Time you waste scrolling through social media is life lost.
You cannot rewind time. The moments you spend scrolling through your uniquely-curated feed are acts of theft against your own life.
If I ask you how much time you waste per day on social media, you might say, “30 minutes.” Someone else might say, “5 hours.”
Whatever your answer may be, you are, by your own definition, giving up your most precious resources (attention and time) for nothing in return.
You will never get that time back.
I should be very clear in distinguishing between worthless entertainment and content that provides you with actual value. I am not talking about the YouTube video that teaches you how to redo the electrical in your house or the long-form podcast that explores the intricacies of someone’s worldview. In these cases, you are actively using media as a tool to provide valuable answers to your tangible questions.
I am referring to the default home page, in which we are passive, consuming content that is chosen specifically to satiate our individual appetites and cathartic release.
We even use the language of addiction to describe ourselves as “users” of social media.
This self-diagnosis as “users” is appropriate, largely because we are not actually customers enjoying a free product. Why would these companies keep investing billions of dollars into their platforms just to keep them free? This common perception of social media is no sane business model.
We, and the intimate information that details our private lives, are the product. This business model makes profitable sense. And the tech leaders who run Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok understood the value of data mining very early.
With this perspective, it becomes easy to understand why engineers have become incentivized to re-design user experience to maximize time retention on the app rather than to build communities online. (I am preaching to the crowd here, but) platforms like Medium and Patreon have become much better places to engage meaningfully with real people in the virtual world. Unlike the free-of-charge social media giants, platforms that require customers to pay to access them shield themselves better from moral hazard.
Partly why paid models work better, I think, is because socially-developed human beings actually want to reciprocate when they receive value from others. Being able to open an Instagram account for free not only devalues the worth of the content creator. It robs viewers of the ability to reciprocate in kind. Red hearts and comments are sad excuses for mutually-beneficial exchange.
Even though many content creators appear to profit from this scheme, the social media giants and their advertisers are still the ultimate winners in all of this. Content creators who rely on these platforms for a majority of their business are merely digital sharecroppers. You think you own your content, and you think you have tangible ties with your fanbase. But an algorithm update can wipe out your view count in an instant or you can get your account removed without a transparent explanation.
Not to mention the low quality of customers and followers. Given the no barrier to entry for a social media account, content creators are bound to suffer from the 80/20 principle: 20% of your following is probably giving you 80% of your quality engagement. The other 80% is scrolling right past your reel to the next dance meme.
At any given era of life, you have deep and meaningful relationships with maybe three to ten friends and family members in total. You don’t need social media to keep in touch with them. Give them a call, text them photos, drive to their house for dinner, or plan weekend trips with them.
If you really feel the need to keep up with the guy you sat next to in science class or make a surreptitious connection with your long-lost second cousin, then by all means keep your account open. But for the love of God, limit your usage to a few hours a month and keep your account private.
I have no authority in the realm of business, so I should yield to marketers who can give real sales advice. But I believe that if you are a business that needs reach, then time and money invested in human foundations should come first. Trust — in a product or a brand — is built on human connection, and there really is no way to get past that reality. Only then, a social media strategy can (maybe) follow.
And as a general note to self and everyone else too: Get your phone out of the bedroom and buy a damn alarm clock.