I’ve stepped away from Instagram for the last 29 days. There isn’t any magic to the number 29. I had originally intended to take just 10 days off. But, I found that I wasn’t quite ready to step back into the stream just yet. So, I waited. I listened. I felt.
I’ve gathered a few of my thoughts here in an effort to forge a way forward. They came out (roughly) in list form, so I’ve left them that way. I’ve discovered the positive that Instagram adds in my life, as well as the aspects I need to avoid. I already had a hunch about many of these things. Stepping away refined my thinking and helped me see my most vulnerable moments and self-defeating habits.
I should be clear that what I discovered isn’t unique to Instagram. It’s just that removing Instagram throws my internet habits as a whole into relief. Narrowing in on this one platform allowed me to see myself more clearly. As my only social media account, Instagram is a particularly alluring combination of distraction plus the potential dopamine rush of approval. A few days away showed me what particular itches it was scratching.
What I Did Instead of Instagram
Made a five minute sketch.
Sat with my own discomfort.
Wrote three blog posts.
Checked my weather app incessantly.
Wandered in a park.
Embroidered a shirt.
Went to bed.
Wondered what people were up to.
Wasted time on the internet in a myriad of other ways.
Called my sister.
Called a friend.
Ways I Don't Want to Be Using Instagram
As an analgesic.
When things get a bit thorny inside my brain it is so easy to turn it off by slipping into the numbness of scrolling squares of lovely. I’m ready to stop anesthetizing and allow the uncomfortable, even the painful.
To ward off boredom.
I’m forever lauding the benefits of boredom for my children. I’ve got a stock of stories of the creative amusements they’ve devised when left in “boring” circumstances. Yet, I run from those same situations myself. It’s time for me to accept the gifts of boredom.
As a tool for comparison.
In the context of 2018 digital life the word inspiration is a bit fraught. I like to label all manner of scrolling and searching as inspiration gathering. Certainly, there’s a place for that. But, more often than not, I walk away feeling smaller when I go in search of inspiration. Instagram, and the internet in general, is designed to foster comparison. We all know that. I have to be intentional to avoid this trap.
As a counterfeit sense of accomplishment
Instead of doing the work of sewing a garment I can browse the endless iterations of it online. Instead of heading out the door to explore my neighborhood I can skip around the world on the backs of someone else’s adventures. Instead of crafting my thoughts into words I can slip into a stupor of scrolling. Doing the work is hard. Standing in the glow of someone else’s work is not. I’m ready to trade the imitation for the genuine.
The Wrong Time to Open Instagram
After a hard conversation.
While I’m trying to write a blog post.
In bed at night.
In bed in the morning.
Before I get the kids out the door to school.
When I should be walking out the door but don’t want to be.
When I’m frustrated about how little I’ve accomplished today.
In the middle of making dinner.
The minute I walk in the door.
When I feel lonely, discouraged or stuck.
When I want to see what it will give me, instead of what I can contribute.
Waiting in line.
Sitting on a bus.
Why I am Returning to Instagram
Toward the end of this experiment my return wasn’t a forgone conclusion. I watched as a heart space began opening up inside me. I’m not interested in abandoning that. But, ultimately, I’ve decided to return to Instagram for one reason: the conversation.
There are good, meaty conversations happening there. This is what my heart still hungered for while I took a break. I need the words and thoughts that we share there. Instagram, when I use it in the right way, allows me to brush up against creative minds at work. It creates a space for connection and communion. If I let all of this sink in: these comments, questions and conversations begin to change me.
That’s worth building boundaries for. Using Instagram in a meaningful way will never be something that I can put on autopilot. I’ve learned that. So, I won’t reach for it reflexively. I will use it as a tool to connect.