Social media has turned everyone into a (potential) celebrity. The results have been disastrous but also highly pleasurable, not to mention massively profitable a lethal combination. Everyone, including “real” celebrities, is complicit in this disaster, clamouring as they are for digital celebrityhood. Pope Francis created history by being the first pontiff to have an official Instagram account. Former US president Donald Trump insisted on a “modern-day presidency” featuring his unique brand of midnight tweets. And one of the first things King Charles did after his mother’s official mourning period ended was update his Instagram and Twitter profile photos. It’s no surprise then that even the most present among us can’t help but try out for those five minutes of online fame. While social media is often most intoxicating for its youngest users, adults can get drunk on dope too. This inebriation often has far-reaching consequences especially since the kids are constantly watching how we handle our drinks. Here are a few reminders to help you drink responsibly:

Curate your feed

During the summer of 2021, Covid risk was central to our family’s decision making and we severely limited our social interactions. Forget about taking a vacation, even going out for dinner was quite literally off the table. I’m not sure whether it was lockdown exhaustion or just plain old-fashioned Instagram envy, but something snapped when I saw two of my girlfriends sipping poolside drinks and enjoying #summervibes while I was calculating vaccine efficacy rates. Unfollowing them seemed rude so I decided to use my old ally the mute button. Muting someone on Instagram simply means that you will no longer see their posts. No, they won’t know that you muted them, and yes, you can unmute them once sangria season is over. And just as you mute content that brings you down, make sure to follow accounts that lift you up. Find content creators focused on making cool, authentic content and remember to like a few of those posts immediately so that the algorithm can recognise your preferences. At this point in the human-AI relationship, we still have some control over the algorithm so take this limited-time offer to curate your feed and tailor your happiness.

Wresting back some control from the algorithm is more crucial than we realise. Big Tech’s algorithms consistently create echo chambers around us, feeding us our own diets and amplifying polarisation. They are highly topic-based, so if you express an interest in say, gardening or climate change, the algorithm picks it up and thrusts you into those specific worlds. The algorithm then influences everything by creating a filter bubble in which you only hear your voice and others like it. Think of it like this: instead of allowing you to roam free and wide in a bookstore, selecting titles of your choosing, reading a little of this and some of that, the algorithm kicks you out of the bookstore and then force-feeds you a reading list of its choosing. Instead of reading and exploring freely, you are forced into a one-dimensional marriage. Don’t let the algorithm box you in. Attempt to read content on every side of the political spectrum. Turn off auto-play on YouTube and choose what you want to feed yourself.

Uncurate yourself

It’s easy to keep the fantasy version of yourself the one that gets the most likes alive on the Internet. You can filter your photos, airbrush the blemishes and reveal only the Instagrammable parts of your home. This may seem like you’re playing in a funhouse of mirrors but performing for likes while boxing yourself into a curated projection has real consequences. It’s difficult to feel good about your authentic self when you only receive validation for your digitally curated fantasy. What if you abandoned the idea of perfection and released yourself from the prison of public performance? Unless your business relies on social media traction, consider freeing yourself from panting after likes. Try posting without posing, share an unfinished project or a kitchen fail. Betray the idea of perfection, it’s the only way to be true to yourself.

Try intermittent fasting

During Lockdown 1, when we were still checking in on each other’s vegetable supplies and panic levels, my friend commented that her 14-year-old son was doing really well even as the world fell apart. “All Aahan needs is uninterrupted Wi-Fi and a locked door,” she chuckled. But even after the lockdowns were lifted, Aahan remained holed up in his room, continuing to live his life online. “I know he’s feeling low, but he says that when he feels really low, he spends more time on his phone. I barely see him now,” his mother said. He isn’t alone: many teenagers use the Internet as an escape mechanism until it becomes both the problem and the solution. Dard bhi aur dava bhi.

This addiction is both real and rampant. In fact, the problem is big enough problem to have forced social media platforms to add tools that limit your time on their platforms. Allowing moderation is a good start since addiction experts such as David Sheff point out that digital addiction is less like alcohol addiction (in which you try to abstain completely) and more like food addiction, in which moderation is key (you’ve got to eat to stay alive). You’re likely familiar with intermittent fasting in which you abstain from food for several hours a day digital detoxes aren’t very different. Your best bet to conquer a digital addiction is with balance and boundaries. Start with small, achievable goals such as going off social media for the weekend and build from there. If a whole weekend is too much, use productivity apps like Freedom to lock yourself out of social media during certain times of the day. Managing your time on these platforms is tough but ultimately worth it: piles of research demonstrate that the less you use social media, the less depressed and lonely you feel.

Don’t scroll, connect

Remember that it’s not just how much time you’re spending on social media that affects your well-being, but also what you’re doing there. If you are mindlessly doom-scrolling looking at photos of strangers on vacation, reading catastrophic headlines and skimming viral videos then you’re setting yourself up for, well, doom. The business model of social media is based on “people looking at content from as many people as possible, whom they may not know, for as many hours a day as possible”. Don’t contribute to the model the companies are rich enough as it is and instead reclaim control. Limit your time on social media and while you’re there, use it to actually connect with others. Facebook’s research (they know they have a problem!) reveals that people who actively use social media are happier than those who passively consume content. These platforms were originally designed to be networks and our well-being depends on staying true to that original intent. So, leave a positive comment, message an old friend or engage with people who share your interests instead of passively doom-scrolling through cat videos.

Live IRL

Everyone appreciates a compliment. We all enjoy the thrill of recognition to be noticed when we’re looking good or to feel credited for a job well done. Receiving feedback is a fundamental part of the human experience. It’s part of the reason we buy new clothes, improve our diction and apply lipstick. But being insular IRL affects our traditional feedback loops by forcing us to forage for feedback online, hunt for likes and conflate them with value. We’re seeking validation online because we’re living less offline. Break the loop go out, engage with people, push for real-world experiences and receive the feedback that you’re craving. Multiple studies have found that the best predictor of social and emotional health is face-to-face communication. The studies are right no heart emoji can replace the dizziness of a first kiss just as no clapping emoji comes close to the pride of walking up to a stage to receive a trophy. Texting “LOL” is not the same as actually laughing across a table with an old friend. You can do a digital puja and put a virtual blanket on a dargah but that cannot replace the communal, meditative aspects of prayer. Besides, the real world is the only place you can get a decent meal.