Rogers: The monster looming behind social media

Aspen Times editor Don Rogers

Heeding the surgeon general’s advisory about the mental health perils of social media for children, the Aspen School District recently sent out an alert to parents:

“This week, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy issued an urgent advisory about the mental health effects of social media on young people. We believe this is an important issue and wanted to share the information.”

The warning ran through the highlights. Nearly every kid between 13 and 17 admits using social media. Around 40% of children between 8 and 12 do, too.

“The problem is social media has written these algorithms, these programs that are designed to addict kids, younger and younger and younger, and it’s working really well,” Aspen School District Superintendent David Baugh told the Aspen Daily News. “It’s really negatively impacted schools. We’re spending lots on counselors, social workers.”

But Mom and Dad have been infected, too. This is like trying to talk about their child’s drug abuse to parents missing teeth and jittery from their own addiction. Signs of inflammation abound.

To save the children, Mom needs to unhook herself. Even the best-life posing is corrosive, never mind the groupthink, the electrified gossip, the bullying, the baiting, beatdowns, dolling up, erosion of critical thinking, well, thinking period.

This tide of flotsam and crap overwhelms the cute sharing of meals, trips, children, graduation and so on. As if anyone really cares other than to one up with their own postings. Good intent has been subsumed, invaded, taken over.

Dad needs to find a sport, build a birdhouse, take a walk. Keyboard warrioring is nothing of the sort. Clever trolling is an oxymoron. Look it up, though the attention span required to do that might be gone already.

Grandpa still thinks that Obama vid “admitting” he’s Muslim was real. “How can you fake that?” he demands.    

We’re in trouble. Just look who we elect to positions where social media has a foothold. The disease has spread well beyond the children. Everyone’s hooked.


It gets worse from here, sorry.

ChatGPT is only the Australopithecus of intelligent chat bots that soon will pass the Turing test, no sweat, and not just fool Grandpa. It’s only been out since November and by January had crested 100 million users — a lot faster than any other software release in history.

OpenAI got a little head start. So did MySpace ahead of Facebook, Blackberry ahead of Apple’s iPhone, AltaVista ahead of Google. Meta and Alphabet, and don’t forget Tik Tok will likely rocket past ChatGPT, and who knows, Amazon past all of them.

This frontier is truly wide open. Sneaky algorithms toying with dopamine and cortisol are cute by comparison, even if their use can threaten democracy as we’ve known it.

We have little clue about what’s coming next.


Social media is eroding our mental health and our collective ability to reason just as artificial intelligence has reached the cusp of liftoff.

At one level, this form of AI is a tool like other tools. Social media has this function, as well, an effective part of the marketing mix, for instance. My daughter uses ChatGPT to scale her use of social media business messaging. It’s great. Next level.

There’s even a sense of control. We humans are pushing the buttons. We are choosing what to open and consume. We can handle it, except we’re not, not really. Not the teenagers, certainly not the adults. This is well established now.

It’s axiomatic that ChatGPT or the next evolutionary step of conversant AI that writes more compelling stories than human authors, does the doctor and the lawyer’s jobs better, and outsmarts us generally is also going to breach the borders of everything toxic we associate with social media. Only it’s going to be orders of magnitude more effective at it.

And here we are today, sending urgent notes to parents who can’t handle social media any better than their children even as we all swarm to the next big wave.

The urgent warning has come too late, fallen on too many deaf ears, the barn already emptied. In effect, zombies are real. Welcome to World War Z.

Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at