This post is way too long and rambly but I have all these thoughts dude so just LET ME HAVE THIS.
This past week I deleted my Instagram and Facebook apps. I also deleted the Twitter, Snapchat, and Reddit apps from my phone. (I’ll probably still use Twitter and Reddit on my computer sometimes). I wanted to write down why I did this.
I realize the irony of posting about this here, online, on a website that is technically public. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ At least basically no one in my life even knows about this blog, so I’ve got that going for me.
Facebook wasn’t a big deal for me day to day. I didn’t use it much. It was sort of a time-waster when I did decide to open it: memes, recipe videos I could watch endlessly while never intending to actually make the food. I don’t know many people who actually use Facebook to post about their lives anymore. I deleted it because I didn’t like the fact that there were hundreds of old pictures and statuses and likes, a lot of which I posted as a teenager when I had a friend list of 10 people. I don’t really need anyone and everyone in my life (and people not even in my life anymore!!!) going back and stalking the shit out of me. Yes, I could delete all the content, but there isn’t a straightforward way to do that. Facebook can be super tricky because it stores all your activity, and it might show up for others while not showing up for you on your profile. I didn’t feel like going down that rabbit hole.
I made an empty Facebook account with 0 friends and 1 picture so that I could continue to manage my book club group (PS if you’re near SLC and want to join my book club I’d love to have you). Someday I’d love to move my book club to Slack or something, but right now, Facebook is ubiquitous and easy for people.
Anyway, the point is: Facebook, NBD. The real problem for me was Instagram.
In terms of my actual time using Instagram, I don’t think I was terrible. I posted a few times a week and spent a total of maybe an hour a day scrolling through stuff. I’ve been using it for years without ever thinking twice.
But there are a few reasons why, I’ve come to realize over the past couple weeks, Instagram has become a negative thing for me.
This one is pretty obvious. Scrolling through Instagram was weirdly engaging and addictive for me. It’s how the app was designed, though, so I guess it’s not that weird. It was the first thing I clicked whenever I grabbed my phone. I would wake up in the morning and waste fifteen minutes just mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. Then more chunks of fifteen minutes here and there throughout the day. It adds up. It was time I could be doing something I actually cared about. I’m not saying mindless entertainment doesn’t have its place, but there are forms of leisure that ultimately make me happier.
- exposure to marketing, immersion in consumer culture
<cynical pretentious dick alert> A little while ago, I stumbled on a reddit comment about consumerism. I started reading more articles and books about consumerism and waste and how powerful multi-billion dollar aggregate corporations accumulate more and more wealth by marketing to the working class who’s just running in circles working 40 hours a week only to spend all their money on stuff they don’t actually need. Yeah, it’s all cliche, and I’ve got my tinfoil hat on, whatever, and I’d heard all these things many times before, but I guess this time something really clicked for me. Through my entire life I’ve been shaped into the perfect American consumer and I fulfill my role pretty damn well by constantly buying new clothes, makeup, shoes, kitchen tools, really just random stuff that I likely could do without. I’m not trying to make any sort of blanket statement about capitalism, but I have been trying to be more aware of my role in things.
I started noticing advertisements more and more, especially on Instagram. A non-ignorable proportion of stuff there was ads. Either explicit “sponsored” posts, “suggested” posts, or “influencer” posts (friends or bloggers posting about products as part of an ad campaign). I’m not trying to knock people who do campaigns to make money. I get it, I like to make money too. But I just don’t want to see it anymore. I am fully in control of what I expose myself to and what I spend my time looking at, and for my own sanity I am trying to remove myself as much as I can from marketing and messages of “buy this thing”. Buy this thing and you can be beautiful, interesting, successful like the person posting about it. This sounds like a cliche strawman criticism of advertising, but at the end of the day, that’s what it all boils down to, and there’s a reason it’s everywhere: it freaking works!!
If you want to know what’s controlling a system, follow the money. Sponsored content rules everything on the Internet. Even the “good stuff” like cat gifs, heartwarming stories, and spiritual inspiration are ultimately, usually, being commodified and packaged and used to sell something (or “gain a following” to sell something). The more I thought about it the more I wanted to reduce my exposure to that world. I’m not saying I’m not gonna enjoy cute videos, but I’m trying to be more aware of why those videos are there and conscious of what I’m doing by watching them.
I know you can never escape consumerism entirely. I participate in it daily. By writing this blog post I’m participating in it. WordPress puts ads on my blog sometimes. It is what it is. I can try to change a few of my habits, though.
- too much focus on “online identity”
There’s a lot of talk about how sometimes people’s social media accounts are false representations, curated “highlight reels” of their best moments and none of their mundane ones, and about how we should be “authentic” on social media. In my head I aligned myself with that because I’d usually just post about my normal life. My pets, friends and family, weird looking vegetables, a nice hike I went on by myself. Maybe sorta privileged carefree millennial stuff, but nothing overly glamorous.
But even though my social media “identity” was pretty “authentic”, or accurate to my actual life, I had to take a step back and consider whether a “social media identity” was a valuable thing for me at all. My conclusion was that it wasn’t. I was finding myself a little too attached and proud and invested in that stream of pictures under my username. I was, in a way, tying up my identity and trying to influence others’ perception of me through the images in my feed. I wanted people, or at least my followers, to perceive me and understand me as the kind of person who goes on hikes, who has fun times with family and friends, who likes vegetables, whatever. It wasn’t enough to just be the person I am and experience the things I was experiencing. I was showcasing it. I was performing — even if I was just displaying my normal life. It was still performative.
- social baggage, artificial sense of connection
Sharing and documenting and even performing isn’t inherently bad. I’m a social person and I love having conversations and exchanging stories and photos with other humans. But Instagram was too much social overhead for me. I was a teenager when I made my account, so my Insta connections included such people as exes, exes’ families, my parents’ friends, people I hadn’t spoken to since high school, and all of their mothers and dogs. Somewhere deep down I’m sure it was getting in my head that everyone who’s ever known me has got an eye on me. I think in some way I felt I had to prove myself to all these random people. I still have a job! I’m still in ok shape! I’m still smiling! I still have friends! But… why do I care at all if all these people “get” me or have nice opinions of me? I can’t actually control that, and thinking about it doesn’t add anything positive to my life.
Keeping in touch with people sounds nice, but publicly posting things and stalking other publicly posted things without exchanging individual conversations introduces this weird sense of artificial involvement. I’d rather just text my actual friends when I want to catch up, and have more mental space to focus on being whatever I am and experiencing my life.
- limiting real, special, lasting memories of personal experiences
For a long time I felt that posting pictures on Instagram was an awesome way to document my life and preserve memories. A little journal, with the benefit of sharing with friends at the same time. (I actually keep a private journal as well and I’m pretty consistent with it.) I liked scrolling back and looking at the pictures I’d posted and reading what I’d written.
Then I read an article that changed my opinion. Its claim was that posting an experience on social media actually dampens our memory of the specific event. The second we post something for everyone to see, our focus is immediately shifted away from the actual experience and onto others’ perceptions and reactions of our post. The more I thought about that, the more I felt it was true for me. I’d be out doing awesome things and living my life, but in the back of my head I lowkey had the thought of posting something, of adding another thing to the grid of stuff that displayed who I was to the world. It was not only distracting, but also it was cheapening the experiences themselves.
I still love taking photos and documenting my life, but I’d like things to stay in my private journal now, or shared with family and friends I interact with regularly.
Those are the main reasons. As far as deleting all the other apps from my phone, it’s mostly about trying to spend less time mindlessly scrolling. I’m happy with how it’s helped me re-adjust my focus so far. This past weekend was one of the best and happiest weekends I’ve had in a long time.
In conclusion, I think this whole thing probably sounds a) pretentious, b) juvenile. I feel like a lot of these realizations are things that other people have had wayyyyyy before me.
I’m also not trying to say that social media is bad. I’m sure a lot of people use it in a really great, healthy way. I just don’t think it was a positive presence in my own life the way I was using it. Maybe I’ll be away from it forever, and maybe I just need a break once I reorient my habits to be healthier.
I know it might seem silly to have so many thoughts and feelings about something like social media, but honestly, I’m a little ashamed to say it was a big part of my life that occupied too much space in my head. Onward to better things.