I think it’s safe to say that most of us would be worried if we saw our friends spending hours carelessly wandering around a Las Vegas casino. Yet, we’re not as worried when we see our friends (and ourselves) spending hours negligently scrolling away – but we should. If you thought that casinos and social media platforms were like apples and oranges, think again; they’re more like two peas in a pod. In other words: they’re built on the same foundation and hire the same experts (attention engineers) to captivate you. 

Looking at it, you’d never guess the dangers of either. I mean, it’s just harmless fun, right? Gambling a hundred bucks away won’t put your university tuition at risk, just like posting a photo or sending a tweet won’t significantly change your life. But behind this front lies a whole other reality with a much-shared strategy of hooking you and keeping you hooked.

Is it a social media or gambling addiction? 

Imagine this: you walk into a casino just for the heck of it and see all these fun machines. They’re colorful and invite you to try your luck; who knows, maybe you’ll hit the jackpot? The longer you try, the more time you’ve invested, and the harder it is to walk away. You really need to feel that this was all worth something, that you haven’t just wasted all that time and money. So you stay a bit longer. That feeling of wasting your time and needing to make it count grows even more prominent, so you tell yourself it will only be another five minutes. And without realizing it, you’re stuck in a loop. Sound familiar? 

If we change the wording slightly, we can see the same loop happening with social media. You are preparing for a big presentation and feel you need a short break. You grab your phone to see what your friends (and many strangers) are up to. This will give me a mental break, you think. As soon as you open up one of the many apps, you see colorful photos of people living “their best life.” Suddenly, a fun reel pops up. As soon as it ends, another one starts, followed by another. Suddenly, your five-minute break has turned into a 20-minute one, and just like the casino player, you’re reluctant to admit you just wasted valuable time.

The more time you spend on social media, the worse results you will see thereby directly affecting your success and your life.

Social media affects your success

Sure, spending 15 minutes more than planned on social media might not be as big of a deal as losing your tuition money. But what if I told you these 15 minutes combined lead to worse grades? Without realizing how, you’ve ended up with the tuition money but only have the grades to get admitted to your safety school. 

I’ll tell you how that happened. All that time spent scrolling on social media has worsened your attention. And as you can imagine, poor attention does not go hand in hand with high productivity. That means that the time you invest in social media is indirectly taken straight from your success. Ironically, this means that the more time you spend liking other people’s “best lives,” the further you’re scrolling away from achieving your best life. But don’t take my word for it. Watch Amber Quinney’s TED Talk, read Cal Newport’s book, or simply put in a google search to find out for yourself.

Social media oversaturates your brain with information and inputs, making it nearly impossible to reach full concentration on the things that matter.

Time is money, and social media is the biggest thief 

In today’s hyper-productive world, where everyone seems to have at least an MSc, a full sabbatical of traveling, and a somewhat successful startup under their belt, it’s really ironic that we are growing less conscious of how significant our time investment actually is. Much like the casinos, social media seem to trap us in this parallel world where time seizes to exist. There are some common pitfalls I think we have all been guilty of falling into: 

  • Posting a fun story
    This is relatively quick and straightforward, right? If you’re one of the few who takes just one photo and posts it instantly, then you’re right, it is. However, if you’re like the rest of us, you’ll most likely take several pictures, try different angles, and edit it a bit. Weirdly, several minutes have passed, and that time went straight into your camera roll and social media vault. 
  • Writing that inspiring caption
    You’ve miraculously managed to get a fantastic photo on your first try. Great! But you can’t just post it without saying anything…what would be appropriate and inspiring? You write and edit a short caption that will “only take a minute.” Except if you’re not a professional writer or marketing expert, it will most likely take more than that. 
  • Ah, the hashtags
    Which hashtags are trending now again? Unless you’re a professional social media user, chances are you’re not fully up to speed on the latest hashtag trends. Seeing how you did manage to take this great photo, and you spent time writing that inspiring caption. It’d be a shame if only your followers saw it. Let’s just quickly check which hashtags are trending, except quickly is usually much longer than you wanted it to be. 
  •  Staying on top of the trends
    You know how to work Instagram, your account is growing, and you’re connecting with more like-minded people. But all of a sudden, the algorithm changes. How do I learn the new updates? Or worse yet, there’s a whole new app everyone is switching to, meaning you need to learn how to work that one too and keep tabs on yet another app *sigh* multitasking is hard! 
  • All those small breaks
    Taking breaks is great, and it does increase your productivity. But a break means to let your brain rest. Going on social media is the exact opposite of that. Social media equals filling your head with stimulus, ideas, and other peoples’ opinions. In other words, it makes you lose your train of thought, all while draining (as opposed to recharging) your energy. 

The bottom line: Your 5 minutes are probably more like 20% of the average work day

Spending a hundred bucks in Vegas or 5 minutes on social media isn’t a big deal. The problem is that it rarely is just 5 minutes. I encourage you to check the activity tab of your Instagram (or any other social media platform you frequent). How much have all those five-minute-a-day breaks actually added up to? Chances are, you’re spending a significant chunk of your workday looking at content you don’t need. Triggering the reflection: how could this time affect my success, and what can I do to change it? 

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As a writer and marketing strategist, I'm very much involved in the social media landscape, firmly believing that today's conversations create tomorrow's reality. Writing is my way of starting the conversation on all things social media trying to change the digital landscape, maybe it could be purposeful we all feel proud of. I'll put pen to paper and try to show why a healthier approach to the digital world is needed, and how to achieve it.