Rethinking health: Nurturing healthy digital relationships


09 Feb, 2023

The foundation of health is built on the human need for relationships: interpersonal connections between one another. We rely each other to survive and thrive and in a world where much of our lives are lived online, it is important that our digital relationships promote care and support.

Today, social media has become a public forum, much like the urban square of cities and reminiscent of the agora’s in ancient Greece. Much of social technology, as we know it today, is actually relatively new and to grow in their ability to benefit peoples lives they need begin addressing the health-related impacts of their wider use. The economic damage of covid-19 is widely measurable and accepted but the magnitude of lingering damage to communal bonds and relationships is harder to come by - yet arguably no less harmful. To avoid a ‘social recession’ digital experiences and social tech should help people create lasting relationships and spend more meaningful time together.

Health can be unifying. Research carried out by IDEO in collaboration with the Robert Wood Foundation showed that social media posts tagged with “inspiration” strongly correlated to posts about health. This showed the power of health as a starting point for conversation and the ability to create social cohesion.

Among young people, health has a strong correlation with personal identity. Social innovation lab, Hopelab, works at the intersection of technology and mental-health to drive social impact through its design studio, ventures and research discovery. At the start of the covid pandemic, they were developing a tool called Nod - an to combat loneliness on college campuses. They determined that in order to tackle loneliness they had to get students off their devices but covid put a halt to this intervention and forced the team to rethink their approach. The question arose: what are the underlying principles of social connection and how can the intervention create meaningful social connection digitally? The development focus transitioned from tech-centred to identity-centred creating an opportunity to better support the people for which the app serves.