You Are What You Consume

I never thought of myself as a social media addict, but COVID changed things. Suddenly, cooped up at home for months, “real life time” with friends was replaced with virtual time on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, etc. As time went on, I became more aware of the insidiousness of what was happening to me. By spending all day scrolling, swiping, commenting, I was becoming what I consume, what I was paying attention to. This has a huge impact on the way I think. The common phrase “You are what you eat” is quite relevant here, and in 2021 is more: You are what you consume.

A little background

I’ve been an avid Reddit user for years now. I started using it in the 8th grade and what attracted it to me were the communities. I really felt like anything I was interested in was on Reddit. In a way, I loved gaining knowledge from it – back then, for my 13 year old brain, it was a goldmine of information. I found awesome books to read. Thanks to r/Fitness and r/bodybuilding, I started lifting. I learned how to build a computer (and built myself 2!). I learned tips and tricks to do well in school. For the most part, I’d say the early parts of my time on Reddit shaped my life in a positive way. In retrospect, it makes sense. I visited positive communities, geared towards certain hobbies.

A few years in, however, I realized that things I was reading on Reddit was also things I was reading in real life. I would spout out opinions of NBA players from other Redditor opinions I would read on r/NBA. I started getting a lot of my news from Reddit, and it became one of my main news sources. However, the comment sections quickly became increasingly partisan and negative, and it was quite noticeable. And in turn, I noticed my own thoughts and views on certain things become negative without me even having my own reasoning behind why.

Popular social media applications on an iPhone
These little unassuming icons have trapped billions of eyeballs.

The problem

Last year’s explosive amalgamation of social and political issues laid bare the evidence of people “becoming” what they consume. The algorithmic personalization today has led to the creation of insular echo chambers for people. People that become stuck in these echo chambers consume content streamlined in the addicting nature of having one’s priors confirmed. The feeling of confirmation bias, the feeling of “aha! I was and am right, and all these people agree!floods your brain with dopamine. While extremism has grown more rampant over the years, 2020 laid it all out in the open, pushing people into their echo chambers more and retreating from differing ideas with harsh dogma.

Of course, most people aren’t extremists, as that defeats the purpose of the word. But extremism is not just unattractive to most people, but also dangerous. Eyes quickly turned to sites like Facebook and Twitter as hubs of negative partisanship and toxicity. Of course, this isn’t just relating to political issues, but literally any issue out there. Even things like basketball players (Who is the GOAT in basketball? LeBron James or Michael Jordan?) have diehard stans and constant haters. Negativity runs rampant across these platforms. Even Reddit has become a lot more negative, with negative political partisanship penetrating even the most unrelated subjects.

Mental health is only getting worse in America. Negativity is exhausting. Optimists live longer. This may be an underlying theme in the fast growth of platforms like TikTok and Pinterest, which have done a fantastic job moderating away negativity from the masses. It’s well-known that fear generates clicks and it’s the reason “doom-scrolling” is a prominent action on platforms like Twitter. Furthermore, engagement is king in today’s Internet landscape, and negativity simply generates more of it. It’s a problem that I won’t pretend to have the solution to for everyone, but I do have a few helpful tips to help myself (and you) be a healthier online consumer.

The solution

  1. Zero-tolerance policy for negativity – I’ve started aggressively blocking and muting channels, people, and accounts that are distinctly negative for the sake of being negative. Negativity and/or things I disagree with are not inherently bad if they prompt me to think deeper about something or force me to consider a new viewpoint that I haven’t thought of before. However, I curate my feed carefully – negaholics and stupid, unfactual arguments are blocked as a rule.
  2. Proper social media diet portion sizes – Reducing my total social media time is a difficult proposition. Little tidbits of consumption throughout the day are hard to stay away from. However, I can limit time spent by app. I’ve found that my TikTok and Instagram feeds are more geared towards humor and awe (positive!), so I give myself more time to visit them over something like Twitter.
  3. Distract yourself from social media – Generally for me, I have a lot of things I want to do, but not enough time for them. Getting started is hard. Without delving into a post on “how to beat procrastination,” I’ve found that once I’ve started on a project, it keeps my attention for longer than social media. Plus, it’s immensely more satisfying.
  4. Help your algorithm out – Double-tapping, retweeting, and generally interacting with something is what your personalization algorithm loves. It’ll start pushing that stuff to the front page of your feed. So before you click “Like” on that post, think for a quick split-second if you want similar content to that topic or from that creator.
  5. Go outside – People in the Bay Area love nature. For good reason I think. I’m also a nature bug because unplugging for even just a weekend is just… freeing.

Curating your online consumption isn’t easy. It feels counterintuitive and petty (can a few posts I read online really affect how I think?), but in today’s online world, it feels absolutely necessary, especially as time spent on phones is only going up. You are what you eat, physically. And mentally, you are what you consume.

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