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'Life Kit': How to go on a 'social media diet' in 2022

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

2021 is rapidly coming to a close. And for some of us, the dawn of the New Year could mean resolutions, commitments to do better in certain areas of our lives. So we are taking some time this week to share a few episodes of Life Kit. That's the podcast that gives tips and hacks to make life better. Today, reporter-producer Mayowa Aina has some advice for how to manage your social media diet.

MAYOWA AINA, BYLINE: There are a million-and-one ways to experience what we know as the internet. Finding and creating that balance has been an ongoing project for me. What I want to know is, if I'm going to be on the internet, how can I get more of those good feelings and less of the just toxic, hellish, yeet-me-off-this-planet feelings?

SHAKA MCGLOTTEN: 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 or whatever scrolling, it's up to me, when the companies themselves could make certain kinds of choices that would make it a little bit easier for us.

AINA: That's Shaka McGlotten, which brings us to our first takeaway. It comes from Shaka, and they say we need to remember that social media these days is addicting. It's designed to be.

MCGLOTTEN: The apps are not designed to be healthy.

AINA: All the little things that have been designed and implemented over time to increase the amount of time we spend on the internet, features like pull to refresh, endless scroll, auto play, notifications - the very algorithms these platforms are based on which show you more of what it thinks you like and less of what it thinks you don't.

CHRIS STEDMAN: It's in my pocket at all times. My phone is often the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing I look at before I go to bed. And so when I was growing up, online connection was a kind of discrete activity, whereas now, connection really is my norm.

AINA: That's Chris Stedman. He's the author of "IRL," a book about finding meaning in our digital lives. Chris says the way that we talk about the internet hasn't caught up with the way we actually engage with it.

STEDMAN: We've told ourselves that life online is less real than life offline, doesn't really count in the same way. And, you know, so 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. Like, oh, that doesn't really count in the same way.

AINA: That brings us to our second takeaway. 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.

STEDMAN: Whatever we think of it, whether we think it's as real, less real, more real, that we strive to sort of take it as seriously as other parts of our lives.

AINA: Part of this shift in mindset is paying attention to what we do on the internet. Who are you when you're online? Have you taken a look at your timeline recently, scrolled through your own profile, look at your tweets and posts? What are you putting out into the world, and do you like what you see?

STEDMAN: One thing that I have tried to practice and that I think can really, really help is just slowing things down a little bit and trying to actually pay attention to what you're doing and ask yourself regularly questions about, what needs am I actually trying to meet right now?

AINA: Think about the things in your life that are ready life-enhancing, as Shaka calls it, and maximise that. Lean into that, whether it's talking on the phone, sending a good morning tweet to the world or going for a daily bike ride. Speaking of getting active, here's our third takeaway, and it comes from me. Marie Kondo your social media. That may be obvious for some, but I'm always surprised when I do it, and it's something I've been doing since then my senior year in high school.

At least once a year, generally around New Year, I'll go through my following list on whatever platforms I used, whether it's Twitter, Instagram and now TikTok, and just clean it out. What accounts are bringing me joy, helping me learn, challenging me, and which ones aren't? Nowadays, I'll often delete my whole history from the past year and just start with a clean slate. For Shaka, it was important to create some intentional guidelines and implement obstacles for their social media behavior.

MCGLOTTEN: So what I do is I force myself to log in through a browser on my phone. Even if it's just like two or three clicks, it's like an extra barrier, but it's enough to kind of keep me from being on Twitter, you know, every minute.

AINA: Oh, and turn off your notifications. Even for someone like me, who is very online, I don't need any extra help getting there.

MCGLOTTEN: You don't need a ping. You don't need a banner. Turning them off will help you. You're not missing out on anything.

AINA: This brings us to our fourth takeaway. Opt out. Take a break, even if it's just for a little while.

STEDMAN: It was really, really difficult. But then, once I kind of got through the withdrawal, then it was like glorious. I felt so at ease. I was less stressed. And it would seem to confirm some of this doom and gloom about social media.

AINA: Which brings us to our fifth and final takeaway, which isn't really a takeaway per se, but another one of those pieces of context that's helpful for us to understand when thinking about our relationship to the internet at large. So much of it is out of our control.

STEDMAN: What is a win for the platforms is that you spend more time online. It doesn't really matter if you're having a good time online, as long as you're online. I can change my relationship to the internet. I can become more mindful about what I'm doing online, how I'm spending my time, what needs I'm trying to meet. And that can really have a positive impact on my life, and it has. But until the platforms themselves are forced to transform their models, you're going to be swimming upstream.

AINA: We're starting to see some of that now. If you dig a little bit, you'll find different features on various platforms that lets you block, mute, hide, unfollow, all that good stuff. TikTok has a very direct and maybe counterintuitive way of encouraging a healthier relationship. Whereas other apps are trying to figure out how to keep you on, TikTok tells you to get off.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hold on. You've been scrolling for way too long now. Maybe you should...

AINA: That TikTok reminder is, like, at once, very embarrassing and also very, like, thank you, TikTok, for, like, letting me know, hey, you've been on this thing for quite a while. Do you want to do something else?

STEDMAN: Exactly. Exactly. Go outside. Be in nature.

AINA: Do you stop or do you keep going?

STEDMAN: I always stop.

AINA: Do you?

STEDMAN: I don't know what it is. I do.

AINA: I blow right past it. I'm like, thank you, TikTok, but, like, leave me alone.

So what does all of this mean. What parts can we control, and how do we get to a place where we're mostly content and have a healthy relationship with social media? Like any relationship, whether it's with another person, with your body, with your job, your relationship to social media is your own. There is no one size fits all. And feeling better about it takes consideration and reflection.

KELLY: That is reporter-producer Mayowa Aina from NPR's Life Kit podcast. You can check it out for additional episodes on health, finance and parenting, or listen on the NPR One app. All this week on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we are sharing advice to inspire you in the New Year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.