Social Media: The Digital Drug of Choice

Vatsal Jain
7 min readMay 24, 2022

Today, in the afternoon, I tapped the Facebook icon on my smartphone, and the first thing I saw on my home feed was — “Your Memories on Facebook.”

Normally, I just scroll down without even looking at it, but today I got a bit curious about what “sublime stuff” I used to share years ago. And after going through my Facebook posting history, I realized what sort of a low-brow I was! (Lol)

I facepalmed while and after digging into most of my Facebook past, thinking:

Translation: “Such a bad person I am”

Anyways, I am going to be the same social media devil. (Hehe)

After having an awkward chuckle, thanks to Facebook’s Memories feature, I turned to Instagram and Twitter, where I spend (or rather waste) a lot of my productive hours. My curiosity levels intensified, which led me to go over my earlier uploads (at least a few months old) on both platforms. The awkwardness intensified further. I wondered what the f*** was crossing my mind when uploading such content.

At the same time, questions like “Was that necessary to upload?”, “Do I have to tell my connections about each and everything I am doing in my life?”, “Was it necessary to comment my opinions about any debatable topic?” popped into my mind. After so much contemplation, I later asked myself what would happen if I cut down on my social media usage or rather use it more effectively.

That very thought triggered a pendulum of emotions oscillating to and fro quickly. I was reacting as if these social media platforms were now an indispensable part of my routine lifestyle, and I could suffocate to death if I did not log in to any of these mediums even for a day. This emotional turmoil made me realize that I have chained myself online. In other words, I have consumed the “digital drug” more than prescribed.

Let’s Understand the Social Media Prison from a Scientific Lens

We live in the Instagram/Facebook era; put differently, we have the luxury of putting filters on our lives. We are good at showing off to others what an incredible life we are living even though we are fighting our own battles.

Engaging on social media platforms and smartphones releases a burst of the feel-good brain chemical called dopamine. That is why when some notifications pop up, it feels good. So, if we feel down or lonely, we send texts to some of our friends. Because it feels good when we get responses.

A 2012 Harvard research finds that blabbering about ourselves on social media sparks a pleasure sensation in our brains generally related to money, food, and sex.

That is why we count the likes on our vacation pictures on Instagram or comments on our LinkedIn blogs. In doing so, we go back ’n’ times to check if our posts’ reach is growing. When we get the attention, we get delighted. But if the otherwise happens, we feel that we might have done something wrong or maybe our friends do not like us anymore. As such, we get upset, frustrated, and disappointed. Social media platforms often catalyze such responses.

The more you get enslaved in the prison, the more difficult to unshackle yourselves to break out of that prison.

Dopamine is the very chemical that keeps us in high spirits when we drink, smoke, and gamble — it is notoriously addictive. We have age limits on drinking, smoking, and gambling but not on social media and smartphone usage.

An Adversely Alluring Buffet of Mental Health Foes

Social media has provided us with a personal platform to compare our lives with our acquaintances. It has built an imitative setting where we all try to impress each other. There are some people flaunting their new electronic gadgets, clothes, and trips to places that we can only imagine visiting. Everybody seems to be living as they have planned except you.

After scrolling down such content numerous times a day, you start suffering from an inferiority complex — you think that your life is dull and boring versus others. So, to ensure that you do not succumb to the condition, you join in the fun. Of course, you do not own any expensive gadgets or have traveled to any exotic location. But you can surely upload photos of the tattoo you recently got imprinted on your forehand or the food item of a well-known café you visited yesterday (all of which I have done in the past).

Subsequently, some of your friends look at your uploads and cultivate the exact feelings of depression and insecurity you once had — and the cycle continues.

P.S.: Let me make it clear, I am not against uploading pictures and videos on social media. What I am asserting is that we should not post just to impress others and seek their validation. If carried to an extreme, those validations become addictions, which will later feed on your lives like a parasite. Better ask yourself, “Does everybody have all the time to keep their regular activities aside and focus on what I write or post?”

Minimal Socializing with the “Three-dimensional” People

Given the unrestricted access to electronic devices and social media, some of us might be facing difficulties in creating deep, meaningful relationships. Such substantial bonds do not bear fruits because we never practice the skillset, and worse, we lack the coping mechanisms to tackle the stress. So, when stress piles up in our lives, we do not turn to a person. Instead, we turn to a device — social media, most probably — which offers a temporary antidote.

Let’s say you are having dinner with your family and chatting with someone who is not present at the moment. That is a problem. That is an addiction.

In another instance, you are in a meeting with people with whom you are supposed to interact with. And in the meantime, you take out your cell phone and put it on the table. That sends a subconscious message to others in the room: “you are just not that important.” You cannot stop thinking about your smartphone — even while having a serious discussion — because you are addicted.

Socializing could become an underrated skill, if not taken care of any time soon.

If you wake up and check your smartphone before wishing a warm “good morning” to your parents or spouse, you have an addiction. And like all addictions, it will ruin relationships, cost time and money, and make your lives worse.

P.S.: I am not targeting social media usage for professional reasons such as social media marketers, social media analysts, and digital marketers. Most of their work is tied to social media. They are eking out a living by keeping a constant eye on their or their clients’ performance graphs across social media platforms. So, if you belong to this elite group, spare me your anger.

Time to Rethink the “Social” Aspects of Social Media

Reducing screen time (unless it is critical or work-related) is awfully challenging. Initially, it causes the brain’s pleasure-pain balance to swing to the side of pain, making us feel restless, sad, or irritable. That said, if we hang in there for long enough, the benefits of a healthier dopamine balance are worth the efforts. Our minds become less distracted by cravings, and we can be more present in the moment. We can then experience the magic called life spreading out before us with little unexpected joys.

That last line, in particular, hit the spot. I have observed that when I am spending lots of hours combing through not-so-important reels or posts, the daily things that have brought me joy — enjoying a sunrise/sunset, talking with my parents, and watering plants — do not bring me joy anymore.

That is a worrying sign that something is spiraling out of control in my life. Acknowledging the addiction that we have is not easy. Instead, it is even more difficult based on how tangled we are in it, and gradually put ourselves together. That means regaining our energy, time, attention — and dopamine. (“Mission Impossible” theme plays in the background)

A lot of shaming and shitposting happen on social media. But these platforms can be great for flexing our brain muscles and improving our social circles. So, try to use social networking sites more mindfully and consciously. Do not just mindlessly move your thumbs up and down.

Cues taken from Simon Sinek’s interview in Inside Quest.