I am not quitting social media

I recently finished an academic review paper on the role of social media in medicine and cardiology. My co-author and friend Piotr Futyma (Rzeszów Poland) and I focused mostly on the upsides of digital media. It’s not yet published but it is accepted. 

I was an early and accidental adopter of social media. I used it to think publicly. I am glad I did, for it enhanced my love of medical practice, connected me with colleagues over the world, made me new friends, gained me a second job as a writer, and even launched me into academics.  It turns out that despite trying to dodge research back at Indiana, the academy is fun.

No doubt, though, social media has downsides. The Covington Catholic School controversy showed how social media can enhance the ugliness and lack of empathy in society’s embrace of identity over ideas. 

A story in the Wall Street Journal today added to the chorus of voices calling people to quit social media. They interviewed a computer scientist who has never used social media. His argument is persuasive. As a professor, he notes social media’s ability to distract learners from sustained focus. White screens also distract us from family and friends.

The social scientist Jonathon Haidt makes a compelling argument that social media is especially toxic to teenage girls—and may be on the causal pathway for increasing mental disorders and suicide. 

Over the holiday season, I took a break from my favorite medium, Twitter. I read books instead of essays and Tweets. My three New Years’ resolutions were to read a book a month, learn more Spanish and act less like a cardiologist. (The latter has been a work in progress for decades.)

During the holiday break, I read Bork (Slouching…), Dobelli (Thinking Clearly…), Westover (Educated), O’Brien (…Cacciato), Cottom (Thick), and Simler and Hanson (The Elephant in the Brain).

I have a Medscape column on the Elephant and the Brain publishing next week. The Elephant comes with a warning–you can’t unsee this stuff. The book is a must read for people interested in our massive problem of medical overuse.

My break with social media is over. I am not quitting social media. My Twitter feed makes me think. It leads me to great ideas. It expands my horizon past medicine. I missed my statistician gurus. My Facebook feed keeps me up with friends from high school and college. I get to see great pics of my grandchildren.

That said, my pause on social media showed me the value of airplane mode. And isn’t this obvious? Social media, like anything else, is best when used with moderation. 

Overuse of social media reminds me of the misthink on toxicity. For instance, people wrongly think certain drugs are ‘toxic.’ The heart rhythm drug amiodarone, the beta-blockers, and the cardiac-event-reducing class of drugs known as statins are frequently referred to as toxic. This is stupid.

Toxicity is about dose. My athletic friends know that drinking too much water leads to low sodium levels and seizures. Last year, ICU doctors learned that oxygen, our life force, given in high doses increases death rates. See story number eight in my top-ten stories of 2018.

The rule with social media is the same as the rule of success in life: master the obvious and you will be fine. 

1 comment

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful post, and especially for the book list! “The Elephant in the Brain” is now on my to-read list.

    If you haven’t yet read “The Things they Carried” by Tim O’Brien, you’re in for something special. Usually the “book-blurb adjectives” that are used to describe books are over the top, but “masterful,” “devastating,” and “more honest than the truth” (I made those up) all fit this masterpiece.

    Although I’ve not yet completed it, Carl Zimmer’s “She has her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity” so far is excellent. I usually am disappointed by “science for general audiences” books but this one is both as compelling as a novel and describes very complex scientific ideas clearly and respectfully.

    Happy New Year!

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