How Social Media is Sucking the Life Out of Your Social Life


Facebook states as its “mission” on its own Facebook page to “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” Weird, when everything about it is geared toward getting people to spend more time alone staring at screens.

How Facebook and other social media sites manage to get away with such rhetoric is because what they’re saying, at least partially, is actually pretty true.

We can’t deny the whole purpose of social media is to help us meet new people and stay in touch with the ones we already know. We use such sites for everything from sharing photos of our kids with our loved ones to messaging someone we hit it off with in a bar the other night.

The trouble is when it comes to actually taking a trip to visit your loved ones or moving that potential relationship into the offline world. Social media networks are incredibly powerful means of communication, but as far as getting us to spend actual time with people — you know, in person, like real people do — they not only do diddly squat, they make it infinitely more difficult.

An Antisocial Social Addiction

Nothing in life is free. And as everyone is now becoming aware, when we use so-called “free” social media sites (another partial truth), we’re paying for them with our attention.

The more attention they soak up, the more money they make. The more money they make, the more users they can attract. The more users they attract, the more attention they soak up and the less likely they are to become the next Bebo or Myspace.

In other words, the more addictive they become, the better their business model and chances of survival.

So yes, Facebook, whereas on one superficial level you can say you want to “build community” and “bring the world closer together”, on another level, you know, in the actual real world, it’s just downright lies. And you can forget about the whole “give people the power” part.

Social media sites with their never-ending news feeds and engagement-driving systems of random rewards such as Likes and hearts tap into our most primal and vulnerable instincts. And in doing so, they trap us in dangerous dopamine-driven feedback loops.

Such feedback loops, based on momentary but inherently unsatisfying highs, are what lead people to engage in such harmful and life-destroying behaviours as gambling their life away or injecting themselves to death with heroin. We know what we’re doing is bad for us and that it could never bring us lasting fulfilment, yet, for some irrational and uncontrollable reason, we keep doing them and hoping they will anyway.

Sure, such activities as gambling and taking drugs involve much higher risks and rewards and are more addictive than sending Snaps could ever be. But whereas it is true that some activities and substances are more physiologically addictive than others, it’s psychologically possible to become addicted to anything.

And out of any of our primal instincts, the tendency to get psychologically addicted to things is one of our most vulnerable of all.

Eating sofa cushions, checking the door is locked six times before you go out, beating yourself up with negative thoughts; we can get addicted to literally any form of behaviour. This is because there are hidden motives behind why someone engages in addictive behaviour. The most common of which is by far, as experts agree, the desire to avoid, alter, deny, and escape reality at all costs.

A moment of boredom, a dull conversation, a complex situation, a painful feeling, a difficult decision, the harsh reality of life and unbearable weight of existence, your spouse; if it is in any way possible, we will actively avoid all such things simply because they may be a bit uncomfortable and take energy to deal with.

Here’s the kicker: Thanks to the wonder of smartphones and, you guessed it, social media, it is now possible to do just that at any given time and from pretty much any given place.

The result is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur’s wet dream: We become incapable of thinking or feeling anything we don’t want to and thus addicted to the instantaneous relief of escaping reality. Or, as it actually plays out, we “choose” to spend more and more time on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat instead of in the place where things actually happen, the real world.

What this looks like, in terms of our social lives, is that we avoid potentially difficult situations, become socially inept and awkward, convince ourselves we’re getting the social interaction we need, grow an emptiness and indifference toward reality inside of us, and, eventually, forget what’s real and rely upon the superficial validations and interactions of social media to try an scratch an itch we know deep down they will never reach.

It all sounds incredibly insidious and depressing, and it is. But in order for it to be so you need to first believe two things: 1) You need to escape reality and 2) That Facebook and social media sites hold the power for allowing you to connect with other people and build community in your life.

Uncoincidentally, for a lot of us today, the second belief is actually what gives the first any substance and ground to stand on. And so, if you get rid of the second, then you go a long way toward dispelling the first.

But how do you do that? Well, you can start by considering the acts of making friends and connections, giving love and Likes, and sharing and interacting, were not ideas and concepts dreamt up by a few A-type recluses in some university dorm; they’ve been stolen from real people and real life and merely sold back to us as 2D, artificial representations and partial truths of what they really are.

As a result of this, you could never find the true feelings that come through connection and bonding on some website or app. Social media is nothing more than a tool for delivering messages, and although it can certainly help lead you to it, it will never hold and thus never be able to give you the true source of life itself.

The true source of life itself is unprofitable and unmanageable. This is great news for us because it means we don’t have to go anywhere or gain so many Likes or comments in order to enjoy it. But it also means it involves real pain, real discomfort, and real, unexpected and catastrophic embarrassments and setbacks — the stuff that social media protects us from.

The thing is, it also comes with the opposite too — the good stuff that social media doesn’t have and inevitably makes us forget. Rather than having you sit there in front of a screen while I fail to describe exactly what that looks like, I’ll leave you to go out there into the real world and remember how it is for yourself.


Joseph Pennington is a freelance writer and long-term traveller from the North of England. Connect with him on LinkedIn and find more articles on work, technology, spirituality, and everything in between.