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Nurture lasting relationships

by | Jul 22, 2021 | Work-life-balance

The first mile of health is built on a basic human need: to relate with each other. As a species, humans rely on each other to survive and thrive. In today’s world it’s critical that our digital relationships foster mutual care and support.

If social media is the modern public square, today’s digital technology remains far from the agora of Athens or Central Park, places where people from diverse backgrounds gather and build shared understanding. Most social tech is still new in the grand scheme of things, and there’s an opportunity to develop them in a health-centered way. If we are to avoid the “social recession”—a loneliness epidemic exacerbated by COVID—digital experiences must help people spend meaningful time together, moving away from doom-scrolling and toward lasting relationships.

One positive example revealed that social media posts tagged as “inspiration” strongly correlate with posts about health. This signals that health can be a unifying topic that catalyzes positive conversation and builds social cohesion. Talking about health can lift people up, motivate them, and activate them toward taking care of their own well-being, sometimes just by giving the words to describe how they feel.

Health is also strongly correlated with personal identity, especially among younger people still in the process of learning and affirming who they are. When the pandemic hit, the social innovation organization Hopelab had been working on a tool called Nod, an intervention for loneliness among young people. At first, they determined that getting young people off their devices was the top intervention for tackling loneliness—but when COVID happened, they took a step back and asked, “What are the underlying principles of social connection?” and, “How can we build a tech-mediated intervention that will catalyze meaningful social connection digitally?” Nod shifted from a tech-centered framing—get kids off devices—to identity-centered framing based on principles such as positive psychology and mindful self-compassion to equip young people with the skills to nurture meaningful connections both online and offline.

How might digital products and services better support positive self-awareness and well-being?

How might we create digital experiences that feel like being in proximity with those we love? And importantly, how might we foster connections among those we don’t already know?

How might we design policies and regulations to ensure that digital experiences create reciprocal value for people and businesses?