Deleting Instagram in the first throes of a pandemic may seem an odd choice, but it was one I chose to implement. Yes, I was in lockdown, more physically separated from my friends than ever – so you may wonder why would I remove one of the main ways of keeping up with everyone’s lives? Yet, after two years of Instagram-free life, I can tell you that it has been one of the best choices I have made for myself.
We live in an era where social media presence is pretty much synonymous with living. If you don’t exist online, you’re almost certainly a serial killer or above the age of 75 (although these parameters barely hold anymore). Particularly as a college student, being on social media is virtually a necessity for navigating the web of people we encounter through a myriad of classes and events.
As for me, I’d been on Instagram since I was 14, gradually accumulating followers ranging from good friends to friends’ cousins’ girlfriends. I wasn’t a prolific poster by any means – but I still watched stories, I liked photos, I posted on my “close friends” story. However, it was a committed relationship that was growing sour.
This likely won’t be surprising to the reader, as it is no secret that social media can be harmful for our mental health. Documentaries like The Social Dilemma tell us as much. Apps such as Instagram have become the perfectly crafted dopamine rush – the outpour of likes, story-reacts, comments. It is a socially acceptable addiction. I realised at a certain point that I’d begun to attach my self worth to these responses, to the ping of a notification bell from my phone or the simple thrill of seeing who was viewing my story. What had once been fun and non-committal had become all consuming and dismal.
As a college student, being on social media is virtually a necessity for navigating the web of people we encounter through a myriad of classes and events
So, in April 2020, I deleted it. Not just the app, either, the whole account. I meant serious business. But, of course, Instagram didn’t make this easy. The account wouldn’t be deleted, but rather deactivated for 30 days. Enough time – in their eyes – for me to re-think my foolish decision. But I stuck with it.
At first, I admittedly felt empty. I’d spent the last six years constantly knowing what others were doing. Every time something happened (even in lockdown) I felt an innate urge to share it, to caption it, to wait for likes and views. It was like this phantom third arm, acting on an impulse that could no longer be fulfilled. This led me to a scary conclusion – had my life become a performance of some sort – always catering towards an invisible audience of potential likes and views? Did I sometimes make decisions, however unconscious, based on how good it would look on someone’s feed?
This was a hard truth to come to terms with. But, it would also become one of my pillars of resolve against the many storms of weakness. As time went on, and the odd urge to publicise my daily activities persisted, I began to uncover more truths about how Instagram had affected my behaviours.
I realised I didn’t need to know things like whether that girl I’d met at a party four years back had gotten that job interview or not
When I deleted Instagram, the world seemed to vanish around me. What were people doing? How could they just be out there, living their best lives, and I didn’t know a thing about it? It seemed incomprehensible. It seemed ancient.
But, not knowing about people’s lives soon became freeing rather than panic inducing. I realised I didn’t need to know about whether an aspiring model was flying from Paris or Milan, or whether that girl I’d met at a party four years back had gotten that job interview or not. (Power to her, regardless.)
There were, of course, people I did care about. Friends who existed outside the world of Instagram. But if I wanted to find out about their lives, I had to message them to ask, not respond accordingly to their stories.
Instagram can often lead us into a trap of passivity – replying to someone’s story or liking a post are relatively low effort interactions – but can create the illusion of a friendship. At the end of the day, I realised that I had placed my self-worth into the hands of people who – although they may have liked the odd post or responded to a story – most likely weren’t genuinely interested in the intricacies of my life. In many ways, through the process of deleting Instagram, I had brought back an intentionality to the friendships around me. It cut away the excess of hundreds of followers and brought focus back to the fraction that actually had a meaningful impact on my life.
It’s been two years since I broke up with Instagram and, forgive the cliche, I haven’t looked back since. Of course, there are some expected cons. My sisters have now confirmed that I have reached peak geriatric status – and I sometimes have to find out about society events from other people rather than the designated Instagram hub. But otherwise, I really feel it’s for the better in ways I would’ve never predicted.
I know plenty of people who keep social media at a distance, but still enjoy what it has to offer in healthy ways. But, perhaps for the majority, there is a feeling of discontent that is tied with an app that becomes a showcase for the versions of ourselves that we most want to be.
So, if you have decided to delete it once and for all and are wondering – what now? I’d advise you to take a walk and live your best life, you won’t enjoy it any less if no one else knows about it.