10 Lessons Learned from Deleting Instagram for 10 Days

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It’s not like I have done anything truly radical here. I deleted a little colorful box from the screen in my pocket for the last ten days of Ramadan. While it may sound trivial in these simplified terms, the effects were anything but minor. By eliminating it, I was able to really feel the heavy presence that social media holds in my daily life. I wrote a little bit about this in my newsletter last Sunday, but I wanted to flesh these thoughts out a bit further, especially as I see more and more people online choose to take significant breaks (ie. more than one or two days) from instagram and many people deleting facebook altogether. The need to disconnect for a while is becoming urgent. Do you feel it?

I’ve been making a lot of what matters/what doesn’t lists in my journal this year, I suppose as a way of practicing my 2019 intention: focus. What these 10 days showed me is a paradox- that instagram both matters, and it doesn’t. It matters how we use it. It matters how mindful and aware we are of the amount (less) and quality (more) of time spent on it. It doesn’t, however, matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s an app, not a world. The real world is a whole lot more beautiful and awe-inspiring than a collection of flat little boxes could ever be. That’s a fact that instagram tries to make us forget. When we step back from the platform is when we can remember all of the things that matter more. This is what I learned and reinforced:

  1. Using technology and social media is probably one of the easiest habits to form and so much harder to break. Pretty images, likes, “followers,” friends, what’s not to enjoy? Picking up our phones is a habit that we think is bringing us enjoyment, a flash of satisfaction, filling up that empty space with more voices. It tricks us into feeling productive, especially as a creative who uses it for their work, but in fact it is often just filling empty space. Period. And sometimes empty space is a necessary ground to sit upon in order for new thoughts and ideas to flourish. Breaking the habit of wanting to find something to fill every moment is hard. For the first couple days, I would pick up my phone and go to open instagram out of pure reflex. Resisting the reflex becomes easier when you have simply deleted instagram from your phone, but how can we stop and control it on a regular basis?

  2. Boredom is something we inherently resist, but absolutely need. I distinctly remember being bored as a child. Not knowing what to do on the weekends and in the space of that boredom, creativity and imagination would arise. New games, new activities, a drawing or picking up a favorite book. Now, I can barely remember the last time I was truly bored. As an artist, saving room for that boredom is imperative to opening up new ideas, pushing your creativity and finding new possibilities. Social media eliminates boredom. So that is why from time to time, it’s good to eliminate social media. 

  3. It is really lovely to be out in the world and simply notice things without the underlying need to capture them. Whether you are traveling or walking around your own city for an afternoon, the desire to whip out your phone and take photos of absolutely everything can be overwhelming. How freeing is it to just be able to observe and enjoy just for yourself?

  4. You are not missing anything important. You’re really not. 

  5. For me personally, without instagram, a phone is just a phone. I don’t do much on there other than instagram and messages. So without insta, it’s kind of nice to go back to that old school concept- having a device simply for communication between people with whom you are actively choosing to communicate. The social world inside of your phone (and therefore inside of your head) becomes a lot less noisy with only a select number of voices. 

  6. There are so many books to read and so little time. However, having no instagram or facebook to scroll through gives you a little bit more of that precious time. Lately, I’ve been reading this and this

  7. Instagram encourages us to think of ourselves as personal brands and this is a severely constricting idea. I learned this lesson not only from my hiatus, but from an interview I listened to during that time with Debbie Millman on the Hurry Slowly podcast where she talks about this issue of “personal branding.” She defines branding as the result of manufactured meaning.” She then goes on to say,

    “humans are messy and inconsistent and we evolve… and brands are supposed to be the opposite of that.”

    (listen here at about 35 minutes in for that particular conversation, but I highly recommend the whole episode). Main takeaway: We are not brands. We are complex humans. We need to show up in the world, and online, if possible, as exactly what we are.

  8. If you are already hungry for validation from people around you, instagram doesn’t help. Especially as an artist, detaching from criticism and outside approval of your work is a constant struggle. Why are we attaching ourselves so deeply to a platform that only makes it worse?

  9. Instagram and social media in general will try to use you in any way possible. Try not to let it. Use it instead. 

  10. Real. People. Matter. Family matters. Friends matter. Colleagues matter. Neighbors matter. People who you say hi to at the gym matter. The guy you buy fruit from on the corner up the street matters. Trees matter. Students matter.
    Your inner voice matters.
    Listen to them all.