Social Media Considered Harmful
Not long ago, we lived in small hunter-gatherer tribes. Social skills evolved along our abilities to use physical tools and language. We spent our days hunting or foraging our food, and had plenty of free time to ponder life. Our survival was dependent upon our social skills. We were rewarded (by the fruits of cooperation) for having friends and social support, and killed (mostly by hunger or predators) if we were antisocial. Our brains developed to be very sensitive to social interactions. The ability to read other’s emotions, give them importance, and respond to them is a part of our hard-wired social brain. It also takes a lot of mental energy.
In the early days of social media, I was (as is usual with me) an avid promoter and ethusiast. Social media is just amazing for so many things: exploring ideas, being up to date with many topics, connecting with tons of people. Social media helped me bootstrap my professional life, and meet some of the most amazing people. However, I’ve now come to believe that in a couple of years, most people will view using social media as unhealthy, like we do today with smoking. We might need to find better ways to get these benefits withtout the costs.
I stopped using Facebook ~3 years ago, and Instagram ~2 years ago. My online life has been much better since. My offline life too. Today (actually, a month ago), I left Twitter. The costs are simply too high for me. I noticed the less I use any of those apps, the calmer my mind, the more I read, and the more time I spend outside, in real contact with other people and nature. These are things I value more than instant access to news and daily contact with thousands of people at this time.
It is very hard to argue that social media is not harmful for most. We are simply not made to continually know what everyone else is doing or thinking, all the time! And it’s not a neutral tech. It is actively addictive and destructive to our volition. Most of the people I’ve talked to say they’d like to use these apps less. Yet somehow they don’t. Our brains are wired to pay attention to each other and to care about what others think about us. Social media is designed to exploit both these things. It is engineered to hook us in, and to influence our behavior. That’s the product Facebook, Instagram and Twitter sell to their customers: changing your ideas and behavior. And they got some pretty talented people working on that.
I don’t really think I can convince anyone to leave social media. I don’t even think it’s bad for everyone or that the benefits can’t outweigh the costs for some. I’m writing this post because many of you will already be close to leaving one of these apps. You’ve been thinking about it already. You’ve already made up your mind about it, and you’re waiting for the right moment. If just one person makes the final step into at least trying to live without social media, I’ll be happy. It has made a huge change for me. If you think this is stupid or I don’t understand the beauty of the Internet, I think you’ll change your mind in a few years. Or social media will ;)
If you do leave social media, feel free to contact me after a couple of months to share experiences. It’s been amazing for me, and I’m not going back. I’m really interested in knowing more about how this change can affect other people’s life. I’m also curious to find new ways to stay in touch with people outside my local community which are less toxic to my mind.
To close this brief post, I’ll share a bold prediction (and hope) on this topic: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter will have less monthly active users in 2025 than today (~2.6 billion, ~1 billion, ~330 million, respectively). I added this to my predictions for 2026 post.
Additional Resources and Learning
- Cal Newport’s talk on “Why you should quit social media”. Watching this was the first time I seriously considered quitting it forever.
- The Social Dilemma documentary. Available on Netflix.
- Ingrid Goes West movie. Thanks Vera!
- “Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health?” talk by Bailey Parnell.
- Black Mirror’s “Nosedive” episode.
- “What I learned from my social media fast” talk by Amber Quinney.
- “Live in the Moment: Delete Social Media” talk by Ryan Thomas
- The Burnout Society by Byung-Chul Han
- Instagram Is Dead (It Just Doesn’t Know It Yet) by Jared A. Brock
- Lex Fridman interviews Cal Newport.
- Joe Rogan interviews Adam Alter.
- Social media damages your brain and sabotages your potential (Jonathan Blow)
Cover photo by Camilo Contreras on Unsplash