I have always loved photographs. When I was small, I used to page through photo albums in the quiet of my aunt and uncle’s bedroom, while everyone else was horsing around. I was fascinated by their history, and the potential stories enclosed in the images. I have dabbled in photography for the longest time, falling in and out of love with cameras. I loved the thrill of receiving prints, finding out what I had managed to capture. Digital photography was even better – now I could see easily how well the image caught my intention (or not).
And then Instagram arrived. As soon as I got my first iPhone (later than most) I downloaded and joined the app. On July 3 2013 I posted my first photograph – of peaches for a cobbler I was making. No hashtags, no elaborate text. Just the photograph and a label. I was addicted to the platform from pretty much the word go, posting fairly often but without an agenda. I used Instagram as a way to record my life, and as I scroll back through the last six years, I can see all the changes that have occurred. And obviously, my photographs and captioning and hashtagging has gotten way better.
But recently I’d begun to feel like I was spending to much time there. Not being in my own life enough. I loved the community but the need to generate likes, to shoot beautiful photographs to entice new followers started to drag on me. I started to feel panic when I saw someone else doing a thing I thought I should be doing – whether starting their own business, or writing for food media, or being fit and active – whatever it was, there was this mild increase in my heart rate, a gathering tension in my chest. Was I good enough? Why weren’t more people commenting on my posts? Why weren’t there more likes?
At the same time I started to read about phone addiction, and app addictions. I noticed how often I picked up my phone to quickly check something, or because I was bored. I paid attention to how often I would be hanging out with others but we would all be on our phones. And likely, on Instagram. Twitter and Facebook are also culprits here but I deleted my personal Twitter earlier this year and almost never post to Facebook, so I was less worried about those. Neither are on my phone or iPad, and I use them almost exclusively now for work-related posts via a computer. But Insta? That was a whole other ballgame.
I began to track my Instagram usage via the screen time on my iPhone. One week in July I realised that I had spent 8.5 hours on Instagram alone! A whole working day! The number shocked me. Was I really that bad? What else might I be doing with that time? When was all this scrolling happening?
Well that was easy to answer. I scrolled in bed, after waking up and before going to sleep. I scrolled while walking places. I scrolled while watching TV. I scrolled in downtime at work, turning from one device (my computer) to another (my phone). I scrolled in the GP waiting room. Pretty much everywhere, I was getting my dopamine hit. Just a few minutes at a time mostly, although on some weekend mornings I would start and the next thing a whole half hour or worse, an hour, had passed with me doing nothing more than looking at other people’s photographs (and by extension, their lives).
I decided something had to be done. So, after talking with A, I decided I would give up Instagram for the whole month of August. And I would not check Twitter or Facebook outside of working hours. So on our holidays, no social media and no email. I figured it would be good that while we were away I wasn’t constantly checking likes, or posting because I thought I had to.
The first few days were rough. I deleted Instagram from my phone but kept it on my iPad. It took effort and will not to open the app before I went to sleep (just to check). And I did slip up a few times – mostly only to read messages from groups I have on Insta. But each time, as I began to scroll, I started to wonder what I was doing.
So what did I learn?
- It is much easier to ignore your phone when there is nothing exciting happening on it. (I organised all the apps on my phone into folders so it looks less appealing too).
- I was able to focus much better – on conversations, on experiences, on doing one thing at a time, on just being.
- I didn’t miss Instagram. After a few days, I wasn’t worried about posting, or what everyone else was posting, or whether I was losing followers, or becoming invisible.
- I spoke to my friends more. When I did want to share something, I messaged it directly to friends I wanted to share with.
- I took fewer photos, but ones that I actually wanted to take, rather than ones that would make a good insta story or post.
- I read! I read loads. I didn’t struggle to concentrate, and I was more likely to open my book after reading the newspaper than I have been all year.
- By the end of the month, my anxiety had reduced and I was feeling more settled in myself. Something calmed in the core of my being and I worried less.
When September 1st came and went I didn’t even realise that my month long ban had ended. I didn’t check Insta until the next day. I still haven’t posted anything. That is six whole weeks without posting. (I will probably post something linking to this blog though!) I haven’t put the app back on my phone but I do check in every now and again. Last week, my use was back up to an hour. And I’d still like to get it less than that. Think about all the projects I could do in those 8 hours.
Have you ever taken a social media break? What was it like?