written by Peter Iltchev
I often feel that the content I consume online, whether a news site or a social media feed, is also consuming me. In search of a solution, I’ve tried deleting social media apps only to then open it up again in my web browser, and I’ve done digital detoxes only to then “reward” myself with a scrolling session immediately after.
I miss the days when playing Snake II on a Nokia 3310 used to be my guilty pleasure, but wishing that it was 2001 again has proven to be a futile exercise. Accepting that I am in 2021, a year in which most of us are generally quite reliant on our smartphones and the unlimited access to content which they provide, I can focus on creating a healthier relationship with my devices, or at least try to.
How, I hear you ask? Well, I’m sorry to say that I haven’t found a one-size-fits-all golden formula, rather it’s an ongoing process of trial and error which is individual to everyone. That said, there are several things that seem to have worked for me, and which might work for others. I’ve distilled them into three action points below.
1. Be critical of what you see
The impact that different content can have on us can vary hugely over time: you might find that the regular updates that your favourite artist shares on their Stories, which used to make you feel part of a community of followers, could in time start to become repetitive and even overwhelming.
When you’re scrolling through your feed and you come across a post that provokes you in some way, consider stopping for a minute and asking yourself – how does this piece of content make me feel right now, irrespective of how it used to make me feel? Does it make me feel uplifted, intrigued, understood? Does it make me feel anxious, angry, uncomfortable? Does this serve me in any way, or would I be better off without seeing it for now?
Our ability to be critical of how what we consume makes us feel is crucial for making decisions about how we curate our feeds in order for us to feel (slightly) better.
2. Choose what to see more/less of
If you’ve decided that something in your feed isn’t serving you anymore, then consider unfollowing, muting or snoozing that page or profile. It’s that simple. Some social media platforms such as Facebook allow you to prioritise certain pages in your Facebook feed. Pick out 2 or 3 pages which you most enjoy seeing and adjust the settings so that they appear higher up in your feed. If you’re looking for content which tackles mental health more directly and offers tips on how to manage it and prompts for reflection, Mind, Samaritans, and Headspace are worth following in my opinion.
Don’t let the algorithm decide for you. Instead, find ways in which you can influence the algorithm so that it works for you.
3. Find alternative forms of content
The content on our social media feeds is undoubtedly informative, entertaining, and generally stimulating, but content comes in many forms, some of which don’t require us to stare at a screen for hours. For example, listening to a podcast or audiobook gives your eyes and hands a rest and allows you to put your headphones on, lean back, and immerse yourself in a conversation or a story. And while they might not be updated every minute, newspapers and magazines can be held, handled, leafed through, even smelt, in a way which just isn’t possible with pixels on a screen.
Moreover, all of the above formats are split up into distinct episodes, chapters, and pages which follow a specific subject or storyline which lasts longer than 280 characters, something which can’t be said for an endless feed housing hundreds of different sources clamouring for our attention.
Try mixing it up with content which you can touch or hear: it helps ground is in a more real and tangible experience. Also, longer-form formats take longer to consume and don’t prey as much on our attention spans. The bottom line is, we don’t have to swear off social media entirely to improve our mental health. In my humble opinion, I would argue that it is in fact easier and more sustainable to make smaller changes which significantly influence the quality (and not the quantity) of the intake of the content we consume on a daily basis.
But don’t take my word for it – give it a go!