David Heinemeier Hansson

February 3, 2022

The second-hand stress of social media

I'd been an active combatant in the arena of social media for so long that I thought the baseline stress it produced was mainly due to the direct involvement. Over the past ten-plus years, rarely did I go a week without getting into some sort of heated argument with strangers online. But since retiring from the back-and-forth, it's clear that active involvement is not required for social media to produce a stress response. Passive exposure surely does too it.

This is most apparent when you take a prolonged break. Take a couple of weeks off scrolling through your feed, then return, and I'd be surprised if you aren't aghast at what it feels like. The tolerance you built up from years of exposure to these rivers of unhappy, resentful, angry exchanges wanes remarkably quickly, and when you throw yourself back in without that tolerance, it's a shock to the system.

That shock isn't the problem, though. It's the solution. It's your body telling you just how unhealthy soaking your mind in these flows actually is. The problem is the tolerance because it allows you to cope with the constant exposure. Meanwhile all that cortisol is flowing through veins, producing everything from ulcers to heart disease.

I think most people already know this, but I don't think we have any idea of how bad it really is. I wouldn't be surprised if the effects of second-hand stress from social media is worse than the second-hand stress from smoking in many developed countries. That's a longitudinal study I'd love to see. (Blessed be those selected for the control group!)

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.