The 4 Major Harms of Social Media Addiction

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

The Unplug Series: Part 1

The allures, the harms, and how to take control of our minds.


Before we plunge into the dark side, let's start with the benefits of social media. Social media provided us a fun and easy way to connect to our friends. It gave us a casual way to keep a connection to someone we met somewhere- a vacation, a party, a gym. We're not necessarily going to talk to these people often, but it feels good to have a way to keep up with each other. It gave us a way to build networks. It gave us a way to share our thoughts, what we care about (dogs and food mainly), our passions, our work for all to see. I do enjoy seeing what my close friends are doing, what they're watching, what they're reading, where they're traveling- and from many discussions about the merits of social media, I know that my friends are genuinely happy to see the same from me.

For businesses and professionals looking to market themselves, the benefits- or should I say the necessity- of social media is even more. It allows us to share our work and skills for free to mass audiences. It allows us to create a virtual connection hub for all our clients/fans. It allows us to quickly relay information, and it even lets us sell our products. Social media does provide value to us, and most of us are going to continue to use it- so it is important to identify the line between using social media for these benefits, and using it at the cost of our wellbeing. Onto the costs.

1. An Argument For Your Potential

The primary complaint among social media users is how it robs time they wish they spent on more valuable things. There is no decision that comes without a sacrifice in this world, and the main sacrifice of social media is time we will never get back. What we forgo in order to maintain the 3 hours a day average we spend on social media is always something that has a cost. First, let's focus on the cost of lost time that would have otherwise gone towards our human potential.

Every one of us has things that we want to learn and master. We want to add beneficial tools to our arsenal as a skilled, knowledgeable, and dynamic human. If I simply replaced the time I spent on social media over the last five years with free online courses from schools like Harvard and MIT, I would have multiple degrees by now. Of course every moment of your day is not going to be (or supposed to be) optimized to create your most powerful self, but when we are spending our valuable time in such excess on social media- we really ought to consider- what are we sacrificing? So let's put a number on it. The average 16-24 year old now spends 3 hours a day on social media alone (for many teenagers and preteens this is an extremely conservative number). Here's what that looks like in days, and what that looks like if that time had a dollar value (that didn't even compound over time)- let's say $20 an hour.

Per person, that's:

  • 91.25 hours per month / 3.8 full days a month / $1,825

  • 1095 hours per year / 45.6 full days a year / $21,900

  • 76,650 hours in a average life time / 8.75 full years / $1,533,000

And that's not including texting, Netflix, YouTube, video games, etc.

But it's only three hours a day right?

For young people, this is devastating to their future because of the idea of compound interest and accumulated advantage. The time I spend on my education and skills today are difficult to put a value on, because that knowledge compounds drastically over time and results in a non-linear return of rewards. This argument follows the famous 'Matthew effect', which is commonly described as 'the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer'. But this principle does not only apply to money, and it isn't about the rich taking from the poor. It is about the long term outcomes of different inputs applied early on.

Let's use early education as an example. Psychologist Keith Stanovich uses the Matthew effect to describe a phenomenon observed in research on reading outcomes:

"Early success in reading skills leads to later success in reading as the learner grows, while failing to learn to read before the third or fourth year of school can be indicative of lifelong problems in learning new skills. This is because children who fall behind in reading read less, increasing the gap between them and their peers. Later, when students need to "read to learn" (where before they were learning to read), their reading struggles create issues in other subjects. They unfortunately fall further and further behind in school, dropping out at a much higher rate than their peers."

The same idea applies to adults when thinking about excelling at anything over time. Those who take advantage of their young adult years to gain skills and knowledge widen their networks, open up their options, gain an incredible confidence- and at a certain point it seems like the world is open to them, flinging opportunities and rewards at them left and right. But that persons peers who were not so disciplined in their habits, who spent that same time switching back and forth between apps on their phone in fabricated reality land, will fall behind. Now, everyones goal is not to work every waking hour like Elon Musk, but still- when speaking about future outcomes, it is impossible to deny the toll social media hours take on what will be available to us one day- mentally, socially, financially.