Maybe Social Media Isn’t Making Us Depressed After All. Here’s What Likely Is.

Moral panics over new technology always hide deeper problems we don’t want to deal with.

Nir Eyal
Published in
6 min readApr 15, 2021


Illustration of people reaching towards a smartphone with a rainbow over the smartphone to represent LGBTQ youth.
Image courtesy of the author

What do bicycles and social media have in common? Soon after being adopted, each of these technologies brought on a tsunami of unjustified moral panic. Let’s start with bikes.

When bicycles burst onto the Victorian scene in the 1800s, they were a big deal. This cool contraption made it possible to travel much further and faster than you could ever go on foot. Better yet, bikes were a lot cheaper than horses (not to mention simpler to maintain).

Soon enough, bicycles gained popularity with a group whose transportation options had historically been limited: women. At that time, if women wanted to get somewhere without walking, they’d typically need someone to take them there in a horse and carriage. Usually, that would be the patriarch of the household. And if he was unavailable or unwilling? Tough luck. Hoof it or stay home.

With bicycles, women could be more independent than ever. Awesome, right?

Not according to those in power. Instead of celebrating the newfound freedom the bicycle had brought, authorities drummed up a spectacular display of moral panic. Here are the dangers of the bicycle, according to many of the era’s medical “experts”:

  • Bicycles would transform women’s feminine gait into a ghastly, ugly walk characterized by “a plunging kind of motion.”
  • Women would suffer from “bicycle face,” a permanent consequence of being exposed to the air at superhuman speeds.
  • Women’s delicate bodies would break down from the strain of riding bicycles, leading to appendicitis, infertility, and even psychosis.

In hindsight, these ideas are ridiculous. But back then, they were widespread fears, and they were amplified by manipulative people who wanted women to be docile and dependent.

Is social media the new bicycle?



Nir Eyal

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