Thoughts from a Post-Instagram World

The lush, electrifying waterfall of light and color and beauty graced my eyes and pulled back the curtains of my reality to open new worlds to me, every day for the last five years.

But I have exiled myself from it.

I deleted Instagram. 

Translation: I didn’t just put the account to sleep or uninstall it from my phone. I permanently wiped my very existence from the app, along with 600 photos and posts and all my stored media and messages

This isn’t your standard Luddite article—I won’t bemoan how the youth can’t stop taking selfies and encourage you to set fire to your devices and turn into a hermit. I instead present four (what I feel are) entirely reasonable observations that encouraged me to delete Instagram, and who knows? Perhaps one of them might strike a chord with you. 

 

I felt a threatening lack of privacy

It started off with innocuous ads for things your average college student might need: make-up kits, sports bras, and luxurious beach vacations (that last one was a joke), but slowly turned insidious. After a conversation with a friend who mentioned she was getting donuts for a party, my Instagram feed was suddenly full of desserts while the ads threw UberEats and KrispyKreme at me over and over again. Though cyber security experts and researchers assure us that the program is learning and tailoring itself to your interests as opposed to outright hacking your microphone, the result is still unsettling. The final straw came after a session with a friend where I was complaining about babies and children, only to find days later that my Instagram feed had turned into an expecting parent’s paradise full of fat-cheeked infants, gender reveal parties, maternity photoshoots, pregnancy before/after shots, and videos of babies snuggling their oh-so-happy mothers.

It was as good a reason as any to delete.

Image via Unsplash

 

My relationships were corrupted

In his book 10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media, author Jaron Lanier uses the metaphor of a Skinner Box that rewards and punishes trapped rats in order to elicit responses from them. Instagram follows a similar model, in which the food pellets used to reward the rats are replaced by ‘likes’. Reflecting on this thought, I came to see that most of my interactions with so-called friends and followers could not fall under the category of meaningful communication. We were reacting to each other like the aforementioned rats, albeit with inanimate heart buttons or the occasional comment after being provoked by a certain post or story. We were no longer moving through topics organically, or conversing for the sake of enriching our relationship. Chatting with my friends on Instagram felt like meeting them in a noisy cafeteria, struggling to hear each other’s voices as other diners laughed, fought, shared stories, and created chaos around us. I would have preferred to carry out our interactions in a more conscious manner, in a location meant to hold only us, with no other distractions. Even the power of shared images (however personal they might be) couldn’t gulf the void I felt opening between us. 

When I finally disappeared from the app, I wondered who out of the 165 people following me might notice my absence and try to inquire or continue our usual conversations and photo exchanges by other means (I’m still on 2-3 other social media sites). The answer: not even 1 person.

However, the friends with whom I exchange letters, read blogs, send emails/texts, or video-chat and meet in person are in touch with me and our relationships are becoming stronger by the day.

 

Instagram reduced my empathy for suffering

Instagram is many things to my many friends: a business tool, a political chat room, a modeling portfolio, a humor portal, an art gallery, a vacation log, a social justice blog, a cooking channel, and much more. I found myself sniggering at a screaming goat one second but trying to wipe the smirk off my face as another friend raged about racist police killings. Then I courteously praised another friend who was trying a distressing make-up look before immediately mustering up outrage for the post of a friend who was publishing pictures of identified rapists with her own survival story in the caption. Three pictures later, one self-styled activist claimed vegans were classist, elitist, racist, casteist, ableist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, (this goes on for a while). Meanwhile, a vegan friend posted about butchers cutting a calf out of the body of a pregnant cow before killing both. Everyone claimed everyone else was a Nazi.

In short, at not even eight in the morning, I was angry at everything, exhausted by humanity, developing a migraine, and the feed was still refreshing itself.

As an avid news reader both online and offline, I go through 5-6 global papers each day, not to mention dozens of blogs and online magazines and over time, I found myself reacting to the picture of a dead calf, the picture of a dead refugee, and the hottest meme with the exact same emotion: utter indifference. I realized later this was a sign of Information Fatigue Syndrome--being unable to react appropriately to media due to overload and overstimulation (note: the condition is not in the DSM-V).

Once I quit Instagram, I was in a better state with regard to my mental health. Reading news from reputed sources with the proper context and situational tools, I was able to give stories the respect, analysis, and sanctity they deserved. My empathy for others grew again. I decided then never to mix education and entertainment again.

On a side note, research shows that using Instagram has a strong connection with increased rates of eating disorders

 

Instagram is overrated

Once an exciting new platform with a dynamic interface that invited users to be everything they wanted from an artist to a publicist to a curator, Instagram has become a weary cesspool that’s trying to be everything from Amazon to Snapchat. Advertising is incessant, whether by sponsors or by users themselves who begin their post with a heartfelt confession but end with a coupon code and #ad. The once clean feed has become cluttered with disposable, thoughtless, and above all, contrived media if not clickbait news and misinformation. It just wasn’t worth my time or attention anymore. (And don’t even get me started on Insta-activism or Insta-poetry).

The Black Mirror Episode Nosedive is a good example of the superficiality the app cultivates over time and Jaron Lanier too insists that quality (a well-written post, for example) is sacrificed for quantity (likes and reactions) on social media and I saw the same happening all over my feed. Apart from this, cyber bullying is also a colossal issue from which even the British royals aren’t exempt. Meanwhile, hacks and compromised accounts are commonplace and I found for myself that the process of deleting one’s account is hard to navigate and fraught with obstacles. Mass cleaning your account of photos to start from scratch is not a choice on the original site, which is why I went straight for an account deletion, which took an extended period of time to become permanent.

 

Image via Unsplash​

 

In the meantime, here’s how I plan to fill the various holes in my life.

Need the news? Companies like AP, CNN, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, and others all have Twitter feeds for breaking news stories and easily accessible sites for leisurely reading. 

Photos? I follow a number of professional film photographers who have gorgeously designed blogs that display their work in a stunning full-page format and at formidable definition, a far cry from the grainy little tiles of Instagram.

Entertainment? Goodreads has me covered for books, and Yelp/Tablelog/HappyCow for food. Also, I have Netflix and YouTube.

My calculations tell me I save upwards of five hours each week and I’m using the time to read more books and the news (rather than people's rants about said news) and to cultivate what I call my long-form relationships.

Image via Unsplash

 

Instagram will be fine without me, and I even better without it.