Soul Destroying Effects of Social Media

While driving to the gym one morning last week I listened to a CBC interview with a tech expert from the UK who advocated getting off social media. The interviewer noted that social media has been characterized as ‘soul destroying’.

Jaren Lanier is a scientist at Microsoft.  His book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts, describes how algorithms are used by Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to addict users while subjecting them to useless advertisements. In the interview, he described withdrawal from social media as having similar effects to withdrawal from an addiction such as smoking or drugs.

Lanier described social media as causing constant comparison with others, resulting in anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and feelings of failure. For addicted users, anhedonia may occur when the quality of life gets compromised and activities that bring pleasure are abandoned. He likened addicted users to ‘well-trained dogs”.

I don’t see myself as a well-trained dog but admit that sometimes I waste precious time using social media with little benefit in return. I’m aware that the random positive reinforcement of likes and comments influences how I feel about blog posts. I seldom post other updates about my activities. Our son and daughter-in-law don’t want pictures of our grandchildren on social media and I’m not a great photographer –hence, few photos get posted. If I travel, I never post as I don’t want our vacant home to become a target. I do enjoy reading about the adventures of others — does this mean that I’m sad or anxious because I don’t have similar adventures?

Sometimes I experience the sadness or anxiety that Lanier describes when reading financial blogs and posts. I wonder why these investment opportunities passed me by. It’s irksome to compare my returns with those of so-called smarter people who are purportedly making lots of money with little effort! Thus, an inadvertent comparison with others in terms of investment successes.

Cancer of the Internet 

Social media has been called the cancer of the internet because users don’t realize what influences us nor what shapes our behaviour.

A constant online presence can be overwhelming.  There’s a danger of drowning in too many opinions, stories, updates and photos — not to mention the targeted, often subliminal, advertising. As well, there are too many meaningless interactions with too little substance. And, too many platforms on which to waste time!

Social Media Platforms -- photo by Nordwood thems courtesy of unsplash
Social Media Platforms — photo by Nordwood-themes courtesy of unsplash

Content on social media can be disturbing. Despite the use of moderators, unsolicited ads, disgusting photos, and violent videos pop up. Reporting to Facebook or Instagram may result in removal of the post; more likely, these companies will simply hide it.

FOMO (fear of missing out) keeps many people using social media because they fear ostracism by friends if they miss messages or videos that form the basis of interaction. Also, there is a fear of social isolation by failure to attend social events, which seems to be a worry for many younger people who rely on social media for connection to others.

What I find most annoying about social media, especially Twitter, is how mean people are to each other in tweets.  I rely on Twitter for instant news reports but I dislike angry comments that pop up over a small slight. Perhaps anonymity is to blame.  Whoever dreamed that so many people would easily vent anger or other negative emotions in just a few characters!

It’s a Connected Age

We live in a connected age.  Aside from an occasional digital detox, taking a total break from technology is not the answer.  Rather, each of us needs to manage use of social media just as we manage other aspects of our lives.  For example, although I love ice-cream and know that the sugar in it can be addictive, I don’t find myself staying awake until the wee hours sampling flavour after flavour. Likewise, I have no fear that I will disappear socially if I don’t read every post or tweet from friends.

I won’t follow the advice of Jaren Lanier and take a total break from technology.  Instead, I’ll monitor my use of social media by creating boundaries that are meaningful and consistent with my values. I’ll ignore the tweets and messages that intrude when I choose to meet someone in person rather than with cryptic messages. I’ll spend time on what matters in my life.

Thanks for reading this post.  I’m interested in strategies that readers use to manage social media.  Please leave a comment!  If you like my blog, please consider becoming a subscriber to receive posts by email rather than by a tweet!

4 Replies to “Soul Destroying Effects of Social Media”

  1. Hi Jeanette,
    Wow! It’s depressing to find out how depressing social media can be. I appreciate your fact-finding and sharing of results like anhedonia and FOMO. I have tried to limit my use of social media, and increase my use of puzzles and word games online to keep my brain working. I appreciate the opportunity to keep in touch with friends who live far away, and relatives that I seldom see. But I have noticed how helpless I often feel after reading about the dreadful actions and words of my national government officials, so I’m reducing the number of sites I visit about politics. Thanks for your post!

    1. Good on you for turning to puzzles and word games for brain health.
      Writing the post made me aware of how much time I spend on social media accounts all the while lamenting that I don’t have time for other activities. I don’t read political posts but I do look at political news online from CBC and New York Times. I’m happy to see wonderful travel pictures from friends and don’t feel envious of their junkets. Feelings of FOMO still happen but I’m aware that such feelings are often generated by social media. Awareness of the negative side effects of over-exposure plus constant vigilance should help us!
      Be well,

  2. Interesting blog – thank you. For facebook contacts I’ve created a list that just looks at postings by contacts which works fairly well, but still has annoyances, such as friend recommendations which seem impossible to stop. For other pages/groups I keep a direct URL link to use as and when appropriate. But I still waste time especially when tired… rule should be that I don’t use when tired….but that is just the time when I am looking to waste time, pretending to myself that I am doing something worthwhile. I don’t think think deleting is the answer….but a “moderation in all things, save moderation” is a good approach to social media!

    1. Moderation is key — and each of us has to find a baseline that is appropriate for our lifestyle. I remember when my mother chastised me for wasting precious time on the telephone each evening rather than doing homework!
      I like your suggestion of a direct link for pages and groups. One of my book clubs has a page that is restricted to members and this works well.
      Making peace with social media will require on-going attention as marketers find new ways to keep us addicted!
      Be well,
      Jeanette aka postworksavvy

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