The Real Reason We’re Addicted to Social Media

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Yesterday, this is the number of times I checked the following applications, whether on my phone, tablet, or laptop:

  • Facebook: 9
  • LinkedIn: 5
  • TweetDeck: 17
  • Instagram: 4

Now, let’s say I spent an average of 4 minutes on site every time I checked one of these social media platforms:

35 x 4 minutes = 140 minutes = 2.3 hours

Unbelievable.

Now, let’s say, on average, I can produce $1,000 in revenue with an hour of my time if I’m working on the right project.

That means I lost $2,300 in revenue in a single day in order to check social media platforms that generated a return of exactly $0 for me. This does not even begin to account for the time I waste click on the link bait I find via Twitter and LinkedIn, or the time it takes to switch tasks and move in and out of a flow state (which is when all of us do our best work). 

I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading this, you struggle with a very similar issue. Even if you aren’t tracking the time you spend on social media, you probably suspect that it’s too much. I’m guessing you feel like it’s wasted time, too. 

But, even intuitively knowing that, most of us don’t do anything differently. And I think it’s because we aren’t addressing the reason why we are so addicted to social media in the first place. 

We don’t constantly check these platforms because it’s a purpose-driven activity. And often, we aren’t really checking them to see what else is going on in the world and with our friends, even if that’s the excuse we dole out.

We check them because they fulfill a core human drive for connection and meaning. 

When we go on these sites, our underlying drive is to satisfy that innate need to connect to others. It comforts us and fulfills us to know that we are not alone. Unintentionally (but unavoidably), we also use what’s going on in other people’s lives to create context and meaning for what’s going on in our own. Social comparison is a real and dangerous thing.

That’s why so many research scholars are reporting on the correlations between social media usage and low self-esteem or depression. We all want people to see the best sides of us, rather than all sides of us. It’s like an ongoing, inaccurate first impression of how perfect we all are that just isn’t aligned with reality. So there we are, all looking at each other’s highly curated snapshot lives, and judging our own realities accordingly (usually as “less than”). 

We’re also addicted to social media because we crave meaning—feeling like we matter to those around us. To be totally honest, ever since I started writing daily blog posts and sharing it with the world on Twitter and Facebook, I check both platforms more frequently. It gives me internal comfort and satisfaction to know that what I say matters; that I’ve had a positive impact on those who read my writing.

In some weird, twisted way, we associate “likes,” comments and shares with self-worth. 

This is not good. 

It’s not good for a host of reasons:

1.) Everything we process and put out into the digital ether is merely a perception. 

We enable people to create mental constructs about who we are that aren’t fully accurate or representative of our hearts, souls, triumphs, and struggles. They aren’t representative of our humanness.  And it surely distorts our reality—not just about others, or others about us, but also how we view ourselves.

2.) It distracts us from real work. 

The math above says is all. Wasting literally hours on an activity that has been shown to decrease self-esteem, cultivate gross feelings like jealousy and envy, and generate an ROI of $0 for us personally? That’s outrageous. And it distracts us from doing the really incredible work we’re all capable of producing and shipping every day. We are able to create incredible stuff to make other people’s lives and the world at large better…and instead, we squander our time to feel some short-term, shallow variation of connectedness and meaning. 

3.) We start to believe it’s all about us. 

But here’s what I think is the biggest problem of all: the overuse of social media perpetuates our focus on self. It trains us to make snap judgments about others, as well as our own self-worth in context of who we paint others to be. 

It’s time for us to step back—physically, emotionally, intellectually—and realize that no matter what our minds are thinking or feelings are feeling, we’re not on this planet for self-validation.

Honestly, think about that:

You’re greatest purpose on this planet is not simply to validate yourself.

And if you believe it is, you are grossly underestimating your potential and limiting your capacity for genuine joy. 

I truly believe that those who lead the richest, most meaningful lives spend the least amount of time focusing on or worrying about themselves and what everyone else thinks of them. Basically, they engage in behaviors opposite of the behaviors we engage in when we’re processing the world via a social media platform.

Obviously, we’re human. None of us are perfectly efficient or rational. I’m not going to turn around ban social media from my life, and I know you probably won’t either. There is true value in it—these platforms can be a source of genuine offline connection and understanding if used appropriately. But deriving value from these platforms doesn’t require 2.3 hours (or more) of my day. Spending that much time immersed in an illusory world is simply not healthy. 

What I will suggest is that we take a lot of the time we’ve been spending on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, you name it—and instead, use that time to connect to the real reason we’re all here:

  • To love people as best as we possibly can. 
  • To honestly and vulnerably share our entire story with others, complete with triumph and tragedy, knowing that’ll give others the courage to do the same.
  • To show others and ourselves enormous amounts of grace in times of hardship and fallibility. 
  • To give a ton of love to situations and people, even and especially when it’s truly difficult to do so.
  • To understand that forgiveness is the profound capacity to recognize the innocence in everyone. 
  • And to be deeply compassionate and invested in the highest well-being of those around us, above and before the desire for our own self-validation.

If we did all of these things at least 2.3 hours a day, I can only imagine how exponentially more incredible the world—and the quality of our own lives—would become. 

Life is Not a Screen. Take Time to Enjoy the Real Thing.

It’s easy to get sucked up in social media and all things digital. 

But there’s no substitute for the sun kissing your face. For a face-to-face human interaction with someone you love. For a stolen moment of silence in a hectic day. For time to have a coffee and journal. For the warmth of a handshake or a hug. 

While you’re online wasting time, your real life is waiting. 

Go reclaim it. 

Go enjoy it.