You’re likely reading this on a smartphone. You most likely found this piece via Facebook, with Twitter and Reddit in distant 2nd and 3rd place. I’m not psychic, and not to be a creeper but I know from the analytics my website pulls when you access my page. Anyway today isn’t about how you got here, or maybe it is… I want to talk to you about your social media habit.
I’m probably shooting myself in the foot here since the vast majority of my audience communicates with my online, but I care enough about you to compromise my reach to help you. Social media is hurting you. I know you have already heard this in soundbites and shared articles like this one, but I want to have an honest look at what it really is doing to you.
Social media is a cancer. It’s delivery seems innocent enough. Really like any cancer causing delivery system, we don’t sign up to hurt ourselves. We always have the best intentions, but we’re human. Meanwhile social media has an army of behavior and marketing strategists banking on being able to control you to consume their product regardless of your intentions. They want you attention and they will get it, even if it’s killing you.
I know I sound dramatic, but I am slowly watching my community and my colleagues become swallowed up by a force they can’t see. I see amazing professionals stall on their career progress because of a looming invisible force. I see beautiful lives ended - alone, because of the consuming darkness delivered from shiny mirror framed devices peddling connection.
For humans to stay healthy both physically and mentally we require human contact. Social media promises to give us this. It dangles our loved ones and our nemeses in front of us like a mobile and we can swat at them, but we are not actually making contact. It’s hollow. It’s empty. The gap left between words, the missing smiles and mannerisms, the subtleties drafted from real community, culture and interaction are all missing. Hearing laughter is important to our health (1, 2,3). Seeing it is important too (4). Funneled through social media we trick our body into thinking we’re getting it, but we likely aren’t.
We connect on social media because it is safer. We can close it at anytime. We can filter the content. People can’t be rude or judge us. Except they do. We are lying to ourselves. Social anxiety is becoming the epidemic of the digital age (5). We don’t talk in person because we are afraid of being judged. We're frozen in the fear we'll say something weird or stupid. Terrified we won't be accepted or liked. Miraculously, somehow for the entirety of our species we have been finding successful ways to communicate with each other face to face. The outlet of social media and it’s allure is what is feeding our social anxieties because of the unhealthy behaviors we practice when hiding behind our screens (6).
Every claim I make here is backed by data. Every month a new study is released on how much social media makes us unhappy and sick. (7) And yet we don’t want to hear it. We don’t want to believe it. So many of the people I watch suffer are of the most scientifically minded people I know. The data is there. But you don’t want to see it.
Do you find yourself:
Mindlessly opening your phone and checking social media?
Reaching for it when you are sleepless? Bored? Upset?
Are you conscious of what you are thinking or feeling when you reach for it?
Do you put it away when you are happy or when there isn’t anything new to see?
Feeling a burst of adrenaline or dopamine when you browse your feed? Are you looking for that high?
Comparing yourself to the accomplishments, status updates, or photos of others?
Quitting one social media app to pick up another?
Do you know someone who doesn’t use social media. Are they lost from the world. Not at all! Are they happy? Usually. They definitely don’t feel like they are missing out. In fact they are probably accomplishing more and are more content (8, 9, 10).
We use social media in the guise of taking control, of being included and connected. It’s all a lie and it’s whittling away at all the things that make you amazing. You don’t have to quit social media. You don’t have to close down all your accounts. Instead give it a purpose. Post a few pics, engage with a few people for a few minutes, once or twice a day. Put it away when you’re not using it, on a table or in a bag. Keep it out of reach. Close the tab on your computer. Turn off the notifications. Life begins when you set the phone down and live in the present world.
Start now… or right after you share this on your wall.
Cited articles and studies:
1 - http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2004/09/bachorowski.aspx
2 - https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/you-illuminated/201204/essential-new-parents-how-babys-laughter-affects-our-brains
3 - http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18255131
4 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2809699/
5 - https://www.thechelseapsychologyclinic.com/blog/social-anxiety-rise/
6 - https://www.anxiety.org/social-media-causes-anxiety
7 - https://www.wsj.com/articles/does-facebook-make-us-unhappy-and-unhealthy-1495729227
8 - https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/sep/21/does-quitting-social-media-make-you-happier-yes-say-young-people-doing-it
9 - http://www.stylist.co.uk/life/disconnecting-from-facebook-reconnecting-with-me-stylist-reader-story
10 - https://youtu.be/3E7hkPZ-HTk