My relationship with Instagram is a world away from how I used it back in 2012.
In those days, it was purely as a photo editing tool (can anyone tell me why Instagram hasn’t removed the horrific filters, the ones with the analog frames?) When the algorithm wasn’t as sharp and the followers were few and far between, I posted freely, sharing the things I wanted to share. I felt I was at the peak of my creativity.
Today, my Instagram is like a business card and a dating app profile, a vignette into my life.
The way I see it, this is the primary way for the majority of my networks to understand who I am, what I do, and the things I care about. On the one hand, I’m not afraid to admit it’s highly curated and I’m proud of what I’ve built. On the other hand, I would be lying if I don’t think about how to maintain and gain followers, likes, and comments every time I post, which has only grown as I’ve met more people and accumulated more followers over the years. I’ll never wait in line to take a picture with a graffiti wall, visit an Instagram Museum, or pause a dinner to capture the meal, but I am more particular than most about what my page and my posts reveal about me. Like figuring out how to game the system, I can’t help but ask myself, “What time should I post?,” “How well did this post do?,” or “Does this look good in my feed?” Unfortunately, as a result of the performative role Instagram now plays for me, I feel less inspired, less authentic. Sometimes, I get so frustrated I will deactivate for weeks.
Last week, I came across a Kickstarter from a Polish start-up for “Mudita Pure: Your Minimalist Phone,” intended to replace the present-day smartphone. It’s truly a no-frills product: through its 2.84” e-ink screen (think Amazon Kindle), its only functions are calling, texting, notes, calendar, clock, flash light, and mp3 player. The company’s mission is to “take away the pressures of social media and our always-online attitude… by stripping back unnecessary tech elements of everyday products to focus on living our lives offline.” I was shocked. Is this really the answer to mental wellbeing? Have we really become so devoid of our own agency that we need to create entirely new products?
It’s true that great things happen when we’re fully present—but I also believe Instagram is ultimately value-add for me.
As a digital growth consultant, I advise clients on the opportunities social media can unlock to grow their businesses. As a consumer, I’ve met so many people, seen so many things, and learned so much that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. I believe the key to sustainable social media consumption is about setting purposeful intentions.
In his latest book, “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World,” Cal Newport talks about how intentional digital consumption starts with recognizing the extent to which the digital stream has commandeered your attention—and how we can manipulate our behaviors for good. For example, to ensure the algorithm works in my favor, I’ve muted stories from people I don’t care about (please don’t take it personally) and swapped following influencers for creatives. In my settings, I’ve switched off push notifications and installed timers notifying me when I’ve reached my 30 minute daily limit. Some tips from my friends include turning their phones to black and white and sleeping without the phone in the bedroom. Even some companies, like Pattern Brands advertise that they only monitor the account six hours a week to limit consumer engagement. Recently, a full Sunday morning was spent working through this Medium article, “How to Configure Your iPhone to Work for You, Not Against You.” And, I swear, I feel lighter afterwards.
With great power comes great responsibility, and I believe these platforms should equip their users with functionalities that provide more customizable experiences (like the ability to toggle on and off “like” visibility), lest we delete our accounts and toss our smartphones altogether.
Being intentional and disciplined about my actions results in feeling more liberated, knowing I have the agency to make choices about my digital consumption habits—that I’m more than just a data point in a black box. A quote from Tyler Knott Gregson sums up my relationship with Instagram pretty well. It goes, “Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.” While I don’t think I’ll ever fully delete Instagram, if ad investments and machine learning algorithms don’t slow down any time soon, you might catch me in the near future with a Mudita on the weekends in the open air, living life offline.