How to truly understand the social media trap

We've all heard about what's wrong with social media. The algorithms surface content designed to trigger emotions, and so we're all constantly exposed to triggering content. Filter bubbles protect us from opposing viewpoints. It's addictive and time-wasting. It's filled with haters and trolls. Yada, yada, yada. 

There's truth in all of this. But the real problem with social media is something people never talk about. 

Here's the problem: Social media makes you feel like you're doing the very thing social media is preventing you from doing. 

Let me explain. 

We live in an attention economy. Your attention is worth more than gold. 

If attention is currency, then social media distraction represents a transfer of wealth from yourself to whoever is most successful at taking your attention — Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook that owns Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram), Google (which owns YouTube), ByteDance (which owns TikTok), Snap (the company that owns Snapchat), Reddit, Pinterest, Twitter and others. 

These companies extract your attention the way "the Machines" extract electrical energy from people in the "The Matrix." 

Of course, some distraction is good. At the end of the day, it's great to forget about our troubles with online escapism. Such distractions, plus connecting with other people, may be especially important during a pandemic lock-down. A little social media is nice. 

But with each passing month, the distraction industry evolves to become better at manipulating your paleolithic brain to distract. And we don’t evolve quick enough to resist.

As a result, people time spent on social media grows every year and shows no signs of stopping. Every year, we transfer more and more attention wealth to the giant corporations that have created the best distraction artificial intelligence technology. 

And so we are distracted by social media more than we should be or want to be. 

Society is slowly evolving into something out of the novel "Ready Player One," where everyone is so distracted (in the movie by a "metaverse," called "The Oasis") that the real world goes to hell. Everyone is too distracted with digital experiences to take care of the real world. 

OK, social media distraction isn't that bad. Yet. But it’s still true that for many people, social media distraction, obsession and addiction is the main barrier to achieving real-world goals and making our own lives better.

Different people are triggered by different social media distraction drugs. I know many people who get sucked into Instagram like they're hypnotized. Others can't stop watching YouTube. We journalists can't seem to stay off Twitter. 

We've heard the theories and seen the studies. Let's finally understand how this all really works