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1. If You Have to Ask, That’s Your Answer – The best things in life are self-evident—i.e., if you have to ask if you have them, then it means you don’t.
- If you have to ask if you’re happy, then you’re probably not.
- If you have to ask if someone loves you, then they probably don’t.
- If you have to ask if you are successful, then you’re probably not.
- If you have to ask if you are healthy, then you probably are not.
We intuitively understand this, yet we avoid it. We overcomplicate things.
For most things, you can rightly ask if something is true and reason a correct answer. Did I do a good job cleaning my yard last week? Yeah, I did pretty well. Did my kids enjoy the trip to the zoo? Yeah, I think so. Does my wife love me?
Whoa… time out… if you have to ask that, then the question itself is indicative of something not being quite right.
2. Follow-Up Thoughts on Social Media, Smartphones, and Technology – Last week, I published an article defending social media from some of its many, many criticisms. Unsurprisingly, a large number of readers pushed back, and some good conversations resulted.
In those conversations, I noticed a consistent misunderstanding, and I wanted to address it here because I actually think it’s important.
Many people seem to conflate “social media” with “the internet” and/or “smartphones.”
These are different things. And they each have different effects on society.
In my opinion, many of the problems often pinned on social media are simply problems of the internet itself. The internet was full of bullies, trolls, and con artists even before social media arrived on the scene. The same lack of accountability and potential to spread misinformation was present before social media. Most of these criticisms were true (and being made!) in 2001. But in 2021, because most of the internet exists on social media, we assume social media caused them.
Another point: in my opinion, the data is much more damning for smartphones than it is for social media. A lot of the scary statistics related to teen depression and suicide did not start in 2004-2005 when social media took off. They began in 2011-12 when smartphones first became widely used.
And finally, there’s simply the broader context of the attention economy, something that existed long before social media. I think a lot of our political problems started not because of social media or the internet, but because television got hundreds of channels starting in the 1990s. Suddenly, half a dozen cable news networks needed to fill 24 hours of airtime with “news” content that kept people watching.
I only bring this up because most of this stuff gets lumped together and thrown at Facebook and Twitter’s feet. And my argument is not that these problems don’t exist or that social media doesn’t have drawbacks—it’s simply that we are largely using these companies as scapegoats.
3. The Trickiness of Mental Health Statistics – As a side note to the side note, it’s also probably worth mentioning that nobody totally understands why mental health statistics are so scary. It is true that suicide rates have climbed for decades. But it’s also true that before that, they declined for decades and nobody knows why either. The suicide rate was actually at its highest in the 1950s, a period largely considered peaceful and prosperous in American memories.
It is also true that rates of depression have increased steadily for generations. But it’s true too that more people have gone to a therapist or psychiatrist with each generation. It could be that the actual rates of anxiety and depression haven’t increased, but the number of diagnoses has increased. It could even be true that anxiety and depression are being over-diagnosed.
Or, it could be that people have gotten better at internalizing their emotions. As mental illness has risen, things such as alcoholism, teen pregnancy, domestic abuse, and violent crime have declined. Perhaps people have learned to not take their misery out on others and instead just sit and brood alone.
Or, it could be that wealth inequality drives misery. Even though we’re all much better off than we were 50 years ago, the perception that most people can’t climb the social ladder has left them feeling hopeless and depressed.
Or, it could be that the flood of information has caused us to feel overwhelmed and lost. People no longer know what to believe or what is true or untrue. And when people have nothing to believe in, they despair.
Or, it could be that the decline of traditional religion and strong family ties has left people feeling empty. More kids than ever before are raised in one-parent households, and we know that’s a predictor of all sorts of poor mental and emotional health outcomes, yet nobody talks about it.
Or, perhaps the digitization of social life has made it so that we go outside less, spend low-quality time with far more people, and have fewer meaningful relationships with others. Perhaps we’re just lonely.
Or, maybe it’s some confusing combination of all of the above.
Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it’s not Zuckerberg’s fault.
Until next week,