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Instagram Wants You to Get Closer to Your Close Friends –– But Will That Make Us Feel Better?

The social media platform is rolling out a new feature that allows users to curate a list of intimate followers to share with –– but will the initiative really change the way we feel when we’re scrolling?

NurPhoto / Getty Images
NurPhoto / Getty Images

Instagram’s new Close Friends feature is the latest addition to the tech industry’s movement towards better managing our relationship with our phones. Over the last couple of years, social media platforms have gotten their fair share of flak. Several studies show that extensive use of online social platforms, which were created to connect users, can prompt feelings of disconnection, distraction, comparison, and a range of other social anxieties. Tech giants such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google have implemented their own well-being initiatives to help users better manage their relationship with technology, and now, Instagram is joining the movement, launching a feature to foster more intimacy online.

After 17 months of program testing, Instagram is trying to re-introduce a feeling of connection to the platform. The Close Friends feature is rolling out on iOS and Android over the next two days, so you may notice some subtle changes the next time you open the Facebook-owned app. For starters, users will be able to create a discrete list of followers to grant special viewing permission of their Stories. You’ll be able to choose if you want your entire follower list to see your post, or just a list of your hand-selected Close Friends. Then, when you post a Story available only to your Close Friends, they’ll see a green ring around your profile icon, while Stories posted to all of your followers will appear with a pink ring.

“As you add more and more people [on any social network], you start not to know them,” Instagram director of product Robby Stein noted onstage at a TechCrunch conference in Berlin this week. “To really be yourself, and connect, and be connected to your best friends, you need your own place,” he explained.

The feature gives users their “own place” to engage more intimately with real friends, and aims to save us from some of the angst (and hours of mindless scrolling) that can come with sharing so openly and broadly. “Like any new development, technology can backfire if it’s not used correctly, and it often ends up doing more harm than good,”  Timothy Bono, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis and author of When Likes Aren't Enough: A Crash Course in the Science of Happiness, tells Thrive Global. “[However,] there are things we can do avoid its potentially damaging effects.”

Here are some additional steps you can take that will help you foster a healthier relationship with your feed:

Set screen time limits

Remember those screen time features that Apple released a few months ago? It’s worth revisiting some of those capabilities if you feel overwhelmed by your feed. According to Bono, you don’t need to delete your apps entirely, but instead, “You may want to modify how you are using them." Setting a time limit on your use can make a world of a difference when it comes to how much we consume on a daily basis. Start by cutting down your use by a few minutes each day, and continue from there, Bono says. You’ll probably feel better by spending those moments being present instead of down an internet rabbit hole.

Think before you post

“It’s become exceedingly difficult not to give into our impulses at every vibration, chime, or push notification,” Bono points out. So often, we glide through social media without thinking mindfully about what we’re posting, and that can take a serious toll on our mental well-being. Bono suggests that before you post your next photo, video, or rant, stop yourself before hitting “Send” and take a moment to think about why you’re choosing to share. Did you see someone else post something similar? Are you posting to avoid a real-life social experience that you’ve been ignoring? Will this post enhance your own life, or anyone else’s? Taking a moment to ask yourself why before you share can change the way you interact with your feed, and can help you gain some much-needed perspective.

Do a social media cleanse

“Long before the advent of social media, psychologists knew that one of the fundamental barriers to our well-being is social comparison,” Bono notes. Our technological well-being is about so much more than how much time we spend online — it’s also about the posts we’re looking at, he explains. Go through the list of who you follow, and allow yourself to detach from any accounts that make you feel less-than.  “Scrolling through the highlight reels of our friends’ posts inevitably fills us with envy because of the things we now want,” he says. You’ll be surprised by how much better you feel after doing a quick sweep of that highlight reel.

Log out when you’re done

If you feel like picking up your phone and heading straight to social media is an instinct, make it a new habit to actually log out when you’re finished looking at the app. “[This will help] to mitigate the unconscious habit by making it harder to keep going back,” Bono explains. When we’re perpetually signed in, we’re more likely to obsessively scroll through our apps like clockwork. Alternatively, if you have to make the conscious decision to sign in every time you click on the app, you might think twice about whether you need to be on social media in that moment or not. Chances are, you’ll probably choose to put the phone down instead.

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