NPR’s Life Kit: How To Have A Healthier Relationship With Social Media

NPR's Life Kit: How To Have A Healthier Relationship With Social Media

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  • Your Technology Is Tracking You. Take These Steps For Better Online Privacy
    LIFE KIT
    Your Technology Is Tracking You. Take These Steps For Better Online Privacy
    I’m a Libra which means I was born to find balance, and I wanted to apply that principle to my social media behaviors and consumption.

  • “The Internet can crack us open to seeing so many things that we would have never encountered otherwise. And that’s one of the most beautiful, miraculous things about it. But it can also divide our attention and make us feel fractured,” says Chris Stedman, author of IRL: Finding Realness, Meaning, and Belonging in our Digital Lives.

It’s a constant ongoing individual project, but if it’s something that you want to do, too, here are four tips I’ve come across to help you get started.

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A man addicted to his smartphone. The man sitting into the box and using his smartphone. Connecting with people. Illustration.
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Remember, social media is designed to be addicting
It’s no secret that apps and social media companies are competing for consumers’ attention. The more time spent on an app or platform, the better. And that means a series of design choices have been made, to slowly but surely keep us locked in.

When media studies Professor Shaka McGlotten uses an app like Facebook or Twitter, they sometimes wonder whether using social media can be considered a consensual interaction at this point. How much of our social media behavior is ours and how much of it is influenced by the medium itself?

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This story comes from Life Kit, NPR’s family of podcasts to help make life better — covering everything from exercise to raising kids to making friends. For more, sign up for the newsletter and follow @NPRLifeKit on Twitter.

It’s a question that may seem unrelated to our relationship to social media, but like any relationship, McGlotten, who also teaches anthropology at Purchase College-SUNY, says it’s important to take a step back and think about the nature of the relationship itself. “I think it’s worth asking in this relationship whether it should always fall upon us to be like, ‘OK, I just got to pull it together…and just stop doomscrolling. It’s up to me,’” McGlotten says. “When the companies themselves could make certain kinds of choices that would make it a little bit easier for us.”

They’re talking about features like pull to refresh, endless scroll, autoplay and the algorithms these platforms use to show you more of what they think you like. Tristan Harris: Do Our Devices Control More Than We Think?
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Tristan Harris: Do Our Devices Control More Than We Think?
McGlotten says, the onus isn’t just on us as users but also on our partners (the companies), to encourage healthier behaviors. Keeping that in mind is a good first step when thinking about what your part and responsibility is balancing your digital diet.

Your relationship with social media is real. Treat it that way.
Part of the hand wringing around how much time we spend on social media may stem from the belief that it’s not always considered a “real” experience — that it’s a frivolous habit that needs to be reigned in. That’s not entirely the case, says Stedman, the IRL author. “We’ve told ourselves that life online is less real than life offline. It doesn’t really count in the same way,” Stedman says. “What that means is if we see something in our own habits online that makes us uncomfortable, we can just kind of wave it off.”

‘IRL’ Author Says It’s OK That We’re Spending So Much Of Our Lives Online
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Stedman says if we’re going to have a healthier relationship with social media, we’ve got to stop thinking of it as a mindless activity and start thinking of it as a meaningful one with the potential to reveal certain truths about ourselves. Who are you when you’re online? Have you taken a look at your timeline recently? Scroll through your profile and look at your tweets and posts — what are you putting out into the world? Do you like what you see?

But don’t stop your examination there. To mindfully define the relationship that you want with social media, you can ask yourself:

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