The Opportunity Cost of Social Media Use

It’s probably worse than you think.

Kate Ward
Kate Ward
Oct 4, 2018 · 9 min read
“selective focus photography of three person looking on phone on train station” by rawpixel on Unsplash

The Marginal Benefit Analysis

I was an Economics major in college. And after I graduated, I spent a year studying the ins-and-outs of a field called Behavioral Economics — which essentially fuses our understanding of psychology with economics. It is, in many senses, the true study of decision making and human behavior in a modern world.

  1. In the past, I have started and shared campaigns that have raised quite a bunch of money for different causes and individuals.
  2. I want to know when people are going through tough times, so I can reach out and offer support as many have for me. I care.
  3. I write a lot. I want to be a writer. In the modern age, social media accounts seem to be a necessary evil for someone trying to build a lucrative career in the craft.

The Opportunity Costs

Every time you choose to do one thing with your time or money, you are in some sense, choosing not to do a whole host of other things. This is what economists call an opportunity cost — the measurement of what you’ve given up in order to make a given choice.

Deliberate Practice

Want to get good at something? Want to change the world? Want to be a better entrepreneur, writer, data analyst, parent, spouse, or friend? You need to practice. Or as psychologist Anders Ericsson claimed, you need to make time for “deliberate practice” — that is focused time and attention directed at some end.

Meaningful Connection

In a given day, I’m by myself a lot. I spend most of my time reading, thinking, and writing because, well, I write for a living.

Focused Attention

It’s not just the time you lose, it’s the focus you lose, too.

Mush Brain

Rolling over and checking your phone is like relying on coffee to wake up. Like a shot of espresso, your brain begins requiring a shot of blue light straight to the face. You can’t wake up without it. Or if you do, you’re lost. You seek those transient images to distract you from the fact that your life is well — mostly mundane, dull, and meaningless.


If we know, which we do, that comparing ourselves to others leads to depression, then why on earth would we engage with tools that force comparison upon us?

The Punch Line

Social media companies are investing billions upon billions of dollars in research and development. Their primary purpose is not to “connect the world” as they’ve claimed. Their primary purpose, as publicly traded companies, is to make their shareholders money.

your attention.

Thus, the only way to keep attracting advertisers, and keep growing profits is to find a way to capture more of your attention.

Thanks for reading! :)

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Kate Ward

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Kate Ward

Writing here about grief, vulnerability, philosophy, life, and strategy. e: