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The Damaging Reality of Social Media

I was on a crowded train in London on a hot August afternoon. As often happens in places where your personal space is invaded, people pretend they’re fine and bury their heads in their phones.

I stood next to a woman who spent 27 minutes editing a picture. Yes, I timed it because I like to do weird things when I’m bored. FYI, I didn’t stare at her phone the whole time just kept my eye on it. She first browsed through tens if not hundreds of pictures that looked the same. Her standing in the water, facing away from the camera with her bum being the focal point. When the right pic was chosen, the editing began. Filters, highlights, shadows, contrast, brightness, saturation, tint and finally the cellulite remover (?). I’m sure that’s not the name of the filter but that feature was used for a while.

I got off the train so I’m not sure how much longer that continued.

Painkiller apps

According to Peter Mezyk there are two kinds of app categories: supplement apps and painkiller apps.

Supplement apps solve specific problems like translating or sending money (PayPal). Painkiller apps, like social media or news apps, don’t solve a clearly defined problem.

These apps are vicious because they incorporate “behavioural design” which satisfies the three criteria necessary to build a strong habit in its users: motivation (you associate the app with a fast dopamine hit), action (you can open the app with a single click), and trigger (your phone just vibrated with a new notification). Tech companies spend millions of $ on making apps as addictive as possible. We’re in the Skinner’s Box run by Big Tech.

Social media as a panopticon

Panopticon is a prison design system created by Jeremy Bentham in the eighteenth century. Instead of having multiple guards to watch over the prisoners, he figured building prison cells around a central watch tower would alter inmates’ behaviour because they wouldn’t know if they were being watched.

Pic by Adam Simpson

Similarly, crafting identity on social media happens unconsciously because we know others are watching us. We modify our behaviour as a result. For example, how often do you feel like others are living the best possible life and you’re at home bored, scrolling on the couch not living up to your full potential? So next time you’re out, you’re gonna show them what a great time you’re having. It’s a panopticon. Nobody watches you per se, but the perception of being watched has you craft an image.

“Social media normalized what Jonathan Haidt calls a “prestige economy”—a performative culture in which people compete for social status. Under these market conditions, privacy—withholding our drunken antics, beach bodies, breakups, shower thoughts, and uninformed political takes—was the road to social irrelevance and nonexistence in a world measured by outrage and shrinking attention spans.”1

That girl on a train - who was she spending all this time editing a single picture for?

Is crafting a projection of a cellulite-free body time well spent? Is that a life worth living? Will she lovingly look back at that moment on her deathbed, wishing she could have spent more time editing?

Leave it to me to overthink a mundane activity but you know what I mean 😁

Consumption vs Production

In his way-too-long-could-have-been-a-blog-post book The Millionaire Fastlane, MJ De Marco talks about two kinds of people in the world: producers (business owners) and consumers. Producers, according to him are the ones who reap financial rewards because there are always more people wishing to consume. This also applies to social media. I saw a statistic somewhere that only 1% of users create content.

Mind you, the person was selling a course on content creation so I’m pretty sure he pulled that statistic out of his arse. Whatever the number, it’s safe to say there are more consumers than producers online.

study in the Journal of Communication found that 75% of screen content is viewed < 1min with the switch between screen content being 19 seconds. The never-ending scrolling social media apps introduced give a neurological high.

Swipe → a cute cat → swipe → high school bestie getting married → swipe → relatable meme about your boss → swipe → hot guy with a six-pack screaming into a screen about the dangers of salad…

Competition for our attention across platforms drains our cognitive capacity, attention span and any leftover ability to be a producer.2 It promotes social comparison, kills happiness and makes us DUMB (not a scientific claim).


You’re probably thinking I know all of this but there are upsides to social media too, aren’t there? You connect with like-minded people, find inspiration and learn new things. Yes, in the same way that there are upsides to eating processed food. It’s fast, it feels good and it’s usually cheaper. But at the end of the day, you suffer the consequences.

I wrote a poem about Instagram a few months back and it seems fitting to share it here.

In a world where fools are

The leaders of this generation,

Where you sell time and data

In exchange for likes and dopamine,

Slowly bleeding your life away

But not fast enough for you to notice.








Now you’re dead.

In a world where the beauty-ideal

Is face unaffected by intellect

Only Botox, left forever one-dimensional,

Filled with perpetual disinterest

Of anything except a mirror or selfie,

Building generation’s self-worth on looks

Can only lead to a generation

Bleeding because of looks.






You’re dead.

Self-interest and self on a pedestal

Secretly wonder why life feels

Empty and meaninglessness

Oh wait, you just sold a product

Nobody needs, never mind.

Distracted, filled with money

A black hole emitting chaos.

But no time to pause

Because the world is fast-paced

And you’re being told

You’re either in or you’re out.

But nobody mentioned that

Life isn’t a binary problem.





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