I have a bit of a fraught relationship with Instagram. I really got into it sometime last year, and I spent a lot of time editing and posting photos, staring at people’s pictures, and regularly wailing to everyone close to me that I didn’t have a picture-perfect life. While My friends wailed with me about how beautiful everyone else’s lives seemed, my mom (who also happens to be a psychologist) would calmly point out that no one’s life is picture-perfect. Some people are just better at faking it than others.
Truth be told, it was a pretty typical Instagram experience. I loved Instagram, and it sometimes made me feel inadequate, but I used it anyway. But one day when I was wailing (not particularly seriously) to my boyfriend about all the pretty things I saw and wanted on Instagram, he issued me a challenge: go one week without it.
First I was surprised. I wasn’t addicted; it wasn’t like leaving would be hard. And Instagram wasn’t harmful, so what was the point to leaving it in the first place? But I tried it anyways, mostly just to prove that I could. I deleted the app off my phone.
At the end of the week, I didn’t re-download it. Spending a week away from Instagram made me realize how much like crap the app could make me feel. It was like hanging out around a fun, passive-aggressive friend who makes you feel insecure. I wouldn’t tolerate that in a friend, so why was I tolerating it from technology? Something needed to change, so I vowed to leave Instagram.
It’s been a little over a year since I left it. I would occasionally check it on my computer, but I tried not to log into my account. I didn’t post photos. I didn’t scroll mindlessly through my feed – if there was something I wanted to see, I went directly to someone’s Instagram page and looked at a few pictures. And then I would be done.
But lately, I’ve been thinking about how I used Instagram. There is nothing inherently harmful in a picture-sharing app, after all – it doesn’t need to be something that invites feelings of inadequacy and envy. But I was following all the wrong people. My feed was clogged with perfect travel and food photos, photos of gorgeous home interiors, photos of new skincare products, etc. etc. etc. It was one giant ad for a perfect life that I didn’t have.
But when I left Instagram, I only found myself checking people’s accounts if they were:
a) authors I liked
b) bloggers I liked
c) people I knew in real life
And I noticed that I never left their feeds with any of the negative emotions I used to experience on Instagram. If they were my friends, I was happy to see what they were getting up to. If they were writers I liked, I was delighted to hear about their new projects and felt motivated to work on my own writing. And if they were bloggers I liked, I enjoyed getting a glimpse at their lives from a different angle. I just liked what I was seeing. It made me feel happy, or curious, or motivated.
The truth of the matter is that our social media experiences are manufactured. We’re seeing a distorted version of reality every time we hop onto Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or even Steemit. But the fact that we often fail to grasp is that we’re the ones manufacturing this reality. We choose who we follow. If we only follow people who have the same ideology as ourselves, then we’ve manufactured an echo chamber. If we follow people we’re envious of, then we’ve manufactured a place that breeds envy. If we follow things or brands that we want, then we’ve manufactured a custom-made ad.
But since we create these spaces for ourselves, it’s possible to be mindful about what we create and make sure that we’re creating spaces we really enjoy.
I’ve decided to try Instagram again, to see if I can have a different experience with it. I’ve unfollowed any account that makes me want to buy something, or that makes me jealous or frustrated or sad. Truth be told, it was half of the people I followed. Now my feed is saturated with things that I really enjoy: writers and independent bookstores that I like, food blogs that make me want to get up and try a recipe (as opposed to the gorgeous food feeds that just made me wish I could buy super-expensive and over-the-top food), a couple youtubers whose content always makes me happy, a few artists, a few cute animals (ohmygod Moochi the Cow), and friends who I want to keep up with. I want it be a happy, positive space that I can look at whenever I’m grumpy or stressed.
I’ve also changed the audience that I target when I post pictures. For a while on Instagram, I wanted to establish myself as a travel photographer. I actively wanted to put out content and grow my following. Now… not so much. Rather than wooing unknown followers, I want to post things that my friends will enjoy. I’m not going to worry about gaining followers or getting likes.
I also want to use Instagram as a kind of personal photo album. One of the beauties of posting photos on social media is that it lets you curate your photos, which lets you look back on fun experiences more easily. As someone who enjoys taking pictures, I have a LOT of photos hoarded on my phone and computer. It can be hard to enjoy them when there are so many. But social media lets me make digital photo albums. (I also use Steemit for this! But mostly for collections of related photos, rather than single pictures.)
We’ll see if these changes are enough to make Instagram into a positive force in my life. I’ve decided to give it a month. At the end of the month, I’ll take a week off to assess how I actually feel about it.
Because as I said before, there is nothing inherently bad about Instagram. So if I can make it into something good… well, I think we could all use more good things in our lives. But I want to make sure that I’m mindfully creating a version of Instagram that makes me happy. And if this fails in a month, then I’m not going to hesitate to kiss it goodbye.
What do you think about social media? Do you have any tips about how to make Instagram a place that feels more positive and less self-loathing-inducing? If so, let me know – I could use the tips!
All photos in this post are, you guessed it, from my Instagram! They are my own work (with the exception of the photo of me, which I got permission to use from the photographer), so all the usual copyright rigamarole applies.