Recently Cal Newport coined the term “the social media industrial complex.”
This is the disconnect that the social media industrial complex doesn’t want you to notice. They want the conversation to stop at the assertion that social media isn’t useless, and then hope people move on without questioning the specific role these services have claimed on their limited and valuable time and attention. — Cal Newport
For most of us, the use of these tools has become habitual. Checking Facebook is a habit as ingrained as brushing your teeth. But if you do a brutally honest assessment of the value you’re getting out of social media, you might be surprised to find that the value that you get from it pales in comparison to the time, energy and attention you put into it.
1. False Connection/Mental Health Issues
Social media often creates a false sense of connection between people. It’s something I’ve witnessed in myself and other friends who’ve attempted long-distance relationships, where the overwhelming majority of the communication takes place through messages. And if it’s somebody you’re having a flirty, sexual, or romantic connection with, the dopamine hits are amplified significantly.
When that dopamine supply is cut off suddenly it can lead to many mental health issues. When it happened to me a few years ago, my business partner Brian said “it’s like cutting a rat off an infinite cocaine supply. Not surprising that it caused depression.” While this interaction is part of our daily lives, it was never meant to be a substitute for face to face communication. Texting is a piss poor way to get to know someone, and we were never meant to be alone together.
2. Negative Impacts on Social Skills
At the Starbucks near my parent’s house, high school kids walk in and they text each other from across the store. They’re in the same damn place and hardly ever looking up from their phones. Many child development specialists have raised serious concerns about the impact that screens are having on the development of social skills. It turns out that many kids learn to read social cues unconsciously at meals and through interactions, yet their faces are buried in screens.
Most conferences have hashtags, and Twitter blows up during a conference. But the conferences where I’ve had the most in-depth connections take place, there were no phones allowed, no pictures taken, and no tweets. If the point of a conference is to get together in person, perhaps there should be less focus on hashtags, and more on handshakes.
A few months ago, I decided on a simple policy. I would keep my phone turned off anytime I went on a date. I noticed that I felt more charismatic, connected, and present as a result. Don’t get me wrong. I’m as guilty of this as anybody. My sister yells at me quite a bit when we’re at dinner when I get distracted by the phone. As a person who has to get shit done with ADHD, I have to take more precautions than an average person.
3. Excessive Distraction
As we use social media more and more, we train our brains to become more distracted. We do long-term harm to our attention spans, fail to develop the skill of deep work and damage our brains. We become the cognitive equivalent of athletes who smoke.
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4. Unrealistic Comparison
Everybody on social media is always up to something more epic than you are. This leads to unhealthy and unrealistic comparisons. It also causes the value of everything you have to be grateful for go down. Someone always has more, fans, followers, money, a better lifestyle. Scroll through your newsfeed and eventually, you’ll find something that triggers this feeling of comparison.
5. Declines in Productivity
How many days have you sat down the best of intentions only to find you’ve pissed away the day chasing distractions on your favorite social network? As little time as one focused hour, a day is actually a challenge for many people. Social media often leads to excessive consumption. And excessive consumption limits your creativity.
So that takes us back to one final question. Is the value you’re getting from it reflected in the time you’re investing in it?
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