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  • Robert Cole

Does opening an Instagram account make me a hypocrite?

Updated: Jan 27

Is anyone really listening to you? Between checking in and posting on social media and returning text messages or emails, most people seem to live through a screen, cut off from reality. I think Bill Maher described it best when he said, “Pedestrian deaths are way up because people in the crosswalks looking down are getting run over by drivers looking down. The whole damn world is looking down.”

Much of the population is tangled in the addiction of texting and getting “likes” on social media like an alcoholic sipping a vodka and orange juice all day at work. Hidden in the downward gaze, many of us have become zombies to the real world, drunk to reality.

While nothing in history has changed the way humans communicate more than the advent of the internet and cell phones, we remain in the beginning stages of understanding how this has changed human interaction forever. Beyond basic communication, the introduction of social media has allowed everyone’s thoughts to be viewed by millions—immediately. It has allowed for instant feedback, unfiltered and unchecked. Unfortunately, many of these platforms promote an exaggeration of success, the misperception of happiness, and often breed envy, jealousy, and hatred.

When I set out to start writing “How Build a Smile”, I knew that I needed to tell my story about how I suddenly stopped using all social media platforms, and the profound impact it had on my emotional state and ability to succeed. Once I finished writing the book and started the process of promoting it, I ran into a real problem. More powerful than TV, newspapers, and magazines, Instagram had become one of the most efficient and effective ways to promote anything. There I sat. Disconnected from a large part of the world and completely lost on how to use this "new" form of potential massive communication.

I had been off social media for 7 years. Not only did I proclaim it was destroying the way we communicate, raise our children and was a waste our time, but I also had no clue how to use it. It is now clear that I genuinely underappreciated the importance of this form of media. So now I am forced to spend a little time every other day updating my posts and stories to get the word out about the book and allow readers to better understand me. It was clear that I could not let my stubbornness and strong views be a barrier to success.

But I stand by my feelings and science would support them. The chronic and excessive use of social media continues to cause major issues in our society and like everything else in life, it’s important to practice moderation. Some of what people see on a social media post is an effort by individuals to manipulate how others view them, rather than a reflection of what is real. A picture of a happy family on the beach is a snapshot of reality. Few individuals will post that they lost their job or are now enrolled in marriage counseling, and because this is not being communicated, it gives the false perception that it does not exist. A frustrated adolescent might post a personal thought in a rage of anger or fear that has lifelong consequences, recorded permanently for the world to see. A bikini picture has been edited extensively to reveal a fake reality. No one has flawless skin. No one is perfect.

It is not surprising that there appears to be a robust correlation between increased screen time and increased depressive symptoms, suicide, and poor sleep habits; especially in adolescents and young adults. [i] I have little doubt any age group is spared these effects.

In addition, passive consumption of social media content, as opposed to active communication, has been associated with a decrease in bonding and bridging social capital and an increase in loneliness. [ii]It is becoming clearer that gathering likes and reading a newsfeed stimulates dopamine in your brain in the same way that it does for gamblers playing games or drug addicts getting high. The irony of it all? Like every bad habit, most of us dislike social media . . . though we continue to use it at a breakneck pace. [iii]

Since we know that excessive social media browsing can be detrimental, it is imperative that we regulate the amount of time spent using these apps. This is the best way to maintain a healthy emotional state. I doubt any readers would disagree. In the end, I realized that I am little bit like Al Gore traveling the world in a private jet and telling everyone to stop harming the environment. But like Mr. Gore, sometimes we must sacrifice something to get a helpful message to the right people. I’m not sure this makes me a hypocrite, but I suppose I can learn to live with it if it does…


For more information on my story and on how eliminating social media has impacted my life, check out the book “How to Build a Smile: 14 Ways to a Better You.


[i] Boers, Elroy, Mohammad H. Afzali, Nicola Newton, and Patricia Conrod. “Association of Screen Time and Depression in Adolescence.” JAMA Pediatrics 173, no. 9 (2019): 853. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.1759. [ii] Lin, Liu Yi, Jaime E. Sidani, Ariel Shensa, Ana Radovic, Elizabeth Miller, Jason B. Colditz, Beth L. Hoffman, Leila M. Giles, and Brian A. Primack. “Association Between Social Media Use And Depression Among U.s. Young Adults.” Depression and Anxiety 33, no. 4 (2016): 323–31. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22466. [iii] McKinnon, John D., and Danny Dougherty. “Americans Hate Social Media but Can't Give It Up, WSJ/NBC News Poll Finds.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, April 5, 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/americans-agree-social-media-is-divisive-but-we-keep-using-it-11554456600.

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