UCLA brain mapping center used an fMRI scanner to image the brains of 32 teenagers as they used an app similar to Instagram. They saw certain brain regions became activated by “likes“, with the reward center becoming especially active.
When teens learn that their photos have supposedly received a lot of likes, they show significantly higher activation in parts of the brain’s reward circuitry (for example the nucleus accumbens), which could lead them to use social media more and more.
As Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, said:
“It’s a social validation feedback loop… exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
We have reasons to fear such neural interference at such a tender age, where, again, the brain is still developing. Large structural differences in the brains of adolescent internet addicts were found, including impairments in white matter fibers involved in emotional generation and processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control.
Of course, there are many other forms of technology that kids are drawn to. TV and gaming consoles are two examples. The difference is, the phone goes with them wherever they go, always ready to buzz.
In Korea, where 12% of teenagers are addicted to the internet, excessive internet use among the youth is a serious public health problem. It’s a major concern, due to its close association with psychiatric symptoms like depression and suicidal ideation, plus interpersonal and behavioral problems. This led Korea to sponsor programs like the Jump Up Internet Rescue School or the Youth Internet Addiction Prevention Program.
The internet poses a mental health risk of special concern to youth because of their limited capacity for self-regulation and susceptibility to peer pressure. Those picture-perfect images are difficult for kids to grapple with, because they’re very conscious of measuring up.
The dramatic rise in the spread of communication technology has created a new psychological disorder among the youth. Internet addiction disorder is globally recognized today. It is a real thing.
Research suggests that lonely kids communicate online significantly more frequently, to compensate for their weaker social skills. But, isn’t that just a plaster? Wouldn’t it be better to design their lives to be more interactive, to beat away their loneliness and anxiety with psychosocial development instead of treating the symptoms with dopamine hits from an app?
Kate Winslet says “I am worrying more and more about the potentially negative impact that social media is having on the growing self-esteem of young people today. Everything they see these days is either something to be envious of, or an image of an experience that another person is having that is unattainable and exists in someone else’s so-called ‘perfect’ or more exciting life. It is becoming harder and harder for young girls and boys to believe in their own selves and to enjoy life, without needing to social ‘share’ and subsequently have something that may have had meaning to the individual be ‘liked’ or ‘disliked.’ It’s terrible. There is no space for freedom or personal growth through spontaneous life experience, and healthy discussion and real-life sharing amongst friends and family is being affected as a result. What happened to privacy? What happened to friendships that are based on real conversations and shared experiences, OFF line and IN the real world? It makes me really sad.”
Luckily, as a parent you have the power to do something.
To quote Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive,“I can control my decision, which is that I don’t use that shit. I can control my kids’ decisions, which is that they’re not allowed to use that shit. Your behaviors, you don’t realize it, but you are being programmed. It was unintentional, but now you gotta decide how much you’re going to give up, how much of your intellectual independence.”
People say, everything in moderation, but social media is designed from the first line of its code to hijack your child’s brain and make moderation extremely difficult. Just remember, their brains are far from developed.
They need you to protect them.
Social Media Wastes Your Time
“I think very highly of people who don’t use social media. There are an infinite number of things people can choose to do with their precious time. But there seems to be an expectation that people will choose to use social media now, as if there were no doubt of its inherent value. To me, there is every doubt that it has any value.” – Greg Maland, Quora.
How and when exactly did social media become such a voracious consumer of our free-time? Not even just our free time! How many trillions of work hours are wasted by staff, creative individuals, or students, watching stories instead of being productive? What a colossal waste of energy. Social media really is a time vampire.
Just look at the most recent statistics:
The average person spends 145 minutes a day on social media. 16-24 year-olds spend even more – 3 hours a day. The average user touches his or her phone an average of 2,617 times a day (!!!), about half of that being spent on messaging and social media. We’re plugged to an alternative reality.
The Matrix is here.
The engineers are clearly doing their jobs, because that number has gone up by almost a full hour since 2012. The average millennial now checks their phone 157 times a day, trying to feel connected and liked.
Again, the platforms are addictive by design because of their business model, selling eyeballs to advertisers. The tech companies are locking horns in an arms race to seize your attention. Each of them is conducting daily experiments to become more addictive and maximize the amount of time you waste. So, expect the numbers above to only climb higher.
For the sake of ease, let’s assume it remains 145 minutes a day.
That’s 15% of the time you’re awake. If you live up to be 80 years old, that means about 7 to 8 collective years spent scrolling feeds.
WHAT THE FUCK ARE WE DOING?
The phones are penetrating every moment of our lives. In the U.K, over half of adults and a two thirds of teens regularly use their phones while socializing with others in person. About a quarter of adults and a third of teens report using their phones during dinner.
We have to remember: our daily reserves of attentiveness are finite. We invest them, first, on the essentials, such as food and sleep. We spend the rest on family and friends, on our work, on building ourselves, on hobbies, and on entertainment and playful activities.
But, does social media enrich our lives? The moments of happiness (the dopamine hits we get from the validation) are short and fleeting, followed by much longer bouts of emptiness, envy and self-doubt.
Think about what you could make of yourself if you dedicated 145 minutes a day to something. What kind of business could you build? What kind of skills? How better could your relationships be?
Stephen Wonderboy Thompson said it takes about 5 years of training to go from white belt to 1st degree black belt in karate. In those 5 years, you’d train maybe 145 minutes every week, certainly not every day.
Just imagine – if you spent those 7 to 8 collective years (spanning across 80 years, remind you) practicing different styles of fighting, how many martial arts could you master and get your black belt in?
Would it be a better use of your time than social media? Would that make you a better, more disciplined and confident person than you would be if you spent the time scrolling feeds and uploading stories?
Forget martial arts. It could be any skill set – biking, photography, graphic design, skydiving, cross-fit, tango, writing, whatever. Wasting all those collective years on social media suddenly feels like poison.
Unless you use social media to promote your business (and hopefully can demonstrate positive returns), the time you spend there is time where you’re doing nothing productive with yourself. Time spent on Instagram is valuable time you could spend bettering your life.
Those collective years you spend glued to a screen mean you miss out on meaningful interpersonal interactions, great books, quality sleep, a good hike up the mountain, a beautiful sunset on the beach, or those guitar lessons you’ve always dreamed of taking but never really got to it.
Your time on Earth is limited. Those hours of scrolling feeds will never come back. Are you spending that time on developing something, a character perhaps, that makes all fortunate outcomes more likely and all unfortunate outcomes less likely? Or are you consuming mindless crap? This section, the time wasting aspect of social media, is really a natural byproduct of the first topic we discussed: the addictive design. For example, ever wondered why your Instagram feed is infinite?
It’s because they don’t want you to leave the app.
The tactic of infinite feeds and auto-playing videos is a method tech firms use to lead users into consuming more content. Professor Brian Wansink demonstrated this showing you can trick people into eating 73% more soup by giving them a bowl that automatically refills as they eat. Tech companies do the same thing, with infinite feeds and auto-plays.
BJ Fogg is a behavioral psychologist revered in tech circles for mastering persuasion in tech designs. His student, Tristan Harris, says, “All of us are jacked into this system. All of our minds can be hijacked. Our choices are not as free as we think they are.” As his phone’s wallpaper, he keeps an image of the words FACE DOWN, a reminder of its optimal position.
Of course, you may argue that time spent on social media doesn’t displace real social interactions, but other forms of media – newspaper, books, video games, TV, browsing the web, etc. My response to that:
Who said that 3 hours a day of mindless TV is time well spent?
Plus, I do believe that as opposed to ten years ago (the time-frame of the study linked above), these days social media does come at a cost of actual real-life human interactions. Such as what this paper finds:
“This suggests the possibility that Facebook could reduce subjective
well-being by reducing in-person interactions.”
Among the youth, online communication has become primary, a priority over real world communication. You see it all the time when two people are sitting next to each other, one or two of them browsing the phone.
My second objection would be, is spending time on social media really a rational choice at all, or rather a choice born out of addictive algorithm trickery? Recall the NYU study from the previous section:
“We find that four weeks without Facebook improves subjective wellbeing and substantially reduces post-experiment demand, suggesting that forces such as addiction and projection bias may cause people to use Facebook more than they otherwise would.”
In short, it would be a better use of your time to actively do things, instead of watch others’ self-indulgent crap. As evidence of how poorly spent time on social media actually is, consider this thought exercise:
When are you NOT on social media?
When you do interesting things.
This suggests that social media by itself isn’t a fulfilling activity. It’s a platform built to prey on your most vulnerable, empty moments of need for attention, validation, and social belonging. Not just one platform, but a bunch of them, all focused on building the most addictive design possible, to sell your attention and time for profit.
To sum up, I will quote Justin Rosenstein: “These are our lives. Our precious, finite, mortal lives. And if we’re not vigilant, computers and mobile devices will guide our attention poorly.”
Let’s break the text with two nice YouTube videos:
Actress Kristen Stewart sums it up nicely: “Much cooler, productive rad things could be happening, I know I sound ridiculous and really obvious; everyone says this, and I sound like an older person, but we could be doing way cooler shit. It’s so time-consuming.“
Social Media Kills Your Creativity
“The technologies we use have turned into compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions. It’s the impulse to check a message notification. It’s the pull to visit YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter for just a few minutes, only to find yourself still tapping and scrolling an hour later.” – Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
I find it admirable when someone isn’t glued to their smartphone. Imagination is a rare ingredient these days – people seem to resort to their devices the moment any hint of boredom kicks in.
While walking the dog, or in public transport, or when sitting on the toilet, even while watching TV, social media is always there, haunting us, providing us with tons of useless information and fake communication. We won’t let ourselves be alone with our thoughts for even a moment.
We are so attached to our devices that we can’t even imagine living without its constant influx of stimuli. Have you ever seen a person who can’t find his or her phone? Looks like a heroin junkie to me.
There used to be a time where you went to the toilet and were done in five minutes. Today, social media will suck you until your legs develop paralysis. This just shows you how insidious the theft of our small daily moments really is, when you actually forget you’re sitting on the pooper.
Smartphones in general, and social media in particular, have created such impatience and short attention spans that we can’t stand a minute without looking at our phones. Our minds have been hijacked to consume social media rather than tolerate even a moment with our thoughts.
That’s not good.
You need to spend some time with yourself, quietly day-dreaming and visualizing alone in your head. How else would you come up with new ideas, thoughts and innovations, with solutions to problems?
The time and opportunity loss really are tragic.
I have traveled around seventy countries in the past decade. Every time I am on a plane or train ride, I make sure to have either a pen and a paper, or the phone (always on Airplane Mode, by the way) next to me so that I can use the Notepad. The reason, there’s this phenomenon that occurs frequently when I gaze out of the window as the vehicle moves. I get into this trance, ideas just blossom.
I make sure to write everything down.
I’m telling you, having nothing to do but think can lead to some great and imaginative things. I never allow myself to have constant internet access when I travel. If I was on my Instagram feed drooling over big butts, I’d lose a lot of that creative daydreaming. Gazing out of a window thinking was how I first conceptualized the idea for my book.
There’s another creativity killer:
Push notifications have invited hundreds of interruptions into our daily lives, accelerating the arms race for your attention. Each interruption comes with a dear cost: it takes 23 minutes on average to re-focus on what you were working on. How much time and creative energy have we all collectively lost due to these distracting notifications?
Billions of people, all around the world, running around like chickens, texting, liking, commenting, and interrupting each other’s thoughts in an endless loop. So much time, attention and creative energy are lost.
And it’s self-conditioning. The apps are interrupting us with notifications, but we end up training ourselves. We become conditioned to check our phones and self-interrupt even when there’s nothing to check.
James Williams, a former Google strategist, recalls the time when he looked at a dashboard in Google’s offices. It was showing how much of people’s attention the company had seized for advertisers. “I realized: this is literally a million people that we’ve sort of nudged or persuaded to do this thing that they weren’t going to otherwise do,” he says.
Comes to mind now that Brain Drain study we discussed, where just the presence of a smartphone was shown to reduce cognitive abilities:
“Results from two experiments indicate that even when people are successful at maintaining sustained attention—as when avoiding the temptation to check their phones—the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity. Moreover, these cognitive costs are highest for those highest in smartphone dependence.”
Another way social media kills creativity and robs society of great things, is by giving mixed signals to girls. If you’re a woman and you post about your idea for energy efficient lightbulbs, you get 5 likes. Post a photo of your butt, and you get a million likes. How could a girl, even a smart girl, resist such inherent forces, and keep her fire and drive to do what’s important rather than the quick, validating and vacuous?
And then there’s the typical herd mentality of social media.
Benjamin Franklin said that “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.” You see this mentality manifesting daily on social media platforms like Instagram. Everyone’s stroking each other’s egos, or doing the same selfie crap. What the fuck has happened to the person’s mind that they decide to post 500 images of themselves in the same pose?
There’s so much sameness. Ever noticed how eerily similar girls look on social media? Same lips. Same ass. Same outfit. Same poses. Same everything. It’s as if they’re digital composites of each other.
What bothers me most, is how social media affects travel. You see tourism driven by social media everywhere, degrading the travel experience in otherwise beautiful, exotic locations. Everywhere you go, people just stand in line, waiting to take the same selfies, in the same spots.
On social media, people orient their day to day around trying to impress others with selfies and stories, preferably from vacation spots. It’s as if it’s fundamentally a popularity contest where everyone is trying to have more likes, more followers, nicer ass, bigger boobs. Have the courage to free yourself out of this prison and think independently and critically.
In the past, every now and then you’d bump into a person who said they didn’t own a TV. These people would quickly be lost in office chit chat about the latest shows, but in general they seemed brighter and more educated than people who spent a lot of time on TV. I get the same feeling from people who aren’t on social media. They are their own people.
And so, do yourself a favor and free yourself of this noise. Do you really give a toss about how a bunch of strangers perceive you?
Don’t fall to the trap of getting your validation fixes from an app. You risk becoming just like everyone else. Instead, get involved in projects you’re excited about. Talk face to face with people and live in the real world. Do meaningful things and lead productive lives. Strive to become so secure and productive, that there would be nothing for you on social media.
Who needs likes when you think so highly of yourself?
By freeing yourself of all the noise and interruptions, you will not be hindered by a short attention span, and you’ll unleash the deep thinking required for the serious work of creative quality.
All of a sudden, you’ll have time to think.
Social Media Promotes Bad Posture
“Your physical posture sculpts your psychological posture, and could be the key to a happier mood and greater self-confidence.” – Amy Cuddy
There are physical consequences too when spending so many hours a day hunching over a smartphone. To quote Jake Gyllenhaal, “We’re looking down. No one is looking up. I take that seriously.”
First, there’s the neck.
When people use their phone, they jut their heavy heads forward and bend their necks. That places a lot of stress on your vertebrae, and it compounds over time. Amy Cuddy writes that this position is detrimental, because when we lean forward 60° to scroll through Instagram, we force our necks to support the additional 5KG (11lbs) that our head weighs. That increases the load on our necks to a whopping 27KG (60lbs).
By hunching over a smartphone, you can develop curvature of the spine, especially if you’re a kid whose skeletal structure is still developing. You see teens with humps that you normally see on elderly women.
The other problem with bad posture is that your body language may shape who you are. Watch this fascinating Ted talk by Cuddy:
Amy cites a study where a group of non-depressed volunteers were split into two groups. One group had to answer interview questions in an upright position, while the other in a slouched position. The slouchers were more likely to answer negatively, and had “significantly lower self-esteem and mood, and much greater fear.”
In other words, just like Cuddy’s testosterone studies in the video, the physical act of slouching may bring forth the mental conditions that normally cause slouching to manifest, such as low self-esteem.
The “iHunch” may also affect our memory, Cuddy says, based on a study from the Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy that split clinically depressed people into slouching and upright groups. They then had to recall a list of positive and negative words. The uprighters recalled a similar amount of negative and positive words, but the slouchers recalled significantly more negative than positive words.
In short, the effects of body language are real. By hunching over your phone, you’re adopting the posture of a loser beat down by life.
Social Media, or Asocial Media?
“A handful of people, working at a handful of technology companies, through their choices will steer what a billion people are thinking today. I don’t know a more urgent problem than this. It’s changing our democracy, and it’s changing our ability to have the conversations and relationships that we want with each other.” – Tristan Harris
Some people have dubbed us “the Eleanor Rigby generation”, better connected than any previous generation – yet mysteriously alone.
Social interactions matter. They help you cultivate deep bonds with people with whom you can discuss your most intimate matters. But when you meet fewer people, and when so many of your interactions are digital and thus less meaningful, it is hard to maintain social equilibrium.
Well before social media, digital technology was starting to bring us apart. Back in the nineties, people started calling it The Internet Paradox, the contradiction between the lack of human contact and the increased opportunity to connect. In 1998, a team of scientists at Carnegie Mellon even linked between internet usage to increased loneliness.
I will just say this:
There’s nothing social in swiping your fingers across a screen. Social media is a pale imitation of real interactions, which are rich and profound and do great things for your health. Your entire being is built to be social, face to face. Social media lacks that vital human spice that makes hearts tick. You can’t reduce human interaction to ASCII code.
John Cacioppo of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago is a world expert on loneliness. He found higher levels of the stress hormone epinephrine in the morning urine of lonely people. And when they draw blood from older adults and analyze their white cells, he says, they find that loneliness somehow penetrated the deepest recesses of the cells to alter the way genes are expressed.
You physically change when you are lonely. And to not be lonely, you need to socialize and be around other human beings.
In one experiment, Cacioppo looked for a link between loneliness and interaction through Facebook, chats, online games, dating sites, and face to face contact. The result:“The greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are. The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are.” Of course, it may be that lonelier folks simply escape to the online world. Or it may be, what a shock, that the less time you spend around people – the lonelier you get.
Facebook makes it feel like you’re in touch with people. You see their status updates and photos, feeling like they’re in your life. But, to truly have someone in your life, you’ll need to make an effort to maintain that relationship. You’ll need to sit with them, your phone tucked away in your pocket, and share stories and adventures with each other.
15 years of smartphones won’t change human nature.
Yvette Vickers, a former Playboy playmate, made news when a neighbor and fellow actress Susan Savage noticed cobwebs and aging letters in her mailbox, and then climbed her way through a broken window and went upstairs, only to find Yvette’s body, laying there dead for the better part of the year. Her heater and computer screen were on the whole time.
The story went viral. Yvette had long been a symbol of Hollywood’s capacity to exploit our most basic fears. Now she was symbol of a new kind of fear, the horror of being lonely. Without any children, religious group, or social circle, she looked for contact among her fans.
Her web of connections had became broader and broader – but also shallower, as we can all identify. We are more accessible than ever, yet more distant from each other and lonelier than our ancestors ever were. Social contact really only counts when it comes with the complete set of physical presence, body language and vocal tone.
Remember The Social Network? At the end of the movie there was a scene, where a sad Zuckerbeg was sending out a friend request to his ex-girlfriend. He then sat there, waiting and glaring at the screen, a symbolic moment of extreme loneliness in a super connected world. We have all been there, hungry for a response or some kind of attention.
Roughly 20% of Americans, around 60 million people, are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness. Across the entire West, physicians have started to talk about a whole epidemic of loneliness taking place.
I am not saying social media is the only cause. It’s not. The car, for example, introduced suburban living, which drives people farther from each other. When the telephone arrived, many people stopped knocking on their neighbor’s doors. The TV has made people spend more time at home. Whenever a new thing comes up and drives people to spend more time without others, it is fair to assume it drives loneliness further.
Social media takes things to a whole new level. With today’s addictive design, it exploits our impulse to cluster in communities, and, ironically, spreads the very isolation it was said to conquer.
It also brings all these weird anxieties that seem to interfere with our real friendships. Does he really like me if he never likes my photos? Are we really as close as I think we are if we’re not even friends on Facebook?
Social media, with its amazing power that allows us to converse from a distance, lures us toward superficial connections. The source of its power is also the source of its weakness. The fusion of distance with intimacy doesn’t go very well. Instead of using it to talk to friends when there’s no other choice, like when traveling, people use it as shelter of safety. Girls these days don’t talk to guys. They text. It’s ridiculous.
As Sherry Turkle, a professor of computer culture at MIT, said, “These days, insecure in our relationships and anxious about intimacy, we look to technology for ways to be in relationships and protect ourselves from them at the same time. The ties we form through the Internet are not, in the end, the ties that bind. But they are the ties that preoccupy.”
In short, social media can never make up for the absence of the real thing: actual people, in the flesh. The depth of your social network outside the digital social networks is what matters.
If your great-grandma was sent here from the past and saw everyone staring at their phones 24/7 in public, she’d be shocked. She’d have the same horror Joaquin Phoenix’s character from ‘Her‘ had when he realized everyone around him is talking to AI systems instead of to each other.
Life is more gregarious without social media. Before it existed, none of us had ever felt as if anything was missing. You had to occupy physical spaces and talk to people, not type at them. You had to decode their body language, and vibe off their vocal tone and physical energy. Instead of this shallow, manufactured illusion of community, you were outside in a real one, meeting your neighbors, hearing who got sick, who just finished their master’s, and hear from Sarah’s husband how she’s doing after her knee operation. You’d even go visit her later with a cake.
Those days are gone.
Social Media Is Fake
“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth. It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other. I don’t have a good solution. My solution is I just don’t use these tools anymore.” – Chamath Palihapitiya, former Facebook executive
Social media is fake in many ways. A user’s profile is often an artificially constructed public image that is a very skewed reflection of their life. It projects how users want others to see them, rather than how they really are. Moments are cherry-picked. Filters are used generously.
And it also does not bring out the best in us. Jaron Lanier, the founding father of virtual reality and author of You Are Not a Gadget, says:“I fear that we are beginning to design ourselves to suit digital models of us, and I worry about a leaching of empathy and humanity in that process.”
We’re not representing our lives truthfully. Keeping up this facade by only posting pretty and fun stuff can also be exhausting.
As clinical psychologist Craig Malkin said, “When people go on to Facebook they’re often crafting a persona — they’re portraying themselves at their happiest. They’re often choosing events that feel best to them and they’re leaving out other things.”
You do it, and everybody else does it.
In Portlandia, Fred Armisen’s character takes a girl on a vacation to Italy. They end up miserable, and sleep through the whole weekend in the hotel. Earlier, they had posted smiley photos of themselves all happy and smiling. When Fred gets home and watches his friend scroll through the photos and tell him how amazing it looks, he tells her, “Everyone on the internet, they’re not having as great a time as you think they are.” She then says, “I guess people are just cropping out all the sadness.”
That pretty much sums it up.
Do you know this man?
This is Chester Bennington, the lead vocalist of the famous band Linkin Park. This beautiful, happy photo was his last Instagram picture. The next news was, he hung himself and committed suicide due to depression.
On networks like Facebook and Instagram, not only must you envy and contend with the apparent social bounty of everyone, but you must also foster the existence of your own. But centering your life around distorting reality, and watching others do the same, is just ridiculous.
It really is a profound revelation. Think about it. Social media places the whole you as the central element of a virtual cosmos, the main character in a movie that you wish to craft for others. In real life, focus and attention gravitate from one person to another, based on the value that they bring to the group. Social media exploits your innate thirst for attention, and orients itself around you as the center. Of course, that’s what the app presents to you. Everybody gets their own version.
Why do we all feel this irresistible urge to share every moment of our lives? It’s like a giant, addictive MMO game like World of Warcraft, where you become so preoccupied with it that it ends up consuming your life. Everything online looks so glamorous, you sink all your time into it, because fantasy is more intriguing than your daily struggles. And so, it becomes this parallel life that you’re obsessed over tweaking.
In World of Warcraft, you develop a constant urge to login and raise your avatar’s value by leveling up. You’re rewarded with stronger stats and better weapons. In Instagram, you develop a constant urge to login and raise your avatar’s (your profile) value by posting a story or a photo. You’re rewarded with likes, comments, and story views.
But as you’re improving your stats on WoW or Instagram, you’re letting your real life development slip. As we already discussed, social media has been designed to be a gigantic time sink. It’s no accident that curating the exhibition of the self on it has become a 24/7 occupation.
Also, on Instagram, the avatar is a digital you. Craig Malkin adds, “It affects us deeply, because part of the way we develop a strong sense of self and identity is by being known and known by others — appreciated. They see who we are, and they value who we are, including our flaws.”
Of course, people posture in the real world too. The difference is the ease and magnitude. In real life, if a guy wants to appear rich, he’ll try own a really expensive car. On social media, that same guy only has to rent a Lamborghini for a day and post a photo. If a girl wants to appear better looking than she is, she will dress well and put some makeup. Online, she’ll use digital airbrushes to take away her pimples, and use other software to manipulate and augment her waist to hips ratio:
Am I the only one seeing the problem here?
When you get validation based on lies, you’ll walk the world constantly feeling like you can’t stand up to the image you’ve crafted. This is a recipe for social anxiety. How could you not feel anxious, when any moment someone might come, interact with you and catch your bluff?
The worst part – everyone’s bluffing.
You spend so much time engineering a flattering profile that portrays a perfect life, and then you spend even more time staring at other people’s perfected profiles and images, without realizing they’re doing the exact same. And it’s a total arms-race, even if you’re not conscious of it. It’s a spiral that makes the platforms more and more divorced from reality.
The filters and self-editing tools really are mind blowing. I got the first taste of this when I was using Instagram, and there was this one particular girl whose profile (50K followers) kept popping into my feed whenever I logged in. The algorithm must have measured my behavior and decided I liked her. The algorithm was right.
That girl, on a scale of 1 to 10, was a 10 to my taste. She was very pretty, and seemed to live a very luxurious life. All her photos – boats, planes, exotic beaches, restaurants, expensive dresses. If you’ve been on Instagram long enough, then you know the type.
One day, she uploaded a story with a “25” birthday balloon. I messaged her that “goddammit, I thought you were 20, never dated a girl your age.” Hey, don’t hate me – if you’re nice they’ll never respond.
And she did. Long story short, we soon went on a date.
Lo and behold:
The girl didn’t look anywhere like she did on the photos. I was shocked. She had a really weird jaw that she was hiding online with good angles. Worse, she was depressed beyond imagination, and even more depressing to be around. Not entirely her fault, she told me she’s had autoimmune illnesses plaguing her since childhood. To quote her:
“I’m ill, and I’ve always been ill.”
Forget the planes and fancy restaurants, I picked her up from a neighborhood the Israeli equivalent of Harlem’s hoods in a 90’s movie. I drove for an hour to see a model. I ended up with a depressing girl with a strange jawline and heavy symptoms of pernicious anemia.
Faking reality is just the nature of social media.
And not just do people share only their best moments, they now purposefully orchestrate moments for social media. They will go to places just to snap a photo or take a story for Instagram or TikTok.
Instagram and TikTok, the two visual platforms, are the most fake of them all. Jump on there, and you’ll think everyone on the planet is famous. Everyone has a beautiful partner, a huge home, a ripped body, and a Colgate smile. Everyone’s always on holiday or in restaurants.
Rationally, you know it’s an illusion. Emotionally, you still react to it. It’s like a boob-job. You know it’s plastic, but God does it look good.
Want proof? Recent studies have found that frequent social media users believe that other users are happier and more successful than they are, especially when they are not close to them in real life. It’s a lie, folks. You compare your realistic offline selves to the flawless, filtered, edited online versions of others. Your self esteem is under assault.
As we said before, it may also drive depression. How could you not feel like the biggest loser on Earth when everyone is having so much fun while you’re staring at a 6 inch screen? This distorted view of other’s lavish lives may compound your sense of loneliness and inadequacy.
As human beings, we constantly compare ourselves to those we look at. We are hierarchical creatures. We’re wired to feel good when we’re at the top, so that we continue doing what we’ve done to get there. And feel bad when we’re at the bottom, so that we do something about it. Social media is cancer on the mind, since it selectively shows stuff like this:
Feeling like crap?
Many people develop insecurities and self-doubt because of the lavish, impractical, and very often fake content posted by the Instagram folks. The fitness shots will make you hate your body. The travel shots will make you hate your life. As Elon Musk said, on social media people simply appear to have a much better life than they actually do.
Charlotte Blease, a cognitive scientist, sees social status as the root of social media ills. She suggests that depression is an adaptive suite of behaviors (slumped posture, low self-esteem, social withdrawal) that also enabled our ancestors to signal deference to dominant others, and thus save themselves from incurring physical damage.
Social media has created an environment where everybody depresses each other by constantly posting stuff to make themselves appear super high-status (beautiful, happy, successful, etc). The result, everyone’s more depressed and more depressing than they should be.
I am especially worried for kids who have never known a world without social media. It reminds me of Plato’s cave, an allegory that describes a group of people who have lived chained in a cave their whole lives, facing a blank wall. On that wall, they watch shadows projected from people next to a fire behind. They give names to these shadows. To them, the shadows are real, the only thing they know. They have no accurate description of the real world. The shadows of Plato’s cave are similar to the profiles on social media accounts, which our minds think are real.
Instead of supporting our friends, family and neighbors, the ones who play a vital part of our existence, we now spend hours a day comparing and contrasting our lives with the fake, curated ones presented on social media. We’re on the treadmill for more likes, tying our own approval and self-worth to the amount of feedback we get from an app.
Do you really want to subject yourself to that?
To quote Chamath again, “We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short term signals – hearts, likes, thumbs up – and we conflate that with value, and we conflate it with truth. Instead, what it really is, is fake brittle popularity, that’s short-term, and that leaves you even more – and admit it – vacant and empty before you did it. Because then it forces you into this vicious cycle where you’re like, what’s the next thing I need to do now? Cause I need it back. Think about that compounded by 2 billion people.”
Social media is fake in more ways:
Facebook has rapidly become a cesspool of lies. People naturally believe what they see. Everything looks legit, especially if it has a lot of likes and comments, which give it an air of truth and approval, and especially if it was shared by a friend. There’s an implicit trust in information shared between friends. You then interact with the content, and if enough people do, it ends up viral, because the algorithm favors engagement. Some advertisers even intentionally spread fake news through Facebook Ads.
The algorithm has no way to know what’s true or false. David Holmes, a researcher at Manchester Metropolitan university, estimates that up to 40% of what’s posted on social networking sites could be false.
If you value living truthfully, social media won’t cut it.
Social Media Promotes Narcissism
“Facebook and Google assert with merit that they are giving users what they want. The same can be said about tobacco companies and drug dealers. The people who run Facebook and Google are good people, whose well-intentioned strategies have led to horrific unintended consequences. The problem is that there is nothing the companies can do to address the harm unless they abandon their current advertising models.” – Roger McNamee, venture capitalist.
Social media has led to an epidemic of narcissism and pathological behavior on a societal scale. The platforms are hard to resist because they’re ultimately about the self. Each post is an ad for one’s great life. Look at me! Look at my life! Aren’t I attractive and successful?
As we said, users promote their life with extreme self-consciousness and deliberateness, to score likes, comments, attention, views – dopamine highs. Over time, you yourself are becoming this learning algorithm that keeps refining itself over iterations of posts and the resulting likes. You modify your social media persona to maximize likes, not authenticity.
Perhaps the greatest testament to the vain, narcissistic nature of social media use is that, while platforms like Instagram and Tiktok allow users to post anything they want, most people simply upload (excuse me, “share”) a relentless stream of photos or videos of themselves.
It’s not surprising. The reward centers of the brain are most active when people are talking about themselves. Remember previously where we discussed how in real life people talk about themselves around 40% of the time, while in social media that number doubles to 80%? The positive feedback (likes, comments, views, etc) you get so easily on social media, rewards that behavior and perpetuates the narcisssism.
Narcissism manifests in patterns of self absorption, vanity, grandiose exhibitionism, craving for attention, entitlement, lack of empathy and and willingness to manipulate others. In a 2008 survey, 3% of people older than 65 reported symptoms of NPD (narcissistic personality disorder). Among people in their 20s, that number tripled to 10%.
Some researchers think we are growing more narcissistic and less empathetic as a result of constantly managing our online persona. In a way, Instagram enables everyone to feel like a mini celebrity.
One study, from Western Illinois University, found that people who score high on NPD traits have more friends on Facebook (and are more likely to accept friend requests from strangers), tag themselves in photos more often, update their feed and profile picture more frequently, and respond more aggressively to negative comments about them. They are also more likely to seek social support, but not provide it to others.
Another study, titled Who Uses Facebook?, also linked between Facebook and narcissism: “Facebook users have higher levels of total narcissism, exhibitionism, and leadership than Facebook nonusers. In fact, it could be argued that Facebook specifically gratifies the narcissistic individual’s need to engage in self-promoting and superficial behavior.”
Social media provides a platform for those hungry for attention. Change your profile picture, get likes. Write a provocative status, ignite a fire of comments. And of course, show off your high number of “friends”.
The question, as Dr. Viv Vignoles of Sussex University says, does Facebook, or other social media platforms, cause narcissism, or are narcissistic people simply attracted to social media?
Does it matter?
Social media is clearly populated by pathological narcissists at a rate higher than their fair share in society. If that’s where self-obsessed folks go to whore for attention, repair their egos, and seek support without giving back, is that really where you want to spend your time?
As one paper wrote, Twitter is “as a kind of technologically augmented megaphone, a means of amplifying one’s own perceived superiority to others,” while Facebook is “a technologically enhanced mirror, reflecting a preoccupation with one’s own image, others’ reactions to this image, and a desire to update the image as frequently as possible.”
Social media and narcissism go hand in glove.
Social Media Is Junk For Your Mind
“Social media is the equivalent of diving into a pool of shit every day and wading around the bottom to find a quarter. I fell into the trap for years until I realized it’s the most shallow, meaningless, and illusionary driven content, based almost entirely on wanting to be popular by counting on strangers to make you feel good about yourself.” – BryInThe619
How on earth are you going to become the person you have the potential to become, if your need for validation is always satisfied, and if it’s so easy to trick everyone into thinking you’re already there?
Instead of making things happen, which would rightfully land you a lot of attention, you can just post something real quick on social media, and get a huge wave of dopamine to temporarily saturate your spirit. Also, you’re not supposed to get doses of social approval every five minutes.
In the past, you had to earn attention. Social media is a way for people to feel as if they have achieved something in life, even when they have done nothing at all. It’s a cheap way, in terms of effort, to get attention without working for it. Upload a story, boom, hundreds of eyes are on you. It’s a digital pacifier that atrophies your ability to cope.
It really reminds me of junk food and porn:
Minimal prep time, easy to consume, empty, immediately satisfying, emotionally consoling, built to induce binges, and ultimately unfulfilling. Social media to socializing is what porn is to sex, or what candy is to food. Both porn and Instagram are unhealthy snacks for the mind, weakening and toxic. Just like the food industry exploits your brain with explosive sweetness in sugar candy, Instagram does it with social rewards, which activate a wide network of brain regions, including the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, ventral striatum, and ventral tegmental.
Junk food hijacks the part of your brain that craves sugar, fat and salt, and gives you an instant solution that satisfies but doesn’t nourish you. It lacks vital nutrients, and leaves you sick and malnourished.
Porn hijacks the part of your brain that craves sex, and gives you an instant solution that satisfies but doesn’t nourish you. It lacks the vital things that make sex so great – such as the affection of a cooperating partner. It leaves you empty, feeling like a loser who can’t get laid.
Social media hijacks the part of your brain that craves attention and validation, and gives you an instant solution that satisfies but doesn’t nourish you. It lacks complex social cues that make human interaction so fulfilling, and leaves you lonely and emotionally blank.
Instagram’s likes are like sugar, feeding your cravings for attention and validation. Our brain treats white sugar as real food. It also treats virtual people as real people. People tend to think of the characters on TV shows as personal friends, even if they’re wizards or vampires. Your brain thinks social media profiles are real, and lights up the social parts of the brain. Like sugar, it is empty, and lacks the ingredients needed to sustain life.
All three of them – porn, social media, and junk food – are dopamine traps. All three of them will leave you craving for the real thing, yet ironically less likely to pursue and achieve the real thing. Who has the energy to go out and hit on a girl when you just drained your balls? Who has the appetite to prepare a nourishing home cooked meal when you’ve just had a huge bowl of sweet cereal? Same with social media.
And they’re highly addictive.
You’re feeling down, so you cheer yourself up by going on Instagram. Dopamine then quickly floods your brain and makes you feel good. This, however, doesn’t last long – and is very addictive. So the next time you’re feeling low, your brain propels you to launch Instagram again. Suddenly you realize you have formed a dependence.
That dependence sends you straight to Instagram whenever you need a quick fix to relieve stress, loneliness, or a bad mood. It provides immediate and continuous rewards that you may not be receiving in real life. But, just as you wouldn’t advise a friend to keep using alcohol to relieve their depression, similarly you shouldn’t rely on social media to short-circuit whatever bad feelings you have. Those feelings exist for a reason, they point to an underlying condition that you should attend to.
With those instant, available dopamine fixes, it’s no wonder social media attracts certain individuals. The study we mentioned earlier, Who Uses Facebook?, found that “One of the most noteworthy findings was the tendency for neurotic and lonely individuals to spend greater amounts of time on Facebook per day than non-lonely individuals.”
So, don’t let social media neutralize you with cheap dopamine fixes. Don’t let it keep you satiated with empty calories. Don’t let it hack / satisfy your fundamental social desires. Use that drive for more noble pursuits.
You can do better.
Just like with a junk food diet, the effects of a social media diet will creep up gradually, until you look in the mirror a few years down the road and realize what a poor, pathetic creature you’ve become.
What’s a healthier diet for the mind?
As humans, our predisposition is to engage socially in a deeper, face to face form, with deeper thinking, longer attention spans, and all the body cues that accompany real communication, such as body expressions and tonality. We’ve derived significant adaptive benefits from doing so across our evolutionary pipeline as a physically weaker species, where clustering into social groups proved crucial to our survival and reproduction.
Social media interaction is no substitute for the real thing. The problem is that it is so addictive, that the sheer quantity of time it consumes often means spending less time on meaningful real-world interactions.
Young kids today are so stimulated, their neural cortex has become so numb that the only thing that will prompt them to register a flicker of human emotion is either a can of Red Bull or a jolt to the testicles with a taser. It’s tragic, and could lead them to the deepest emotional pits.
Joe Edelman, an advocate for ethical software design, compares the collateral damage inflicted on human lives by the tech industry to the damage by Big Tobacco before cigarettes were linked to cancer.
Recently, a girl I started seeing stayed overnight, and for the entire next day we both found ourselves not touching our phones. We completely lost track of it. It got me thinking. If you forget about your phone when you’re having a good time, when do you constantly resort to your phone? The opposite, of course: when your mood is low. Instagram then serves as a drug to temporarily suppress the low mood, just like candy does.
Social Media Is Pointless
“Devices and their menus should serve users. As humans, we tend to choose from what‘s in front of us. It follows that these menus which are so often in front of us have a great influence on our lives. We must bring them into line. At the platform level, devices must take care to populate menus with options aligned with the users’ interests—rather than in the interests of increasing engagement metrics for media companies—and should present those options in a way that lets us choose well, lets us express what‘s important to us, and doesn’t isolate us in the process.” – Joe Edelman
Of course, it would seem logical to assume that people use social media because it enhances their relationships, wisdom and happiness. However, most folks use it to laugh at videos of cats flushing the toilet.
And it seems like each social network’s relevance has an expiry date.
Take Facebook. When you joined, it was so that you can keep up with old friends, see what people are up to, look at family’s pictures, etc. Parents had not yet joined. Advertising wasn’t possible, so political parties, news channels, and salespeople were all far away from Facebook.
Now? Facebook has lost its magic. It is littered and infested with fake news, tasteless memes, gif recipes, annoying ads, clickbaits, and keyboard warriors forcing their rage on everyone. It stopped being fun. Facebook has become so unappealing that young people are totally abandoning it. It has also become clouded with parents, and if, as a kid, you want to be secretive about your life, you better go where your mom wouldn’t.
Those kids moved to SnapChat. And then to Instagram. And now TikTok. And they’ll keep bouncing from one app to the next, as newer apps appear that make the previous ones unattractive. And they will appear, since as you now know, there’s a ruthless arms race for your attention, with sophisticated algorithms being developed every day.
What attracted so many people to Facebook in first place is now gone. Facebook ditched the chronological timeline in favor of algorithmic feeds. Instead of seeing how your friends are doing, you now see negative, emotional content, fake news, massive food fights in the comments, and an ad every 5th scroll, which absolutely kills any joy.
The evidence is there. Facebook is the #3 most regretted app, after Candy Crush and Grindr. 64% of users regret the time they spend. Facebook’s user base growth in the US and Europe has completely stopped.
If you consider building a business as a social media “influencer”, that should be your first red flag. In social media, you have far less control than you should. Why invest all that time and effort in building something that may become extinct in a few years?
Forget business now –
As a consumer, is there anything really to it beyond attention?
Daniel Craig, star of James Bond, is bemused by people posting useless life updates. “I am not on Facebook. And I’m not on Twitter either. Woke up this morning, had an egg? What relevance is that to anyone? Social networking? Just call each other up and go to the pub and have a drink.”
Eddie Murphy feels the same, and says “I don’t need to be on social media interacting with the fans, tweeting that I just ate strawberries. Nothing has made me go, ‘Oh, yeah, get me on, too, I want to be on there with y’all! I just had strawberries too!’ ‘I’m going to the store now!’ ‘Look at this picture of this baby!’ I don’t feel any pressure to live up to any whatever expectation anyone may have.”
It’s really strange, think about it, how socially expected it has become for everyone to be interested in broadcasting their entire lives online, and looking at the countless broadcasts of others – around the clock.
Is it really that interesting?
Do you really give a shit about where someone went on holiday, what fancy restaurant they’ve just had a steak at, or the fifty new baby photos from a friend you haven’t talked to in ten years? Trust me, very few people on your friend list care about that gender reveal ceremony. And, certainly not about the dirty laundry and drama that people air on social media. You see fights between spouses, it’s ridiculous.
Social media is a cesspool. It says something profound, and sad, to see how eager people are to share everything online for validation. You see many folks on social media who can’t go half an hour without posting about their whereabouts and what they’re doing:
Lunch break! grabbing a coffee at Starbucks real quick!
Nobody gives a shit.
Save us the Oscar speeches – I just want to thank every one of you who have blah blah blah, or your considerate thoughts – My prayers are with the families affected by the X and Y tragedy, or the enlightening Buddha quotes – Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.
Shut the fuck up and go do something with your life.
It’s vapid and superficial. Nobody cares about 99% of the stuff others post on social media, yet all the comments are fake compliments. Every post or photo screams insecurity, and reeks of attention seeking.
Remember, folks: attention is not recognition.
Do we seek validation because we don’t have a strong purpose in life or confidence in what we do? Are we so deluded we think the coffee we’ve just had is so important that we need to inform others about it?
And, why would you go on Instagram and tell the world you’re on holiday, and invite burglars to raid your house in your absence?
Yeah, it is normal human nature to brag sometimes, or seek comfort among others in moments of weakness, when times get rough.
That’s what friends and family are for.
You have 1,500 Facebook friends, but how many of them truly know and love you? 10? 50? 25? That means that 99% of your Facebook friends do not really care about your life, your photos, and your status updates.
This makes me think of Dunbar’s number. Anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggested that humans have the time and emotional capacity to sustain 100 to 200 relationships simultaneously. In a recent study involving 1.7 million users, Dunbar and his colleagues found that, on average, Twitter users maintained stable social relations with about that number.
So, better invest your time in those who matter.
Worried you won’t be happy without social media?
Iris Mauss from the University of Denver published a study looking into the paradoxical effects of valuing happiness. In most things in life, there is a link between what you value and what you get. In other words, you hit what you aim at. One exception she found was happiness:
The more you seek happiness, the less you find it.
Social Media Turns You Into A Stalker
“We don’t want to intrude on each other, so instead we constantly intrude on each other, but not in ‘real time.’” – Sherry Turkle
On social media, everyone turns into this creepy spy.
You see who likes who, carefully check who viewed your story, or who commented on that photo your ex has just posted. You follow or unfollow people secretly, from pseudo accounts (my female cousin told me every girl has at least one extra, fictional account, just for stalking).
Do any of these behaviors look healthy?
They look obsessive to me.
Imagine if someone went to the post office to check who sends you letters. Or imagine you found them outside your house, checking for activity to see who you’re with and what you’re doing.
Some people do these things. We send them to jail or asylums.
In social media, this is normal, day to day behavior.
We’ve all been guilty of social media stalking at some point. Have you ever had a period where you made a daily pilgrimage to the profile of your ex? This only made you miserable, right? Made it hard to move on.
I myself have had Facebook interfere with my relationships. What is this photo with your ex? Why is she liking your photos? Why does she close her eyes when she hugs you (I’m dead serious)? Why do you never post photos with me? Why don’t you change your relationship status? Why did you like that meme? Social media creates problems that don’t exist.
I met at a store someone I once briefly knew. I don’t know how – he had either me or my girlfriend on one of the social networks, I guess – but he started giving me all these details about me that freaked me out. “Hey Regev, I saw you’ve been to Seychelles with that girl from The Voice, your hotel looked so dope” and this and that. It was so creepy.
Social media brings out the worst creep in the human soul.
Don’t let it turn you into that stalker. Worst, a stalker who stalks carefully-curated lives. If my girlfriend from The Voice snores at night, she’d never post about that. That invasive old pal only sees the pretty hotel.
No, Social Media Won’t Get You Laid
“Just because, I like to have a drink at night. I could easily say something stupid, and I also don’t think you need to be that available. I don’t see Matt Damon or Brad Pitt or myself wanting to get our thoughts out in a 140-character-thing at 3 in the morning.” – George Clooney
My late-teenage cousins are always glued to their phones, commenting, liking, and messaging girls on Instagram. I tell them, stop, it’s a waste of time. For the same reason that online dating is a waste of time.
The game is simply stacked against you.
Seeing Instagram, TikTok, or a dating app like Tinder from a girl’s perspective will be more persuasive than anything I can write. You simply cannot comprehend the sheer quantity of attention that women get on these apps until you see it with your own eyes. It will stun you.
If you know any attractive girl, ask her to show you her inbox. You’ll see the small profile pictures of a million thirsty guys, each a disposable commodity, indistinguishable from each other. You don’t want to be one of them, another cog in a machine giving away your attention for free.
Imagine a girl being approached by guys 150 times a day. When you approach as the 151th guy, do you think she’s going to be receptive to you? By the time you’ve approached, she’d been desensitized. In her eyes, you’re just another foot soldier in that barrage of sexual thirst.
In real life, you won’t find 150 guys brave enough to approach her every day. She’ll be lucky to have just one or two. Hot girls are intimidating. But, social media and dating apps create an alternative, where men without the balls to approach prefer to use it to message from safety.
The problem, again, by the time she sees your DM, she’s scrolled through the profiles of a hundred other guys, many of them as enticing as you. So don’t slide into her inbox, because hordes of guys are plaguing it. You’ll be buried under 500 dicks, proving your social ineptitude.
And by the love of God, don’t be the clown who tosses off compliments and likes on girls’ photos. These are obvious signals of low value on your part, and should be nonexistent. Women love attention as much as men love sex. Giving it so easily will kill any attraction for you. Make her work for your affection. In communication, as in life, whatever is scarce is valued. Give your attention away and you show that it has no value.
This all makes real-life approach so much more valuable. It is so foreign to Gen-Z girls, they blush, twirl their hair, fidget around, they simply don’t know how to deal with a confident man approaching them with clear intent in his eyes. It sets up the power dynamic really well.
Before you start any new business, you should make sure the barrier of entry is high enough. The difficulty represents the opportunity. If it’s too easy to start, the odds of success drop significantly, as you’ll be flooded with copycats. It’s similar here. What’s easier – to DM or to approach in real life? You get my point. Go where most men are too afraid to go.
Don’t play a losing game.
Heck, she might not even see your DM. And if you truly are so valuable, why are you messaging an Instahoe in first place? It telegraphs something negative about you: you do not have mate options, so you seek them online. That’s triple as true on dating apps like Tinder, where there’s a heavy undertone that you’re unable to attract mates elsewhere.
Even if your profile is amazing, your mere presence there reveals your bluff. You having signed up to OKCupid, or messaging girls on Instagram, cancel out anything cool about your profile. It’s a turn-off, plus posting selfies on social media is just going out of your way to impress people.
You do give a fuck.
All those photos of you flexing in the gym, it only makes you look like a loser, because the whoring for attention is squirting out of you. Those 125 likes you got on your shirtless photo don’t get you anything other than a temporary, mindless, shallow dopamine hit.
Seeking approval is not sexy. My 16 year old cousin insists he needs an Instagram account, because girls always ask to see his profile. I asked a girl I’m seeing, “If someone wanted to hook you up with a friend, and you asked for his Instagram or Facebook and she said the guy doesn’t have any, would that make you not want to see him?”
Her reply, and I quote verbatim, “I would want to see him more. All these guys uploading photos the whole day, trying to get more followers. It’s baaaaaaaah. I love the mystery.”
That’s coming from a girl with an inbox full of DMs. The girl, by the way, is 19, much closer to my cousin in age than she is to me. Social media is part of her life, so don’t give me the ‘it’s another generation’ excuse.
What is it you’re saying? You don’t have time to go talk to women, so you use Tinder and Instagram? Don’t give me that bullshit. Those apps consume significantly more time. I’ve tried it. You swipe away for hours, chat forever via text, only to meet up and discover she looks nothing like her photos. You’ve pissed away hours of your time for nothing. And seldom will it be your finest womenfolk in those apps anyway.
I am very confident in saying this:
If I gave you two hours to successfully set up a date with a cute girl, your odds would be higher simply going outside, saying hi to every one of them who crosses your path, than to go on Instagram or Tinder. “Outside” could be any square meter of your country where women visit. It takes five minutes of banter to preview her looks and personality to see if she’s worth taking on a date. She thinks you’re a stud for approaching.
Also, that saves you the surprise from the gap between her mortal self to her social media avatar. In the real world, what you see is what you get. So skip all this headache. You’ll save yourself time, and unlike Instagram be able to very quickly sort girls into real prospects and time wasters.
With social media, the ROI is just not there.
That brings out another problem, that of using text to build connection in first place. It’s hard to to make someone attracted to you through text. Text just misses out on the array of cues that make close interactions so rich: facial expressions, physical touch, vocal subtleties, etc. It can’t convey your unique qualities. It lacks that verbal and nonverbal dance-like rhythm and harmony of a good social interaction. Think you need Instagram for social proof? In real life, your skills and confidence are your social proof.
Since you can’t convey your personality through ASCII code, girls will judge you by the metrics, such as your number of followers or likes. They apply that almost subconsciously, and use them to rate how attractive you are in real life. What if you don’t nurture an online presence? In that case, it is better not to play this game at all, since you’ll be competing with the other million Instagram addicts. Plus, you’ll have an aura of mystery.
Mystery, we keep coming back to it. What’s the whole point of dating? To get to know the other person. If I upload stories 24/7, and she can look through my profile, it kills the fun and tension. A big part of the courtship ritual is lost. You’re killing her fantasy of discovering you bit by bit. It’s a good thing when you leave your life to her imagination. Let her invest the time and make an effort to pull that info out of you. It’s sexier.
And, do you really want to feed that monster?
Instagram, for example, is a validation machine for women. Every selfie gets a million likes, every story a million private messages. It’s not good for anybody, even for the women themselves, whose hypergamy goes on overdrive. In the recesses of their minds, they are constantly comparing their real-life prospects to the online options who message them.
The outrageous amount of artificial male attention also messes up with girls’ perception of themselves. It inflates their egos and feeds them with empty validation. Empty, because they know that this attention is based on filtered, edited, well-curated, unrealistic images of themselves.
This is such an easy loophole to exploit.
Girls can never match up to their online avatar. She never meets the image she’s curated, and is very insecure about it. Instaqueens will try to qualify themselves by trying to show you their profiles. But you don’t care about that now. You’re basically telling her that the world in which she’s a queen means nothing to you. This is so foreign to them, they now have to come up with something real, like having a personality.
Not being on social media will perk her interest far more. You can even use her addiction against her. Tease her and ask why she so thoroughly enjoys having creepy guys drool over her bikini pictures.
Wait a second, what is it you’re saying now? What if she asks you for your Facebook or Instagram to stay in touch? Listen to me. When a girl is interested, she will bend over backwards to give you an alternative mode of communication. How about her phone number? If she refuses, she was never really interested. She just wanted your likes.
Plus, if you make it harder for people to reach you, you’ll essentially be ramping up the value of your attention. Think about it. High-value men are busy building companies, creating art, traveling the world, or interacting with women in the real world. High-value men do not find the lives of others very interesting in comparison to their own. High-value men are busy actively doing things, not watching others.
There is one caveat to this section.
Social media will work for you if you’re a minor celebrity or above. Fame changes everything. In this case, you’re being chased by groupies and curious chicks anyway. You can safely keep a social media profile in the background as it is perpetual social proof, and it gives women easy access to you. And they will message you, often. You’ll essentially face the same problem the average woman faces:
An inbox full of sexual thirst.
Remember the Laws of Power: make other people come to you. If you’re one of the above guys (or you maintain a profile just to lure back past lovers), just upload a story every once in a while, cast that net wide, and get those DMs from interested chicks. It’s the opposite of what most guys do. Even in this case, check your inbox every couple of days, and make sure it’s not consuming more time than it should. It’s very addictive.
If, however, you’re starting from scratch and plan to build a high-following profile that’ll land you girls, don’t even try. The time spent could be used to get 20 times the results by just going out. I’m not saying that social media isn’t useful. I’m just saying that its usefulness and returns won’t surpass the loss of time and opportunities.
And, to you girls reading this:
Never before in human history have women objectified themselves more. Those sexy bubble butt photos you’re putting up may come to haunt you when you’re older and looking for a serious guy to marry you. Once something is online, it’s there forever. You’re too young to realize this. I was once sent to military prison for posting something to Facebook.
Social Media Does Not Care About You
Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don’t know why.
Zuck: They “trust me”
Zuck: Dumb fucks
(An instant message sent by Mark Zuckerberg during Facebook’s early days, reported by Business Insider, May 13, 2010)
Social media does not care about your mental health or privacy. It does not care about you at all. We talked about the addictive algorithms and nefarious tactics designed to keep you glued to the screen for as long as possible, but we haven’t touched the issues of privacy yet.
We’ll do that now.
Not too long ago, Facebook had secretly conducted a study, exposing 689,000 users to certain contents to manipulate their sentiments and moods. This had triggered a big outcry, since the US federal policy for the protection of human subjects demands that you acquire informed consent for such things. Facebook never asked for permission.
Just how bad does Facebook not care about your privacy?
When Facebook was new, nothing a user shared became public without their permission. Now everything is public by default, unless you make an intentional effort to make it private. To cover for its growing privacy holes, Facebook’s privacy statement has gotten longer and longer over the years. It is now longer than the entire U.S. Constitution.
Facebook tracks everything about your life, from who you talk to, to where you’ve been. Once, when the British government proposed to make similar data available to agencies under the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act, there was a backlash from civil libertarians. Facebook now makes that kind of data available to everyone.
Facebook builds a shadow profile for each user, adding to that profile not only your behavioral data from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, but also from the entire web, where websites are embedding Facebook codes that identify your IP. Advertisers can then pay to use that data.
Facebook even uses facial recognition as part of your identifier.
Germany has some of the strictest privacy and data protection laws in the world, most of which were created following the data abuse by the Nazis and East German secret police. One of their basic laws is that zero data can be collected without the deliberate consent of the user.
Johannes Caspar, Hamburg’s data protection commissioner, says that the biometric facial recognition violates the basic law: “We have repeatedly asked Facebook to shut down the facial recognition function and to delete the previously stored data.” Facebook said users can disable it, but most users don’t know how. Being opted-in by default is not consent.
Don’t care about all that now? You may, in the future.
History has taught us not to be complacent. This is why the Second Ammendment is still with us. Your data, in the wrong hands, could be used to break into your bank account. Or into your home when you’re in the Caribbean. If a tyrannical government rises tomorrow, your recorded actions could be deemed punishable by law. You could end up in prison for having read a certain book, or hung from a rope for being gay.
“Yeah, right. That’s never gonna happen.”
That’s what the Jews of Europe said when you tried warn them. Speaking of my Jewish brethren, watch this video with wise Richard Stallman:
Facebook can determine when teens are feeling worthless, useless, stressed, or insecure, and help advertisers reach them. Of course, advertisers could use that info to sell these teens a useful solution, but very often that’s not the case. Regulation is minimal. Social media exists to harvest your data, and then give advertisers access to that data. The entire business model is to sell your privacy to advertisers. Communication on social media is centered around deceit and manipulation, so that third parties can profit off the communicators. That’s no way to interact.
And there’s more.
How about duping children?
This one is particularly nasty.
Facebook duped kids and their parents out of money. To maximize revenue, they encouraged game developers to let children spend their parents’ money without their permission. They named it “Friendly Fraud”. Kids didn’t even know they were spending real money, or that their parents’ credit cards were stored. Facebook employees knew about this, and some tried to warn the company for years that it was fooling kids. Facebook replied they were focused on maximizing profits.
You read right.
One 15 year old kid was charged $6,500 in two weeks. His parents were refused a refund. Another kid racked up around $1,000 in charges. To figure out what was going on, his mom asked him to play the game next to her. She saw that, as he was playing, he was clicking on the corner of the screen from time to time, which granted him special magic abilities which she paid for, though the game never notified her son.
His mom browsed Facebook for hours and couldn’t find a way to contact them. She eventually filed a lawsuit. Think how many parents gave up, or never found out they had spent money in first place. Of those who did find out, many had to turn to either their credit card company, the Better Business Bureau, or the court, because Facebook refused to refund.
Facebook employees refer to such kids as “whales”, a term casinos use to describe generous spenders. Your kid could spend hundreds or thousands of dollars without realizing it until the bill arrives.
How big is this phenomenon?
The average chargeback is 0.5%. Chargeback is when your credit card company steps in to get your money. The Federal Trade Commission describes anything higher than 2% as a red flag. According to Merchant Risk Council, chargeback on Facebook is higher than 9%.
Facebook did find a way to solve this.
Parents didn’t know Facebook was storing their credit cards, and to kids it certainly didn’t feel like they were spending real money. Facebook ran a test and required kids to enter the credit card’s first six digits before they could buy anything. It worked, and reduced chargebacks. But it hurt Facebook’s revenue, so they decided to keep things as before.
Facebook released an internal memo, telling developers to let children spend money without their parents’ permission. Its stated mission was to maximize revenue, not block fraud. They told developers to give kids free in-game items if they complain, because those cost them nothing.
Yes, despite the obvious semi-criminal behavior, Facebook continued to pursue lifting profits at the expense of kids and their parents.
For those who did file a complaint with their credit card company, Facebook designed a program that would automatically dispute your chargeback request, not even bothering to review the case.
Let me take you back to our oldest document, the Old Testament. One of its ethical principles is that you should do to others what you want others to do to you. Social media has a deep ethical issue, and you can see that because many of its executives refuse to let their own kids use it.
And then there’s also Facebook’s role in amplifying the propaganda in Myanmar, or the lynching of people in India thanks to fake news in their WhatsApp app. This only shows you the massive persuasive power social media has. Its scale and reach really are hard to grasp. Facebook today is larger than the entire coffee industry. Bad people can easily abuse it.
For all the trust breaches described, and more, Facebook has been facing heavy inspections over the last years. For now, Facebook and Instagram (same company), YouTube, Twitter and TikTok are the most popular platforms. We don’t know what new network the future will bring.
What we do know, we must regulate platforms of such magnitude.
Recap: 15 Reasons to Stop Using Social Media
“Life’s pretty good without it. I don’t see the point.” – Brad Pitt
Jaron Lanier wrote a book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m sure many of our points overlap. Let’s sum up our 15 arguments for quitting social media:
- It is highly addictive. The code is designed to create cravings and turn you into a zombie. You see this in family or friend gatherings, where people quickly get sucked back to their Instagram. By hooking you for as long as possible, social media can display more ads and get richer. There is a ruthless arms race for your attention among the tech firms. The whole business model is to sell your attention.
- As a result, it’s a huge time sink. Our attention is finite – no currency has a value that exceeds it.. Think what a person you could become if you channeled all that focus onto something productive, on making something of yourself. Those hours on social media means you miss out on interpersonal connections, amazing books, high-quality sleep, time with your friends, and skills you’ve always wanted to cultivate.
- It kills your creativity. Moments with yourself are where a lot of ideas and solutions spring to life. We now fill these moments glued to the phone. Also, push notifications distract and makes it very difficult to focus. In fact, the mere presence of a phone next to you reduces your cognitive abilities. Last, there’s this herd mentality on social media, where everyone looks and feels the same. The algorithm saturates your feed with similarity. You get this false sense that everyone agrees with you, because everyone in your feed is just like you. It reinforces whatever you believe in.
- Social media is choke-full of negativity and toxic behavior far beyond its fair proportion in real life. First, it is human nature to react more sharply to negative things, so the algorithm prioritizes negative content. Second, people tend to go on social media when they aren’t at their best moods. Third, the distant nature of social media brings out the worst in people. This adds unwanted stress into your life.
- There is a direct link between mental health and depression to social media use, and the relationship seems to be causal. That is, social media directly causes depression and negative mental well-being. It seems to erode self-esteem by unfavorable comparisons. It is notably dangerous for kids, whose delicate brains are still developing.
- It makes you asocial. Every fiber of the human body is designed to socialize with each other, and cluster in groups. But social media is a pale replica of real-life, which is rich in cues like facial expressions, vocal tone, physical touch, etc. It is no substitute to the real thing, and if you allow it to come at the cost of real time with friends, you will end up lonelier, and only sabotage your real-life friendships.
- It’s a bluff. Profiles are carefully curated, poor reflections of users’ true selves. People only post their best moments, cropping out the boring parts. Some go to extremes, and create moments for social media, or use editing tools to augment their looks. It’s like an online fantasy game that preoccupies you to the point where it consumes your life. But the more the image you’ve crafted differs from reality, the more anxious and inadequate you’ll feel in real life. Also, since we constantly compare ourselves to those we see, watching that distorted reality of others can drive envy and depression.
- Fake news everywhere. Social media is a cesspool of lies and inaccuracies. People believe what they see without questioning, especially if it has a lot of likes, which give it an air of truth. The algorithm favors engagement, not truth, and many fake stories end up viral because they are enticing enough.
- It makes everyone feel like a mini-celebrity, creating a global epidemic of narcissism and pathological behavior. The platforms exploit your innate thirst for validation, and orient you as the faux center of attention. As a result, you become more narcissistic, rewarded by dopamine injections (likes) for self-absorbed, vain, exhibitionist, attention-craving behavior such as posting a selfie.
- Hunching over a phone places an additional 5KG (11lbs) on your neck. Compounded for hours a day, that’s a lot of stress. Kids, who still develop, may grow a curvature of the spine. Also, your body language changes your behavior. By adopting this slouched posture, which you naturally adopt when your mood is low, you’re also adopting the negative self-image associated with it.
- Social media is junk food for the mind. It is to socializing what candy is to food. Candy is delicious, but nutritionally empty. Likes are great, but leave you emotionally empty. They don’t nourish your soul the same way real interactions do. It’s also dangerous. By satiating your appetite with empty foods, you don’t ingest enough nutrition. By satiating your appetite for attention with likes, you jeopardize your drive to accomplish greater things in life, which would traditionally reward you with rightfully earned, fulfilling attention. Both junk food and social media are emotionally consoling dopamine traps. Don’t rely on such drugs to suppress low mood. Fix the core issues.
- It’s full of low-quality crap. Jane just had an omelette. Bryan just jogged for 7 miles. Great. Even worse are the bad memes, fake news, clickbaits, ads, weird gif recipes, or those keyboard warriors who endlessly fight each other. Such low-quality content, for example, has led most young folks to abandon Facebook. If you think of starting a business on social media, beware. You have no control, and may lose everything you’ve built when your particular platform of choice loses its charm and reaches its lifecycle.
- It lays the ground for stalking people, or being stalked yourself. It seems unhealthy to me to become this voyeur who constantly creeps up on people’s lives. You see people with pseudo-accounts, just so they can stalk others in private. Social media can interfere with your romantic relationships as well, as many of you can attest. It adds unnecessary complexity and uncertainty to real relationships.
- Your social media profile will definitely attract mates to your inbox if you’re a cute woman, or a man with a high-following profile. It’s a dangerous game, because it can make relationships less stable due to the increased, though often superficial, mate options. For the vast majority of guys though, I’m talking 95%+, busting moves on social media is a colossal waste of time that could be replaced with many times the returns by simply talking to girls in real life. By not using social media, you’ll at least convey a non-needy, sexy mystery.
- Social media networks are in it for the money. They care little for your mental health, time, or privacy. They track your online behavior and profile your data for advertising purposes. It might not seem like a big deal now, but nefarious actors could appear in the future, and as history has taught us, abuse that system at your detriment.
So, Delete Social Media?
“Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies. Rogue actors and even governments have taken advantage of user trust to deepen divisions, incite violence, and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false. This crisis is real. It is not imagined, or exaggerated or crazy.” – Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO.
You can now make an informed choice of how and why you’d want to participate in a business that exists to addict you into profits. Social media platforms pull the strings of your brain like a marionette.
I don’t see too many existing solutions to the problems we’ve discussed. Option one is get out of the spotlight and into the real world. Delete your social media accounts. Live your life happily. Become a ghost.
This is likely to increase your life quality significantly.
Another way is to get micro-surgical. Take a step back and analyze each platform’s value for your life, and see if it has any benefit for you and if you can somehow mute its dangers. Interfere and make the proper adjustments to reclaim your time. Here’s what I did:
- I barely ever use Twitter, Pinterest, or LinkedIn, so I deleted all the accounts. Snapchat and TikTok, I never signed up. TikTok scares me, my cousin looks like she snorts cocaine when she scrolls it.
- I deactivated Facebook and Instagram. Will probably renew one of them, to have a more approachable way than email for my readers to contact me. Either way, I won’t have the phone app, and only use it from my computer. News Feed Eradicator is a great Chrome extension to make sure you don’t fall victim to the feed. Anyway, I’ll only use the platform as an easy, public way to be reached.
- I use YouTube (if you consider it social media) to consume podcasts, music, sport highlights, or information. There are great educational videos on YouTube, with folks investing a ton of creativity and effort on their channels. To prevent YouTube from throwing me into the rabbit hole, because that’s what the system is optimized for, I installed DF YouTube, a Chrome extension that hides trending and related video feeds, sidebar, comments, autoplays, and more. I now only watch content I intentionally search for.
- I deleted all social media apps from my phone. This is a key way to limit screen time and combat the malicious, addictive code. Social media use is hard to extinguish. Instagram was a big one. After deleting the app, I found myself compulsively looking for its icon all day long. It was clear then how addictive it was. The irresistible draw is real. If you must, use it on a browser with the above extensions.
- If you want an Instagram-like tool to host and share your photos, use VSCO. It has superior filters and image editing tools, only without the social pressure (likes, public comments, etc) and the manipulative algorithm of Instagram. Their business model is different. The basic app is free, but it has a paid version with more filters.
- To kill reward-based behavior, turn off notifications for all apps. No rings, dings, red dots. When you enable notifications, you give those companies the power to trigger all those visual and sound based dopamine hits, to enslave your brain and keep you hooked. Turning off notifications has been shown to help users regain control of their phones, check them more intentionally. The tech firms know that they get more response and screen time from users by interrupting them immediately rather than asynchronously (as with traditional email). This is why their systems are designed not to respect your attention and focus, and to interrupt you the moment you get a message, like, or comment. It’s great for business. Good luck trying to focus on something when your phone beeps every ten seconds. Your hand will automatically reach toward the phone, no matter what you’re doing.
- I don’t keep an email app on the phone. Otherwise, I am constantly tempted to check for emails, to play the slot machine. I’ll only check it on my computer, hopefully after I’m done writing, so that I don’t dedicate my best cognitive hours for anything non-productive.
- You don’t need Facebook for information. If I’m after something, I’ll use a search engine, maybe even join a dedicated forum on the topic (like Audioholics, TomsHardware, etc) to post a question. Don’t worry about missing out on news. If a story gets so big, it will get to you anyway. You’ll just be filtering out the rest of the crap.
- WhatsApp is a big one, since everybody uses it in Israel. I’m in the process of deleting my account, and use Signal instead, which is a nonprofit, rival messaging app geared toward security and privacy. It’s completely open-source. Signal has gone from a three-person small project into a serious operation. Brian Acron, one of WhatsApp co-founders, left Facebook over differences with Mark Zuckerberg, and donated $50 millions to Signal. He also joined the board as the executive chairman, aiming to build, in his words, the most trusted communications experience on the planet. WhatsApp uses your data for advertising purposes, and tries to weaken its encryption. The founders of WhatsApp were openly vocal against Facebook’s targeted advertising model: “no one wakes up excited to see more advertising; no one goes to sleep thinking about the ads they’ll see tomorrow.” They say online advertising is “a disruption to aesthetics, an insult to your intelligence, and the interruption of your train of thought.” Originally, Facebook had assured WhatsApp founders it could remain an independent service and would not share its data with Facebook. That promise was betrayed a mere year and a half later, when Facebook changed WhatsApp’s terms of service to give Facebook access to WhatsApp’s users data, to add that data to the unified user profile across Facebook’s multiple platforms (Instagram, Facebook, FB Messenger) that could be used for ad-targeting. WhatsApp Business now allows businesses to create a profile and send you advertising messages. Plus, Facebook is working on a vast, interoperable app that integrates Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp together. This would pose a serious risk to your privacy. I considered keeping it, but you can’t expect change if you aren’t willing to make sacrifices. Deleting my WhatsApp will also free the tension so that other friends of mine can delete their WhatsApp. Otherwise you’re helping perpetuate the existing systems. The reason why most people won’t do it is because of their group of true friends. I also feel like people are using instant messaging services way too much. There are more messages being sent in a day than there are humans on the planet. You call people today, instead of returning your call, they text you back. I consider it impolite and disrespectful when someone wants to talk to you synchronously, and you answer with text. Especially when you pretend not to see it until later. And it takes so much time compared to phone calls. It takes me an age to write a message, correcting the bizarre auto-correct, fixing those random capital letters. It’s very frustrating, plus the whole back and forth. Plus, in texting it’s very easy to misunderstand the mood, vibe or tone of the writer. To protect myself against the onslaught of constant communication, I never join groups, and try to minimize texting. I use it solely for logistics. “Dinner?”, “My house, 6PM?”, “Meeting at 4PM, Acorn Eatery”, etc. Answers are usually short, sweet, and concise yes, no, cool, etc. Texts are for communicating brief ideas quickly. If you’re going back and forth, it’s more polite and efficient to speak. I enjoy good voice conversations much better. Texting is especially crappy when you’re trying to get a relationship going. Hearing their voice is so much more exciting and connecting. We are losing something very special in texting. Texting is so demanding, if you text many people on a regular basis, especially if you’re part of groups, you get overwhelmed very fast. Just use the amazing smartphone feature called ‘call’. Quit the tyranny of those groups in which you were roped into against your will, where every morning starts with a meme. End useless discussions with a single line, and better yet don’t start a conversation unless it’s really necessary. WhatsApp and similar services are meant for making tasks easier, not to take over your life. We all lived happily without the continuous pings, pings, pings of messaging apps not too long ago. Signal isn’t perfect – it uses phone numbers (I’d rather it use some other, more intuitive IDs), and it is not decentralized as I would love it to be, but hey, if it’s good enough for Edward Snowden, it’s good enough for me. By the way, a friend’s brother, who works in the tech scene of Austin, claims Mark Zuckerbeg himself uses Signal over WhatsApp.
- If you want to block access to certain websites, use Focus (for Mac), StayFocusd (a Chrome extension), or ActionDash Plus (Android) to block access to certain websites or apps. I use it to block access to YouTube or the sport news sites that tend to grab my attention.
- Make it a rule not to bring the phone to your bedroom. Otherwise you’ll start messaging, scrolling, browsing. I bought a bedside clock (with dimmable light, so it doesn’t interfere with sleep quality) for the rare times when I need an alarm to wake me up.
- Bring your phone to eye level when you use it, so it doesn’t flex your spine or bring your head down. To minimize screen time, maybe call instead of text. This will alleviate the stress on your neck or thumbs, plus it’s nicer to talk to a person than to type at them. It also saves a huge amount of time, as you get your point across quicker.
- Make a conscious effort for your online communications to facilitate offline interactions, not be a substitute for it. Don’t be trapped exchanging messages for 5 hours with someone when you could instead sit with them for one hour of quality time.
- If you have a business that could benefit from social media, then use it if you wish, but make sure the returns are worth the time invested. Many businesses use it blindly. Perhaps even divorce yourself and hire a social media agency to manage it for you.
I spend much of my day tethered to a computer, writing and researching, that I don’t have any interest in more screen time. In this world where the digital is cannibalizing so much of our lives, I make sure my hobbies are tactile and multi-sensory. I travel, do Krav Maga (an Israeli martial art), read books, cook, tend my garden, go to the beach. I listen to podcasts. Life’s great.
Kill your social media accounts before they kill you. At the very least, severely curb your consumption. You’ll quickly start to feel the positives. You’ll clean up your mind and be free of the algorithmic claws. You’ll suddenly have time to read books, develop skills, and reclaim your life and depth of thought. You’ll focus on people as they talk to you, without your phone buzzing every minute to seduce you back into the Matrix.
Wake up, Neo.
Snap out of the trance. Don’t let them program you.
If you care that much about your Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, or SnapChat accounts, then deactivate them for 3 months. See how you feel at the end of those 90 days, after you have disconnected with the screen and reconnected with real life, and then decide for yourself.
Very few people who had deleted social media regret doing so, and it goes to show you just how unhealthy it is. I bet you’ll feel a sense of relief. You’ll no longer have to overthink what you’re posting just to impress. You’ll realize you don’t care that much what others had for dinner.
You’ll be free.
Free of bickering with strangers you never saw. Free of having your mood manipulated. Free of wasting hours of your time every week. Free of having your data abused. Free of that circus of narcissists, drama whores, and stalkers. Deleting social media revives a freedom we used to have.
The ultimate freedom. Freedom of mind.
No one tells you how many hours of your life you get back when you’re not mindlessly scrolling. No one tells you that you’ll find what you want from life when you open your eyes and see. When you jettison into that forest, you’ll have the time to figure it all out, instead of focusing for hours on what rich kids from Miami are doing with their daddy’s money. Spoiler alert: they’re seeking the attention daddy didn’t give them growing up, maybe because he spent 3 hours a day on social media.
What will you do with all that newfound time?
Go outdoors. Read a book. Exercise. Fill the void left by social media with meaningful activities. Instead of dedicating a ton of time and effort on fake relationships, trying to impress thousands of strangers, use that time to cultivate and strengthen the ones that matter. Your real friends are the ones who will be there for you when times get rough. The rest never mattered in the first place. Give a friend a call and go have breakfast somewhere. Cultivate your independence from the brainless mob.
It will serve you well, both short-term as well as into the future.
This TikTok generation, once they get old enough, will have the toughest midlife crisis ever recorded in the history of mankind. They’ve wasted so much of their life doing absolutely nothing. Social media has made them feel like celebrities the whole time, always wondering what people think about them. Suddenly they’ll realize they’ve achieved nothing at all.
Your time is finite. Use it wisely.
It’s ironic how social media is a degradation of a social society. Internet and computers are amazing, but having them in the palm of your hand 24/7 is a bad idea. You have this gorgeous world to explore, don’t bury your brain under hours of exploring pixels. At the end of the day, is the value you get from Instagram really worth missing out on so much of life? The world is exciting out there. The delete button is looking at you.
Above all, seek purpose. Aim at something, and focus. When nothing is missing in your life, you won’t even need those dopamine hits to satiate your reward system. You’ll be the person with stuff to post about, but you won’t do it because you’ll be too busy.
Becker and Murphy found that cigarette and heroine use are both sensitive to potential improvement in life. That is, people may stop using these drugs when they suddenly have an unexpected life opportunity. This suggests that a lack of better options increases cravings for such drugs.
Make no mistake, social media is an algorithmic drug.
For most people, social media use is wasted time they’d rather be spending doing something meaningful. Look at your own habits and you’ll see for yourself. When are you not on social media? When you do something interesting. When people do interesting stuff, they naturally gravitate away from easy, empty fixes, because interesting things come with their own, enriching source of dopamine.
Is your time in this world engaging, meaningful and productive?
That is the end-game.
Have something better to do. Build a life. No one will get to their death bed wishing they’d spent more time on Instagram.
The Future of Social Media
“Computers, video, radio, printing presses, synthesizers, fax machines, tape recorders, photocopiers — these things make great toys, but terrible addictions. Finally we realize that we cannot “reach out and touch someone” who is not present in the flesh.” — Hakim Bey
I will finish this long piece with positive words.
I am not bashing the idea of social media. There’s utility in it. Event or charity organization, seeking organ donations, the sharing of knowledge, asking for help or advice, being reminded of others’ birthdays, helping a good idea reach the world, reuniting family members, entertainment even.
I agree with Scarlett Johansson, who doesn’t use social media at all, when she said, “As a means to share information and raise awareness of things, I think these social-networking platforms are unprecedented. They’re amazing tools to communicate information—especially about different causes or crises or movements.”
Social media also gives easy access for jobs, everyday favors, watching photos of your grand-kids in-between visits, re-igniting connections with old friends, and access to health-promoting information.
It increases your social capital and let’s you use capital from previous, real relationships. When you move to college, you abandon the rich networks you formed at high school. When you later get a job, you abandon those rich networks you formed at college. Social media may help keep people in contact, even when life moves them away from each other. My brother told me he often meets up with past friends after initiating a conversation on an Instagram story. Such connections could have strong payoffs in terms of personal progression. In that way, social media may help bond the fragmented social life we now inhabit, and help bridge you to friends outside your physical space, to then meet.
Even social media’s most basic feature is extraordinarily useful: to be part of a global, searchable database of people who make themselves available to be contacted by others. Where else would you find such a thing?
I want to be part of such a system.
But not at the cost of my time, sanity, and privacy. The tech industry has used behavioral science to corrupt a technology that could be positive for us, to turn us into anti-social, self-obsessed zombies. TV was one of the most amazing inventions back in the way. It brought the world into your home! But the vast majority of TV was utilized for wasteful content. Social media has now become the new TV, an opiate for the masses.
Since the core cause of the problems is the advertising-based business model, I think the future belongs in a radically different approach.
I would like to see an open-source, non-commercial social network. The scale of influence on human lives is just too great for something like this to be run by companies with any other agenda other than our own.
For example, take Wikipedia, a marvel of human accomplishment that has rendered all encyclopedias obsolete. It’s one of the top 10 websites in the world, the only one run by a nonprofit organization, the Wikimedia Foundation. It is not funded through advertising or selling your data. It is supported entirely by readers grateful enough to donate. This non-commercial financial model ensures Wikipedia’s trustworthiness.
The readers who donate are enough to sustain Wikipedia’s top-notch infrastructure and engineers, and to protect free knowledge around the world. Thanks to Wikipedia, anybody around the world can learn anything, for no cost. That is nothing short of astounding.
The beauty is that the sheer quantity of eyeballs on the content and code ensures their integrity. Because so many people are constantly monitoring the project, errors are corrected within seconds.
I would like to see a similarly designed social media network.
It could be a free, open-source project run by a nonprofit organization, or it could be a decentralized, block-chain based system like Bitcoin. Only such a thing would ensure the network keeps the best of our interest.
Such a platform would be free of the addictive, manipulative algorithm revving in the background. It wouldn’t be necessary, since there would be no ads, and nobody would benefit from such techniques. As a result, such a social media network would respect your time and attention.
It would be a genuine tool. When you have a pen, a cutting board, or an electric kettle, the tool is just sitting there waiting to be used when you need it. It isn’t constantly learning your behavior and using what it found to seduce you to use it more often, and for longer periods of time, so that it can display ads in front of your eyes. It isn’t using your own psychology against you.
This is how I want this social network to be. I don’t want it to get people hooked through reward loops. I want it to just be there and perform its basic functions when I need it, without consuming my life.
What current social media networks have revealed about human nature is that digital connections aren’t the same thing as real-life connections. We need this new system designed to be used less, and to instead encourage flesh and blood human interactions. Such smartphone use would be healthy, since it would lead to the pursuit of a healthy social life.
Rather than use social media to compare our lives to the distorted slice of reality others present, we would use such a system as a genuine tool of communication to foster true friendships and relationships.
How would all that happen?
Trust the mass of talent and eyeballs that would take part in something so large. Code would be quickly deployed, inspected, and tested rigorously to ensure it contributes to the mental health of users, instead of to the financial sheets and profits of a corporate company.
I trust the goodness within the human heart, the same goodness that gave life to systems such as Wikipedia or Linux, to eventually invent such a social network. This kind of platform won’t be a validation mad house like Instagram. It would take measures to drive mental health upwards instead of killing your spirit with quick dopamine-fixes. It would be a system that you use, not a system that uses you.
I would like to see the collaborative efforts behind such a system come up with algorithms aiming to maximize life-enrichment, rather than time spent. This social network will be optimized for your welfare, not for the profits of the owner in expense of your time and mental health. It would be optimized to strengthen your self-esteem, sense of belonging, psychological well-being, and social relations, even if that means that optimization would lead people to use the app less and less.
That is a social network that has your best interest. It would end up being a tool, a minor player in our lives rather than the star of the show.
Yes, this social network will probably not be as fun as Instagram. Your grandma’s healthy meal isn’t as fun as a bag of Cheetos. You can measure the health of our society by how much the interests of businesses align with those of their customers. Look at our world’s current epidemics: obesity, depression, a lack of meaning, social isolation. This all points at products – from TikTok to morning cereals – that make our lives pathetic. In 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes claimed that the metrics that drive capitalism would at some point steer us off. He envisioned it.
Social media today isn’t connecting us, it’s setting us apart. The social network that I describe wouldn’t warp our society. Unlike Facebook, it wouldn’t be in charge of the news you consume. It wouldn’t result in shortened attention spans, manipulative feeds with negative outcries, polarization and division of entire populations, false narratives and the breakdown of truth. These are all direct consequences of social media’s current business model, extracting human attention.
The kind of social network I’m talking about will have beefed-up privacy standards, innovative protection from hate, trolling, and the other nasty behaviors that are so common online. I also see it being modular. That is, you could turn off certain features if you find them messing with your life. You might even use its settings to set up hours where it automatically shuts down access to your profile, to prevent you from being sucked back in. Such a system would truly care about your life satisfaction. Perhaps, like Facebook, it would even identify when your mental sanity is spiraling downwards, only it would help instead of abusing it to sell you stuff.
I am hopeful that social media will morph into something that benefits our brains and society as a whole. I am hopeful we will find ways to use the wisdom of the crowd to decide what is true and false, and to eliminate fake news, pseudoscience lunacy, conspiracies, and hate speech.
Social media is too critical to be owned by one entity, and such a decentralized social media protocol would allow for people to govern themselves without any company or organization having monolithic control over the landscape of online conversations.
The system that I want to see would find ways to highlight meaningful content next to other meaningful content that opposes it. It wouldn’t reinforce what you believe in so that you keep using the app. Computers are bad at determining what is true. This is why it would relegate that mission to the users, like Wikipedia. Maybe, God forbid, we can even design such a system to encourage us to talk to each other in real life.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
This kind of social media network would never be accused in deliberate mass deception and targeted advertising for political goals. It wouldn’t – it couldn’t, by design – become a propaganda tool like Facebook. It wouldn’t instill fear and hatred, or be designed to extract your attention, breaking social bonds and isolating people in the process.
In America: The Farwell Tour, Chris Hedges writes, “Hope means rejecting the thirst for public adulation. It means turning away from the maniacal self creation of a persona that defines social media. It means searching for something else, a life of meaning, purpose, and, ultimately, dignity.” Let’s make it a reality. Social media, as we now know it, isn’t harmless entertainment. It risks our productivity, social life, and mental health. We must design a new system, in which our brains are safe.
I do see light at the end of the tunnel.
The young generation is becoming aware. They want encryption, they don’t want to be tracked, they’re tired of hate speech, they fear cyber-bullying, and they abhor ads. People are waking up.
Meanwhile, until the day when such a system is born, regulations should start demanding ethical practices from social media companies the same way they do from other addictive industries, like casinos or tobacco.
The most depressing thing in the world is to see a baby in a stroller, amazed at what’s going on around him, only to be pushed by a mom glued to her iPhone, so absorbed she’s allowing the world to pass her by, totally oblivious to the sensations blasting through her baby’s eyes, but up to date on who watched her Instagram story.