The canary in the coal mine for this issue is actually college campuses. If you talk to mental health experts on college campuses, they’ll tell you that along with the rise of ubiquitous smartphone use and social media use among the students on the campus, came an explosion of anxiety-related disorders on those campuses.
So that’s the canary in the coal mine. This type of behavior is a mismatch for our brain wiring and can make you feel miserable.
So there’s real cost to social media use: which means when you’re trying to decide, “Should I use this or not?”, saying it’s harmless is not enough. You actually have to identify a significantly positive, clear benefit that can outweigh these potential, completely non-trivial harms.
People often ask, “OK, but what is life like without social media?” That can actually be a little bit scary to think about.
What I found from people I know who have gone through this process, there can be a few weeks that are difficult. It actually is like a true detox process. The first two weeks can be uncomfortable: you feel a little bit anxious, you feel like you’re missing a limb.
But after that, things settle down, and actually, life after social media can be quite positive.
There’s two things I can report back from the world of no social media use.
First, it can be quite productive.
So I’m a professor at a research institution, I’ve written five books, I rarely work past 5 pm on a weekday. Part of the way I’m trying to able to pull that off is because it turns out, if you treat your attention with respect, — so you don’t fragment it; you allow it to stay whole, you preserve your concentration — when it comes time to work you can do one thing after another, and do it with intensity, and intensity can be traded for time.
It’s surprising how much you can get done in a eight-hour day if you’re able to give each thing intense concentration after another.
Something else I can report back from life without social media is that outside of work, things can be quite peaceful. So I often joke I’d be very comfortable being a 1930s farmer, because if you look at my leisure time, I read the newspaper while the sun comes up; I listen to baseball on the radio; I honest-to-god sit in a leather chair and read hardcover books at night after my kids go to bed.
It sounds old-fashioned, but I’ll tell you they were onto something back then. It’s actually a restorative, very peaceful way to actually spend your time out of work. You don’t have the constant hum of stimuli, and the background hum of anxiety that comes along with that.
So life without social media is really not so bad.
If you pull together these threads, you see my full argument for why I think — not everyone, but certainly much more people than right now use social media — much more people should not be using social media. That’s because we can first, to summarize, discard with the main concerns that somehow it’s a fundamental technology you have to use. Nonsense: it’s a slot machine in your phone.
We can discard with this notion that you’re not going to get a job if you don’t use social media. Nonsense: anything a six-year-old with a smartphone can do is not going to be what the market rewards.
And then I emphasized the point that there’s real harms with it. So it’s not just harmless. You really would have to have a significant benefit before you would say this trade-off is worth it.
Finally, I noted, that life without social media: there’s real positives associated with it.
So I’m hoping that when many of you actually go through this same calculus, you’ll at least consider the perspective I’m making right now, which is: many more people would be much better off if they didn’t use this technology.
Now of course, some of you might disagree, some of you might have scathing but accurate critiques of me and my points, and of course, I welcome all negative feedback.
I just ask that you direct your comments towards Twitter.