Social media - a few quick thoughts and seeking your perspective

This post has nothing to do with Diabetes, but a lot to do with parenting and self-management.

our 25 yo son is following 900 people on instagram. I am following 40. 900 seems to be too much to me. He thinks so too, and has said he will reduce the number.

I suspect he is addicted to social media, and it makes him feel lousy. He is envious of others with their instagrammed lives, and views it as a signalling mechanism.

I was talking with him about it, and realized that this is in no way particular to him. I would venture to guess that a majority of kids between 12 and 30 feel the same way - they are addicted to an activity that makes them feel bad about themselves.

At the same time, as he points out, he learns about so many of the real-world things that give him pleasure via social media - dance concerts, movies, etc.

This is true for me too - this board is an example of social media which I find extremely useful.

My more immediate question relates to how I can help my son manage his social media so it’s productive and fun rather than addictive and depressing. I have asked him to reduce his instagram followers from 900. He suggested reducing to 500, which seems trivial. I’m shooting for 100.

Is this a reasonable approach? Any other suggestions?


I don’t know what that will accomplish, but I’m not against the idea or anything. Have you both watched the social dilemma? It was eye opening. When I was feeling badly about social media I took a break, a 6 month deactivate account break. Before I opened I made a list of pros of life without it. I had a different reason (I was being bullied online), but still, was definitely getting addicted to the dopamine hit. Another approach: come up with a list before posting, things like what are my reasons for posting this? Kind of think on the ethics of it. I think there are those addicted to scrolling, and those addicted to posting/getting likes. They are different problems. I’m glad you’re supporting him now before it’s a potentially bigger issue. More awareness needs to happen re this addiction imho. I’ve seen it impact some of my friends lives negatively. Mine too. Also, it’s so weird people posting every second of their kids life since they were a baby! Like the Truman show. I’d hate if I grew up with my entire upbringing documented before I had any say in the matter. Shouldn’t be allowed imho.


I would suggest he looks at the load imposed. When I worked in the industry I faced an inundation of emails every day. I learnt to delete most of them without reading them. IRC at that time I was seeing a lot over 100 emails per day, all job related. Following is simpler; stuff can be deleted en masse and not everyone posts every day, or, indeed, every year.

So I really don’t see any problem. If I want to time out I just don’t go to the specific web site; easy, done. It really is just data, the only problem arises if you don’t have the algorithms to filter and, ultimately, delete most of it and those are skills we all need to learn.

It is also worth creating multiple accounts; create a few gmail, or other, accounts and use them to segment input. It can be worth using the gmail ‘+’ notation; if you are you can use any email of the general form parrot +whatever** (remove the spaces; stupid forum UI) to allow notifications to be split out.

People who are tied to cellphones have more of a problem. Google Voice can be used to circumvent this by creating new, aggregator, numbers; so you have multiple numbers that go to the same place. This is how I manage the main number of myself and my wife; we have one number, no one ever gets to see the cell numbers and, if they do, so what; they aren’t connected to anything.

Finding out how to do all this, and how to use a VPN, are important learning experiences that are certainly not beyond anyone younger than me. It’s also quite entertaining up to a point; in essence it’s a really big video game, but you get job skills that you can sell for real money.


I’ve found that I have to actively manage my follows on Instagram in a way I don’t have to on Twitter—since IG is all visual, it’s very easy for me to fall into the trap of feeling bad about myself because someone else’s life looks better than mine. I only follow people I know or am able to place in context in my community. I think that’s just over 300 folks right now.

Twitter—ugh. I used to have close to 4,000 followers but now have 800ish after I took my account private and unfollowed everyone I wasn’t a mutual with back in December. I did this because I was targeted for harassment by a group of abusive jackholes after last year’s Hugo Awards ceremony (I was the “controversial” finalist last year). I have a bunch of specific mute rules set up so there are subjects I don’t see tweets about. I’ve been on Twitter for over 15 years and a significant part of my community is there.

I truly don’t think it’s the number of people you follow that determines addiction, though—it’s time spent in the app but also in the way the content on the app makes you feel. One of my hobbies is painting. I don’t follow any of the artist instagrams because I have discovered that when I do, I don’t paint as much because I get hung up on what Ira Glass calls the gap—the space between their ability and mine. I think if I followed a lot of lifestyle influencers, I’d feel bad about my life.

I dunno if this is making sense. I just don’t think your son cutting his following list down by 80% is going to solve the entire problem he’s having. It’s also who he chooses to follow and how much time he spends engaging with the app. Both IG and Twitter are designed to be addictive, but they surface different content because the medium is essentially different.


Does your son live a fulfilling life without the social media? Or is the social media a way to salve the pain of a less than full life lived currently? 25 isn’t the best age for many. Was fun for me, but I think I got kind of lucky.


Thanks everyone for your thoughts and comments. Very helpful perspectives. My son is working on reducing his instagram feeds, but for him it’s a slow process of deciding what he wants to keep. Like @eilatan noted, it’s probably not the number but the way the posts make him feel.

I used up all my envy about 20 years ago, so sometimes forget what that emotion feels like, but I do remember feeling it when I was 25 - and that was way before social media. I like the concept of the “gap” - differences in ability that might keep you from being an active participant.

I don’t think my son’s issues with this are in any way unique to him - in fact I suspect that we’re sneaking up on another public health crisis, in the psychological realm, caused by these feelings which are generated by social media platforms. It reminds me of the glory days of oxycontin, when Perdue Pharma sales folks could pitch the drug as nonaddictive and a great cure for pain. Here we’ve got instagram aggressively recruiting all of us by promising fun and interest (and an endorphin hit). In 5 years we’ll look back and wonder how we let this get so out of control.

Thanks again for your thoughts.


I think he lives a fulfilling life wo social media. I don’t see social media as salving any pain - in fact it creates it, in the form of envy. And while I think he lifes a fulfilling life, he occasionally has to be reminded of the great things he does in his life because he looks at social media and imagines he is seeing others living more fulfilling lives.


Glad he is living a good life. Sorry social media isn’t helping him. If people would just open their eyes a bit to the “truthiness” on social media we would be better off. One great example is we have some friends who are all over social media but they ignore the actual people in their lives. We had their kids all day, they showed up for 5 minutes, took a picture with their kids because the lighting was right, then left their kids with us, and of course that picture showed up on social media as if they are living this idyllic life, yet spending very little time with their kids.


A quick followup - it turned out he was following 1200 people on instagram. He has cut that down to 900 people. Not so much, but in the right direction.

He’s also added an app timer that restricts his use of instagram to an hour a day.

Both of these seem like good moves, but to me too gradual. Any suggestions / observations?

BTW, I’ve been away for a couple of weeks. I’m back for a few days and then away again.

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Cold turkey quit for a temporary but predetermined timeframe. Ideally, after which he’d feel so much better that he decides to quit permanently of his own fruition. Dare to dream.

Find some “cool” people who he relates to who don’t use social media. Might be inspiring.

Alternatively, I don’t have any new thoughts. Good luck.