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Giving up Instagram

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Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride - with every scroll of Instagram, I get a hit of each emotion.

Which is why I decided to give up Instagram as my New Year’s resolution. After the final slovenly week of December, in which I had over indulged to the extreme, I decided to try at least one avenue of self-improvement. I determined to cut my Instagram usage from over an hour a day to zero.

Image Credit: TheDigitalArtist on Pixabay

If to you this sounds like an incredibly niche issue, you would be wrong. Last year an analysis conducted by SimilarWeb revealed that Instagram users in the U.S scrolled for on average 53 minutes a day. Additionally, Instagram’s own insights have revealed that those under 25 used the app 33% more than their over 25-year-old counterparts, who likely skew the overall average down. Therefore, it is likely that many under 25s are using Instagram for over an hour each day.

Social media can "exploit a vulnerability in human psychology"

This exorbitant figure of time spent on Instagram alone is no accident. Social media is designed to be as addictive as possible, as more user consumption equals more opportunities to advertise and drive revenue. Even Sean Parker, a founder of Facebook, has acknowledged the intentionality of these features: "[they] exploit a vulnerability in human psychology … God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains."

Image Credit: 012 on Pixabay

In tech capitals worldwide, dedicated teams of expert engineers are employed to develop schemes of infiltration in order to wheedle their technology into the lives of as many consumers as possible. Their ultimate goal is that people perceive their product to be essential to their everyday lives and utilise it unconsciously and automatically.

The first week

In the first week that I withdrew from the 'gram, I experienced uncomfortable physical symptoms of withdrawal. I would habitually unlock my phone, swipe through my apps and go to open Instagram, only to realise that it was uninstalled. It was embarrassing how many times I would repeat this process until the neural pathways began to remember that there would be no dopamine rush from colourful images at the end of this action. 

The most pernicious bug in my mentality was the lingering desire to capture anything vaguely interesting that I saw or experienced. One morning, as I stood on the train platform, intrusive thoughts kept popping into my head: Should I take a picture of my coffee, or should I boomerang the train as it comes in that could be cool, should I post a picture of the train departure board? Would it make people wonder where I’m going?

By being unable to acquiesce to these thoughts, I realised how malicious they were. I had been bound to capture any interesting occurrence in my life. Every single fun or intriguing experience had been obscured by the whipping out of my phone, the selection of a perfect filter, the addition of a witty comment and the constant refresh to see the post’s reception. 

Yet deleting Instagram also brought with it the realisation of how boring I was. Suddenly I had seven new hours free each week and could no longer distract myself from filling them. I watched the video below by a student who described how he scheduled most of the hours of his day to avoid easily wasted time and decided I might as well follow his lead.

I began going to the gym more regularly and started planning the type of training I would do. I had also been calling myself a writer for years but would hardly ever write, so I started to allocate dedicated time to that process. Still, I realised that I couldn’t become a productivity robot and would need some new kind of hobby to do in my room. So, at 21 years old, I got a painting by numbers kit.

Image Credit: Sapper_Designs on Pixabay

Forgetting about Instagram

Over the next few weeks, my mindset began to shift as I looked less and less at my phone. I installed an app to monitor my screen usage and watched how it dropped from four hours daily in December to just one and a half hours in January, of which most of that time was spent listening to music or podcasts. I still averaged about 20 minutes on YouTube every day, but I don’t think my moderate viewing of van lifers, vegans and news channels is particularly harmful.

I almost entirely forgot about Instagram and actually felt notably happier. Nevertheless, I still had this niggling thought that just told me to check and see what I was missing out on. So, one late night when I couldn’t sleep and was bored out of my mind, I cheated. I re-installed the app and finally got to light up my screen with a burst of social colour.

It was unexpectedly bizarre. I opened up the app to see an acquaintance from secondary school sprawled uncomfortably along the side of a swimming pool, mouth agape, wearing nothing but a bikini. It struck me how perverse it was that so many people online desired to posture as models, contorting and posing in unnatural manners to validate their attractiveness, and by extension worthiness.

The more I scrolled the more frenetic these pictures felt. Every photo felt artificial and staged, created and shared to cultivate the desired online persona. A persona that needed constant updating and maintaining. I reverted my baulked judgement back on myself and knew that I had done the same thing.

Image Credit: TeroVesalainen on Pixabay

My brand was hot and cool. I would go on nights out and take photos dancing in the club, smoking outside with friends, and performing or slurring jokes at the late-night takeaway joint. Then the morning after, as I lay in bed feeling like reheated death, I would pick out the top three photos, filter them various times, and upload them to my story or feed. I wanted to be seen as wild and attractive. More than I cared about actually being either.

In the month since I have been away from Instagram I have done more, shared less, and been happier. For so long I was entirely wrapped up in this social hurricane that compelled me to constantly consume and perform until I reached a breaking point and realised my real addiction. 

Unlike other addictions and diseases, the cure for social media is simple - just delete it.




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