“Do you check your smartphone before you pee in the morning or while you’re peeing in the morning? Because those are the only two options.”
— Roger McNamee, The Social Dilemma
A few weeks ago, I did the millennial equivalent of moving into a cave to become a hermit while swearing allegiance to the town witch… I deleted Instagram.
I want to start out by saying that I think it’s pretty bizarre that I’m even making a post about this. It’s a credit to the unhealthy attachment that most of us have to our phones and social media that I’m considering this as a talking point. But we’re obsessed! On average, we spend 2 hours a day on it – that’s five years of our life scrolling.
Anyway, I deleted Instagram. What have I learned? First of all, that cribbage is a really underrated card game. (In a moment of extremely limited foresight I downloaded a virtual cribbage app to put in Instagram’s place. To date I have played 136 games. It’s safe to say my screen time hasn’t improved.)
Secondly, that I was (and still am) truly addicted to my screen. This doesn’t come as a surprise, of course. I’ve known for a while that social media is much powerful than I’d like it to be. There’s been a lot of talk recently about AI and “big data” and I am, all jokes aside, very scared by what is being said. I find a lot of people seem to blow it off.
“I’m not hiding anything.”
“They can see whatever they want – I don’t care.”
“Why would anyone care what I’m doing on my profile? Haven’t they got anything better to do?”
To that I want to say – it’s so much bigger than that. It’s not just that they can see what you’re doing, it’s that they are controlling you and your emotions and your behaviour. People much more eloquent have explained it (watch The Great Hack or The Social Dilemma, both on Netflix). In the latter the repeated message is: if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.
Even now, although I’ve got rid of one social media site, I find myself scrolling on news apps or LinkedIn. It’s like breaking any other addiction – a process.
As I was thinking about deleting Instagram, I had all these thoughts running through my head about why I shouldn’t be deleting Instagram.
“But, I won’t know what’s happening in the world!” my ego cried.
To this I say: newspapers (or news apps). The radio. Magazines. The internet. People were aware of current events long before Instagram.
“But I want to stay in contact with my friends!”
Really? As if double tapping a photo once a week is “staying in contact”. How about I actually make an effort to speak to my friends rather than assuming their social media posts are a reasonable reflection of their lives?
“But… but…” my ego says in a small voice, so quiet I can nearly ignore it. “It’s nice to get likes.”
That’s… yeah. That’s true. Humans are just wired to enjoy attention. We can’t help it. One study found that social media notifications give our brains the same dopamine influx as “real life” social stimuli. In other words, notifications make us feel good, and they make us want more. These apps are purposefully programmed to be as addictive as possible. So it’s not our fault that we love the attention, but it’s also within our power to stop focusing on getting it online, and start concentrating on the people and connections right in front of us.
But I do miss it. I miss seeing my friends’ lives and cool photos and art and snowboarding videos and group chats. I miss that good feeling when you receive likes on your post. I miss those easy dopamine hits. I find my thumb hovering over the space where the Instagram app used to be on my phone, a reflex action when I’m bored or lonely or procrastinating.
The third and final thing I’ve learned is that the rumours are true: I do feel better overall without it. Now that I no longer have that icon staring at me from the corner of my screen, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I no longer feel obliged to upkeep a social media presence. I no longer have those thoughts flickering across my mind. You probably know the ones. Which photo is better? What caption? Is that even funny? What do my tiles look like? Should I tag this place or not? How can I get more followers? Should I post this on my story? Why do I care so much?
There’s definitely a place for it. I can see how social media and particularly Instagram is an essential part of branding and customer service now. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, but it is. If you think it’s important in your life, by all means keep using Instagram. But maybe, if you wanted to take some advice from someone totally woefully unqualified to give advice, it would be to consider why it’s important in your life.
Turn off your phone. Leave it in the house when you go out. Put screen time limitations on. Do anything, however small it may be, to limit the influence your phone has on you.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a game of cribbage to play.
Want to know when I post something new? I won’t able to tell you on Instagram anymore so put your email in here. Unless you don’t want the notification, in which case I totally understand. Congratulations on your break from the screen.