Should you quit social media?

I remember when social media first cropped up in our culture. Back then, they called it “Web 2.0″ and it was epitomized by services like MySpace (which was briefly Facebook’s biggest competition until FB exploded and swallowed up the media universe). As an artist, I found MySpace incredibly seductive: I could post writing, photography, or music and get a sense of instant fame. There it was, my art piece glowing on a T.V.-like screen for seemingly the whole world to see. And best of all, I got instant feedback in the form of likes and comments. I was hooked.  

But how has this technology, which seems to have captivated young people in particular, effected me in the long run? Has the instant gratification, attention-sucking, and ego-boosting had negative consequences on my life? 

I watched the above TED Talk from computer scientist Cal Newport recently and it has given me some food for thought about my technology habits. Newport thinks quitting social media could make you a little happier in life. Here are his main reasons: 

  1. Social media is hard to quit precisely because companies designed it that way. Companies hire “attention engineers”—world-class experts who borrow strategies from Las Vegas casinos to create apps that are addictive. Maybe this doesn’t bug you, but there is something arguably a little creepy about this. 
  2. Social media apps fracture your attention. Every time your phone buzzes with a notice that you received a “like” or comment, it pulls your attention away from whatever you were working on. This constant distraction prevents you from being able to do the deep, laser-point-focused work that Newport believes is required for success in today’s economy. 
  3. Social media causes adverse psychological effects which are well-documented. Psychologists have studied the effects of social media and found evidence that it may cause higher rates of loneliness, depression and anxiety, as well as jealousy of others’ supposedly happier lives. 

Newport goes into much more detail with stories and supporting points. The talk is definitely worth watching. 

Just try not to tweet about it afterwards. ;-) 

Related post: The strange dream of Facebook