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Is There a Dark Side to Social Media?

Standing at Starbucks recently, I had a surreal moment, and it had nothing to do with my Grande Americano.


I noticed something as I looked around the room; everyone (except the employees) was on a smartphone, a tablet, or a computer. Even the people sitting at a table with others were thumbing away on a device. Twenty people or so in one place were all engaged with a screen rather than a human.



Out of curiosity, I googled the phrase “social media addiction.” (Yes, I got on my smartphone to do so.) In about 0.42 seconds, 64,000 results popped up on my screen. Sometimes this problem is referred to as internet addiction disorder or social networking addiction. It’s a growing concern among health professionals, educators, and employers.


Researchers at Chicago University found social media addiction is often stronger than dependence on cigarettes. In fact, here’s the official definition of this problem: Excessive use of social media (or games) that interferes with daily life; a compulsive need for smartphone or computer use that negatively affects your behavior or relationships.


Smartphones provide us with 24/7 access to email, social media, instant messaging, games, and a billion other things on the internet. But how much is too much? And how can you know if you have a problem?



You might have a problem if:


  • You spend more time online than with real, live, breathing humans.
  • You are not as attentive or productive at work or school as you should be.
  • You skip meals or eat meals in front of a screen on a regular basis.
  • You use social media to avoid people or personal problems.
  • You spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in the restroom with your smartphone in hand (uh, gross).
  • You would rather spend time online than do things around the house.
  • You have friends or family who complain about the amount of time you spend online.
  • You worry or think a lot about how many likes your last post or cool picture received.
  • You go into panic mode when there’s no internet access or you don’t have your smartphone in hand.
  • When you’re not checking your smartphone, you fear missing out on what’s going on, which often makes you unhappy.


If you answered yes to most of the above, it might be time for a social media or internet detox.



How to detox:


  • Consider a jolt to your brain by going 24 hours without the internet, or maybe take a social media break for a season (e.g., three days, a week, a month). Tell people what you are doing and ask them to hold you accountable.
  • Turn off app sound notifications.
  • Turn on the iPhone “Screen Time” monitor, decide what is reasonable internet access each day, and ask your accountability partner to check on your use.
  • Check your smartphone only every 30-60 minutes and check for email only 2-3 times a day.
  • Don’t bring your phone to meals, and keep certain times of the day “screen-free” (like at bedtime).
  • Leave your smartphone or tablet in your purse or backpack when at work or school. Only pull it out on a break or at lunch to check your notifications. (If you turn up the phone ringer volume, you won’t miss any calls.)
  • Replace the extra time you now have to do something that helps your brain (read), your body (take a walk), or a relationship (talk).



There’s a lot more to this issue, far more than I can cover in a short blog, but please don’t blow this off as unimportant.


I am not anti-tech, and I love the access my smartphone gives to so much helpful information. But in a world that is smaller than ever due to rapid technological advances, we need to be intentional about remaining meaningfully and genuinely connected to others. We also need to be careful not to waste too much time on things that cost us too much and return too little relationally.


If the device in your hand is hurting your heart or your relationships, then put it down, at least for a bit. Pull your head out of your screen, your mind out of the web, unplug, and look someone in the eye and say, “Can we talk?”


It’ll be good. I promise.




Kurt Bubna

Kurt W. Bubna has published seven books, is an internationally recognized blogger, conference and retreat speaker, as well as an experienced life and leadership coach. Bubna has over forty years of experience working with individuals, teams, and a wide variety of business and non-profit organizations.