Reckoning With Our Social Media Brain Drain

Imagine all the inventive things Elon Musk (and you) could be doing instead of tweeting

Brad Stulberg
6 min readMay 16, 2022

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Photo: visuals / Unsplash

When I first heard that Elon Musk actually bought Twitter — irrespective of what comes of the deal, which is now undergoing further diligence— my immediate thought was: What a shame, I’d much rather he focus on taking carbon out of the atmosphere. Musk is a polarizing figure, no doubt. Whatever you think of the guy, it is hard to argue that his leadership in electric vehicles, solar power, and reusable aerospace technology has not been a boon for the environment. That he’ll probably be focusing more on social media than he already does — the man likes to tweet — came as frustrating news. But then again, it’s not just Musk. It’s all of us.

The deleterious effects of social media on mental health, body image, harassment, and democracy are well documented and discussed at length. But my immediate thought proceeding news of Musk’s acquisition got me thinking: Might there also be a significant brain drain?

Data from Statista shows that the average internet user spent two-and-a-half hours per day on social media in 2021, up nearly sixty-five percent since 2012. If you think this is attributable to Covid-19, think again. In 2019, average usage was only two minutes less. Additional statistics from the Pew Research Center show that the majority of Americans who use social media visit the platforms at least once a day, with well over thirty percent checking in several times.

Though these are crude averages, it’s clear that, as a collective, we spend a lot of time on social media. Whenever I log onto Twitter, I find myself shocked at how many scientists, politicians, and entrepreneurs seem to be posting throughout the day. I can’t help but wonder about all the other things they could be using their time, energy, and brain power on.

For a 2020 paper published in the American Journal of Economic Review, researchers from Stanford University and MIT surveyed the state of innovation across diverse industries. Their conclusion: “Everywhere we look we find that ideas, and the exponential growth they imply, are getting harder to find.” Research conducted by Rand Corporation in 2021 found that American entrepreneurship has…

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Brad Stulberg

Bestselling author of Master of Change and The Practice of Groundedness