I fear social media addiction

TL;DR: I was addicted to social media and I’m afraid I will get addicted again. But I will face that fear, and use social media for meaningful connection and contribution.


If you are suffering from addiction please seek professional help. This is not advice for how to handle problematic social media use. I’m no expert but here is some advice on social media addiction that seems reasonable to me.

I was a social media addict

Social media addiction is not an accepted medical term. Psychologists speak of problematic social media use which takes many forms. My form is seeking lots of social interaction and the constant validation those interactions provide. Like Joseph Gordon-Levitt describes in his TED talk, I’m an attention seeker, and that can be bad for me.

Before social media platforms existed I was already a part of online communities, in particular the open source Apache Software Foundation. Instead of posts and comments we used e-mail and replies, and instead of likes we used “+1” or “LGTM”. I owe a lot to the Apache community: the people there mentored and supported me and helped me become the engineer I am today. But I was also addicted to it.

I became a blogger when that first became a thing. When social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter appeared I was an early and enthousiastic adopter, cherishing Facebook friends and Twitter followers and page views. I worked on social media software, dreaming about open social media standards, setting up social platforms within several companies, building twitter robots that got more followers than I ever did myself. As I learned more about the impact of social media on society I did not like this work, and as I learned about the impact on my own behavior I didn’t like who I was becoming.

I avoid social media now

Around 2012 I quit social media.

I deleted social media apps from my phone.
I stopped using Twitter and Facebook.
I stopped commenting on or liking YouTube videos.
I stopped blogging.
I resigned as an apache member.

I mostly became a ghost online, and instead I resolved to focus on relationships in the physical world, with people in close proximity. I lost contact with many of my friends, either because they were online-only friends or because I exclusively used social media to plan meetings them. I lost touch with online communities I was a part of, Apache being the main one. I’m still sad about the loss.

(Don’t do what I did and quit cold turkey! Your online friends can be part of your support network as you face your problems. Instead find ways to limit your social media use. For example, remove social media apps on your phone, set a social media time budget of 10 minutes a day, and find alternative activities.)

I want to use social media again

I long for meaningful connection with people from all over the planet.
I wish to have as positive an impact on the world as I possibly can.
I hope I have learned some things worth sharing widely.
I want to contribute more to open source communities again.
I want to learn how to coach and mentor outside of work.
I want to speak at conferences again.

To connect online today means to use social media platforms so that’s what I should do. I’ve known this for a while but I’m hesitating.

I fear social media addiction

I’m afraid of using social media now. I know my inclination to seek attention and validation is still there, rooted in my desire to be accepted by others, bolstered by my difficulty accepting myself. I know the social platforms today have many features optimized to promote such behavior.

I’m afraid I won’t resist scoring internet points.
I am afraid I will let important relationships wither.
I am afraid I will be an attention whore.
I am afraid I will be an asshole.

I will face my fear

I will face my fear.
I will let it pass through me.
When the fear has gone there shall be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Frank Herbert, Dune

And then I will be in control of and benefit from my social media use.

Video version

As an experiment I’ve tried to make a video version of this blog post, too 🙂