Full disclosure: I’m a journalist. A crucial part of my job is to be in-the-know when it comes to media, fashion, culture, and everything else going on in society. It’s important to promote my company’s content, too, and that means being active on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m an outgoing and social person. And as independent as I am, I love being around others and sharing my life with those I’m close to. So it’s no wonder I’m an avid fan of social media.
Facebook was my first real experience with social networking—but Instagram has my heart. My fancy French toast? 'Grammed it. My trip to Los Angeles? 'Grammed that, too. It’s fun! I thought. I’m just showing people a glimpse into my life.
Yet recently it began to feel like every brunch, every concert, every retreat was an Instagram photo op. Sometimes being surrounded by people, even virtually, can be overwhelming. My friends were constantly trying to set up shots and come up with witty captions. Not a get-together went by that didn’t involve one of us whipping out our iPhone to make sure the whole world knew that we were having an amazing time. Eventually I had to stop and wonder, What if I enjoyed life in the moment and didn’t care about whether that moment was share-worthy?
After reading this article, I realized I was guilty of doing the same things as my friends. The worst part: I was becoming envious of other people, some I didn’t even know, and was caught in a sticky web of comparison and FOMO (fear of missing out). Why? I was perfectly happy with my life—I have a great new job, a wonderful boyfriend, loving friends and family, and a sweet apartment in New York City. But life is a series of ups and downs. Instagram has a funny way of making everyone’s lives seem like eternal ups.
It’s not just me who’s noticed this. Researchers from Oxford University say “social media envy” is real, and Instagram is its biggest culprit. Another study found that Instagram can make us feel socially isolated and miserable:
“If you see beautiful photos of your friend on Instagram, one way to compensate is to self-present with even better photos, and then your friend sees your photos and posts even better photos, and so on. Self-promotion triggers more self-promotion, and the world on social media gets further and further from reality,” researcher Hanna Krasnova of Humboldt University Berlin told The Daily Mail.
So I decided to take a break from my favorite form of social media. No more scrolling through my feed when I’m bored, no more finding old friends from college, and definitely no more posting pics on my own profile. One month, I thought. If I can go one month without Instagram, everything will change.
I deleted the app on my iPhone and told friends I was off Insta for a while. “What? Why?” was the most common response. I explained I was trying to spend more time face-to-face and less staring at a screen. Not to mention I was hoping to quit comparing my life to everyone else’s. The majority of my friends understood where I was coming from. They, too, had suffered jealousy and insecurity at the whims of Instagram. Or they just believed, like I, that we spend too much of our days tuned in to screens—and therefore tuned out to what’s really happening around us.
Quitting cold turkey was not easy. I was a straight-up addict, and I could no longer get my fix. The first week was the hardest. I suddenly recognized I’d formed a habit of checking Insta before bed. I stopped doing that and turned my phone on “do not disturb” mode at bedtime. I began reading or journaling before bed. And guess what? I slept more soundly and woke up more rested than I had in months. (Hmm, I guess it really is true when they say you should turn off electronics before bed.)
Happy hours, birthday parties, and dinner dates were no longer fodder for my iPhone camera. They were opportunities to connect with friends and family and have meaningful conversations—ones where we made eye contact (at least I did) and let our text messages, Facebook, Instagram, and Gmail notifications vibrate without attention.
Other moments, like walks through Central Park, allowed me to be still and take quiet time for myself, simply enjoying nature and the creation around me.
But as wonderful as it was, I can’t pretend I divorced Instagram completely. When I needed to find fashion photographers for my job, I scoured their Instagrams online. Doing so seemed like the logical solution to any photography question. Then there was the issue of Instagram making its way into my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Some people liked to share on multiple platforms, I discovered. I didn’t always succeed in avoiding such links. And more than once, I stood next to friends while they posted their own Instagram shots.
It’s been three weeks since I deleted my app and put a moratorium on Instagram. In that short time, I’ve learned I’m really not missing out on anything. Now that I don’t know what other people are up to all the time, I see my life as it is: really great. I don’t take it personally when a few friends have coffee without me, and I don’t get jealous when a style blogger jets off to Paris. I also relish the time I have alone, the times I can take a walk or cook a meal without anyone in the digital world knowing. And that’s freeing.
So where does this leave me? Well I’ll see how long I can go without re-downloading Instagram and posting pictures again. I’m standing up in a friend’s wedding at the end of the month, so there’s a chance I’ll get back in the game for that. I’m confident, however, that when I do return, my experience will be very different than it was before. I definitely won’t be scrolling through my feed nightly or pulling up the app when I’m out somewhere waiting for friends. I won’t be posting photos every chance I get either because I’ll enjoy life in the moment and remember how truly amazing that life is—even without the beautiful blue tone of the Walden filter.
Photo by Jose Wolff