Social media is attention alcohol

So a fair summary of Instagram according to Instagram might go like this: 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.”

I personally don’t spend much time on Instagram, but on reflection I love Twitter quite like the way I love wine and whiskey. Other analogies fall short; some people liken social media to junk food, but ultra-processed snacks have few redeemable health qualities compared with just about every natural alternative. I have a more complicated relationship with Twitter. It makes my life better and more interesting. It connects me with writers and thinkers whom I would never otherwise reach. But some days, my attention will get caught in the slipstream of gotchas, dunks, and nonsense controversies, and I’ll feel deeply regretful about the way I spent my time … only to open the app again, several minutes later, when the pinch of regret has relaxed and my thumb reaches, without thought, toward a familiar blue icon on my phone.