It’s time to pare back our addiction to social media, and I will propose an alternative later in this post.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the primary causes of unhappiness, anger, tribalism, and violence in America and many other countries. Text messaging apps are accessories.
Heavy Facebook Users Are Miserable and Lonely #
Replicated research shows that the top 1/4 of Facebook users are three times as angry and depressed as the bottom 1/4. This fact surprised the researchers who conducted the original experiment. They suspected some degree of life-dissatisfaction among people who spend more than four hours a day on social media. They did not expect these addicts to be orders of magnitude more miserable. But they are.
A study led by Brian Primack of the University of Pittsburgh and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2017 found that people who spend more than two hours a day on social media are twice as likely to feel socially isolated than those who rarely use the tools.
Primack and his team considered that social media use could potentially consume a person so much that there’s little time for them to enjoy personal, real-world socializing. But the amount of time spent seeing the lives of others could also spark feelings of exclusion or jealousy. Perhaps a user might see a celebration he or she wasn’t invited to; or simply viewing a person’s photos of a family vacation or other personal event could cause someone to believe their friend enjoys a happier, more fulfilled life than them.
In another study by Holly Shakya of U. of San Diego and Nicholas Christakis (author of Connected) of Yale, said, “Our results show that overall, the use of Facebook as negatively associated with well-being.”
Cal Newport, a computer scientist, writes in his latest book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World,"
[I]f you increase the amount of likes or links clicked by a standard deviation, mental health decreases by 5 to 8 percent of a standard deviation.
These findings, Newport points out, hold for all age groups, ethnicities, races, and both sexes.
In short, social media torture the human mind and soul.
What Do Lonely, Jealous People Do? #
Lonely, jealous people don’t know how to make themselves feel better. If they did, they would.
That’s not to say the lonely don’t seek meaningful relationships or the jealous don’t seek satisfaction. They do. They do it poorly. They make bad choices. Guess what their first bad choice is:
Facebook is the go-to app when you feel lonely or bored. When you go there, you find old friends and attractive strangers. These “others” fill your screen with beautiful photos, stories, bitmojis, and videos that provide quick spurts of dopamine to your bored, lonely brain.
You click some links. “Ah, look at that! I didn’t know that. I wish I had one of those.”
You also see things that make you angry. You might learn, for instance, that “white Jesus” is a symbol of white supremacy or that St. Michael kills black people for sport.
Or, you might learn that a mob wants to smash up all the stained-glass windows that depict white Jesus or St. Michael.
Now, you’re angry. Now, it’s your turn to post something. So you do.
You post something in anger without a filter, without an editor to challenge your assertions and predictions. And then what happens?
Chances are, the people who follow you on social media are mostly people like you. They will happily (or angrily) agree with your sentiment. They will “like” or “love” your angry post. They might tack on their emotional reply.
These likes and supportive replies provide a much more substantial dopamine boost. The emotional weight of the replies also triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol, hormones associated with fear and movement. So you post another. You get more likes and replies with even more-vigorous emotional intensity.
Two hours later, your wife or husband or boss asks you what you’ve been doing all this time, and you’re too ashamed to say, “I’ve been venting my spleen on Twitter.”
Whether you realize it or not, you’re now jealous, angry, isolated (because you can’t tell the truth), and flooded with adrenaline and cortisol. High cortisol levels signal the body to store fat. You won’t see a difference in a day, but daily use of Facebook and Twitter will make you fat, all other things being equal.
And, if you want to talk to an expert on this vicious cycle of negative feedback loops, you’re reading his blog.
Mobs of Lonely, Jealous People #
Eleven years after Facebook introduced the “Like” button, we see our cities in ruin, churches and statues destroyed, gun sales reaching all-time highs. America is a nation on the verge of a civil war, and no one seems willing to back down. We are in a game of Chicken where one or both competitors will die because death is preferable to “chickening out.”
And we are here mostly because of social media.
No, Facebook didn’t produce the intellectual (or anti-intellectual) bases for race hatred and social leveling. Those came from academia. But those philosophies have been around for centuries, even in the United States. They just weren’t acted upon in significant ways.
Social media provide the emotional triggers for execution. Lonely, jealous people who lack both meaningful human relationships and the life skills to improve their situations turn to another lousy strategy. These people seek to make those happy, fulfilled people they see on social media as miserable and lonely as they are. Feeling unable to lift themselves up (because some malicious other is holding them down), these self-pitying souls demand that the government spread misery evenly. “Defund the police.”
And, if the government won’t do it, why we’ll form angry, lonely mobs to destroy what we see as someone else’s happy life.
As the old saying goes, capitalism is the uneven distribution of wealth; socialism is the even distribution of poverty. You can replace “wealth” and “poverty” with “happiness” and “misery,” and the saying is just as valid.
Don’t Play Chicken #
Chicken is, according to former CIA field officer John Braddock, a negative-sum game. They’re wars of attrition. Braddock says, when you find yourself in a negative-sum game, the only strategy is to quit.
I’m not saying to quick the battle for America’s soul; I’m saying to quit the addiction to social media. No one can accuse you of racist micro-aggressions in old tweets if you have no old tweets.
And, you don’t have to quit Facebook altogether. You can pare down your list of friends to only those whose relationships you value. You can leave the groups that serve mostly to satisfy that negative feedback loop described above. You can use Zappier or IFTT to email you updates from the people you care about and avoid those platforms altogether.
(If you read Digital Minimalism, you will learn that social media companies hire psychologists to make their platforms addictive. It isn’t an accident. You are being manipulated the moment you visit the app or the site.)
As Cal Newport says, if you’re worried about keeping in touch with old friends, call them, Facetime them, or, my favorite, schedule Google Meet sessions. You’ll be able to see each other instead of skimming each other’s Facebook posts.
I urge you to reduce your use of social media and start having real conversations again.
An Alternative to Social Media #
What if, instead of following me on Twitter or Facebook, I set up a weekly, one-hour Google Meet for up to 100 people?
We can use Twitter and Facebook for the logistics, but not as substitutes for conversation. As Cal Newport points out in Digital Minimalism, Twitter and Facebook and texting are great tools for logistics and quick fact exchange. They’re just no substitutes for conversation and nurturing human relationships.
On Monday or Tuesday, I’ll post a link and a time for the meet-up on Google Meet. There’s nothing to download or install. And Meet doesn’t have a record function, so you don’t have to worry about something you say being misconstrued on social media. You just click the link, and I’ll let you in.
I’m going to try this one night this week. I’ll write a short blog post and tweets with the link. Just friends getting together face-to-face via the internet to catch up and talk about things.
If you’d like more from life than cat videos and snippets of text if you’d like to get to know people again, look for the link.
And don’t share this post on social media unless you agree it’s time to get back to human-to-human relationships. Who knows, we might save the country in the process.