Attention Alcohol

One of the current mysteries in longevity research is that people who drink alcohol in moderation tend to live longer than those who completely abstain or drink in excess.

Alcohol is often referred to as a social lubricant, and since loneliness is not an insignificant health risk, perhaps alcohol provides some social benefits that outweigh other negative health effects.

Or, since correlation does not mean causation, perhaps those who occasionally imbibe just tend to have richer social lives that make them less prone to loneliness.

Recent research also suggests that social media has a similarly mixed impact on its users. In moderation, used as a tool for engaging with loved ones at a distance, social media can enhance feelings of connection and belonging. But it also clearly correlates with more negative outcomes like depression and anxiety, particularly for teenage girls.

Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic, insightfully expands on the similarities between social media (specifically Instagram) and alcohol:

Here is a fun product that millions of people seem to love; that is unwholesome in large doses; that makes a sizable minority feel more anxious, more depressed, and worse about their bodies; and that many people struggle to use in moderation.

What does that sound like to you? To me, it sounds like alcohol—a social lubricant that can be delightful but also depressing, a popular experience that blends short-term euphoria with long-term regret, a product that leads to painful and even addictive behavior among a significant minority. Like booze, social media seems to offer an intoxicating cocktail of dopamine, disorientation, and, for some, dependency. Call it “attention alcohol.”

The phrase "attention alcohol" is a great way to describe the wide range of responses that social media can provoke in us.

Infinitely scrolling feeds can be a huge time suck if we don't put limits on them. And one of the best ways to evaluate social media's impact on your life is to consider its opportunity cost.

If you weren't spending three hours on Instagram each week, what would you be dedicating that time to instead?

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