What I Learned After a Month without Instagram

Foreword

After my successful 12 day break from social media during the Holidays, I spent the first few months of 2019 in a complete state of messiness because of my thesis deadline and a couple of other issues. So my resolution to maintain social media free weekends basically didn’t happen. I was so anxious and exhausted that scrolling through my Instagram feed was a way to not think about the things that were troubling me.

It’s weird because social media scrolling was helping me but, at the same time, it was also adding additional noise and confusion to my mind. Not to mention the twitch. Grabbing my phone for no reason every couple of minutes and scrolling the feed even if I’ve already done it and there were no new posts. Not being able to concentrate on a movie or TV show for more than 5 minutes without grabbing my phone.

You know, the problem wasn’t social media in general (because I use Twitter only from the browser and I left Facebook years ago), it was Instagram the problem. That Explore feed so carefully tailored to show my interests (mostly memes, puppies and LOTR). My obsession with Stories and me, compulsively sharing them. I knew it was too much, I knew it was messing things up with my brain chemicals, I knew I had to change my behavior, I knew that I needed a break. But I kept delaying it.

The truth is that I was afraid to feel lonely without the “noise” or the private messaging exchange with my internet friends. I kept telling myself I would take a month off in August because it’s when people go on vacation (mostly here in Italy) and it’s also when I’m usually dying because of heat waves and all I can do it watch Netflix all day slowly melting on the sofa.

But they were all excuses.

I thought about starting my Instagram break in June because I’ve missed May 1st and I had to do the perfect 30-day experience as everyone does. But then, on a whim, I said myself they were only b***s and I logged off the app on a Sunday afternoon. I didn’t tell anyone about it because I wanted to truly disappear for a while, I also didn’t want to look like I was following a trend or something like that. Finally, I didn’t want to set a specific due date to myself. I was aiming for 30 days but it could also be 20 or 17, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t about a number of days for me. It was about paying attention and noticing how I felt.

I decided to keep a sort of journal of the experiment and call it The Nosedive Project since Nosedive is the title of an episode of Black Mirror that deeply impacted my life (and that I highly recommend to everyone).

The journal was a little failure because I didn’t keep up with it but I still managed to write seven entries.


The Journal

Day 0 – Preparing for the break

Things to do:

  • mute everyone (both Stories and feed) to not be tempted by the feed if I have to open the app for any reason
  • log out from Instagram
  • document the experiment

Good things about Instagram:

  • being in touch with online friends
  • a distraction for dull moments
  • like Pinterest but better
  • funny memes and animal videos

Life without Instagram:

  • share photos on my blog
  • don’t get distracted by my phone all the time
  • take photos only when I feel like it, not to have something to share

I don’t like:

  • how Instagram makes me feel less than…
  • the twitch to constantly want to open the app and see what’s new
  • it makes me act “to impress” even when I try to be myself
  • validation seeking
  • anxiety
  • I’m always looking for something better, funnier, easier, etc.
  • I use my phone TOO MUCH
  • I write less because I consume more
  • the Explore page is a dangerous place

Leaving Instagram would allow me to:

  • feel less anxious and more present
  • avoid the feeling of constantly wanting to show off
  • feel better about myself not seeing things that make me feel insecure and less than…
  • feel less tempted to spend money and want things I don’t really need

Day 1

I’ve read my Kindle on the bus to work but, once I arrived at the bar, I felt the need to take a photo of my breakfast and share it on Stories. It’s so silly! But it’s a habit I used to have because it made me feel less lonely, even if having meals by my self is actually never a problem for me.

With this Instagram break, I’m also hoping to stop taking useless photos. When I look back at my years before smartphones, there are definitely fewer photos. They are saved in folders by event rather than by month like I started doing since 2013. It’s so much easier to go back and look at them because they are divided by topic! I 10 years from now, I won’t care at all about having 50 photos of flowers.

Since getting a smartphone, I stopped taking meaningful photos and I, instead, started taking Instagram-worthy photos. It’s all about wanting to share, share, share. This is so stupid!

Day 2

Woke up this morning and felt the need to go and check out my Instagram feed but I only checked my inbox and then I was done with my phone. It felt incredibly weird that it took me so little time!

I’ve been to IKEA the whole day so I didn’t have a chance to think about Instagram. I also visited the Disney Store and there was a huge poster of The Avengers: Endgame, I took a photo and, for a second, I thought about sharing it on Stories, then I remembered and I put the phone away.

When I come back home after a long day out, I’m always so exhausted so I usually throw myself on my bed and browse through my phone notifications ending up to spend A LOT of time on Instagram because I always feel the urge to know what’s happening. Today, I immediately thought about Instagram, remembered about this project and…felt a sense of relief. Relief because I didn’t have the option to spend my time on the app and fill my head with additional noise.

As an ISTJ and HSP, I love to come back to my quiet home and spend time to decompress after being among people all day. But looking at my phone and scrolling through my Instagram feed, reading posts, interacting and consuming, consuming, consuming, it all adds additional noise to my already tired mind.

It’s so weird that I felt relieved to not “have to” go on Instagram! Instead, I spent some time journaling and playing with my cat…OFFLINE and it gave me so much clarity and rest!

Day 3

I realized I wanted to keep myself updated with a favorite actress of mine that I follow on Instagram, so I typed her profile URL in my browser and I was able to see her newest photos.

My phone battery is lasting A LOT more!

Day 6

I’ve just realized that I haven’t taken a single photo for a whole week. It’s so freeing not feeling forced to take photos in order to have something to share!

Day 16

I had to open Instagram to see a message my mom had sent me. Thankfully, my feed was empty because I muted everyone, otherwise, I would have been tempted to scroll. I didn’t miss Instagram but seeing it on my phone made me want to use it again.

Still trying to figure out how and when I’m going to use the app again. Just use Stories? Only post on my grid? The thing I’m sure of is that I don’t want to spend lots of time on it trying to create the perfect posts like I used to do before. This may sound silly but one of the reasons why I started following more celebrities on Instagram (but only selected ones) is that I was tired of perfect photo grids. Don’t get me wrong, I like to see certain photos and I admire those who create them but I feel like it’s time for me to be able to see crappy selfies and random everyday life stuff right now. Not perfectly arranged tables on white backgrounds.

Day 21

Yesterday, I had an argument with a family member and I desperately wanted to spend some time on Instagram just to not think about it so I caved and I logged in from the app. I made the mistake to go to IG TV and watch a couple of recommended videos. They were absolutely rubbish and not even made by people I follow but, still, I watched them. I spent 10 minutes glued to my phone watching nonsense. I felt extremely bad about it.

The dopamine hit made me want to go back using Instagram and I seriously thought about getting back into it yesterday. But since I’m planning to use it differently, I recorded myself sharing my experience during the break. I did it outside the app because it was a 3-min video and I was planning to upload it on Stories later on. This is part of my personal project of feeling more comfortable in front of a camera and to stop caring about how I look and how my English sounds. It was a very low-quality video with poor light, bad camera angle (hello, double chin!) and extremely low audio (not my fault, it’s my phone that doesn’t record very well) and it hurt A LOT rewatching it. However, I was happy about it because I was stepping out of my comfort zone and I had specific plans on how to use the app, not just randomly share stuff like I used to do before.

I didn’t upload the video. I’m one week away from the 30-day mark and I hate that I was so close to breaking the chain yesterday. Sure, I didn’t set a specific timeframe for this project, but part of me wants to actually reach day 30. Also, I’m afraid there is no way for me to not get back into that addicting behavior once I’ll start using Instagram again since DMs can be used only via the mobile app.

Day 31 – Final thoughts

Today it’s the last day of May and I thought it could also be the last day of the project, meaning that I could allow myself to log into Instagram and check what my friends are up to as well as share an update (even if I’m pretty sure nobody noticed my absence over the platform). But the truth is that I don’t have anything to share on Instagram other than a simple “I’m back!” status that would go over Stories because I don’t have a nice photo to share on my grid.

I’ve taken 6 photos this month. While my average number has always been around 30–50 photos per month since 2013, which is the year I got both my first smartphone and my Instagram account and I started organizing my photos by monthly folders (previously, they were just sorted by year and specific events/travels).

In addition to all the mental clarity and calm, I’ve experienced while I was away from the app, the lack of photos is probably the thing that struck me the most. The first photo was taken on May 2nd when I went to watch The Avengers at the cinema and it’s a dark blurred photo of my popcorns that I’ve taken just for myself to commemorate the event. I have a special connection with that movie because it’s truly the end of an era since I’m about to get my MA, while the first Iron Man was released right when I finished high school. The Avengers have been my companions during all my 20s.

Flipping through the folders on my laptop I can see that 80% of the photos I’ve taken during the last 6 years are basically Instagram-worthy ones and, since I don’t like to share too personal stuff online, I’ve basically stopped taking photos of the people in my life while, previously, my folders were full of them. This is an interesting (and sad) aspect of the project that I didn’t even consider before.

How many photos of my cat sleeping in the same position do I actually need? How many photos of the same yearly flowers on my balcony do I have to take?

Not to mention the time I’ve spent using editing apps! VSCO, Snapseed, A Color Story, PicTapGo… Sometimes, a single photo was opened in 2 or more apps before getting saved because I was always trying to achieve perfect editing even for the photos that didn’t end up on my Instagram grid.

Parting words

This project has been a very interesting and educational experiment. I would recommend it to everyone who’s feeling overwhelmed by social media since I’ve managed to achieve so much mental clarity during the last 30-ish days that I’m a bit scared to get back using Instagram now.

My plan, for now, is to use Stories and ditch the Grid. Since it’s an app I use solely for personal purposes, I don’t have the need to get more followers so I can allow myself to only check Stories, where I can leave comments and interact with people without bothering about likes, numbers, algorithms, and stats. If I ever want to catch up with someone’s photos, I’ll force myself to check their profiles from the browser. In a nutshell, I’m planning to use Instagram as a sort of Snapchat.

This project was inspired by the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

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16 thoughts on “What I Learned After a Month without Instagram

  1. Bravo for doing this! And I hate that twitch to constantly check the phone and to reply to messages as soon as they come in. I’ve been trying to put the phone away every night by 9pm, but I feel I’d definitely benefit by ditching IG entirely for at least a few days. What you’ve said about anxiety and mental clarity is really inspiring me right now 🙂

    1. Thank you, Dee! I know what you mean. At the beginning of my blogging adventure, there was a link-up called August Break and everyone who chose to participate would step away from their blogs for a month (social media didn’t exist yet!). This Instagram break inspired me so much that I might take another break in August as well!

  2. So many people talk about the Explore page being their downfall, lol. I actually never used it. It seems too much… guess I’m glad I never got into it. Sounds like the devil.

  3. It’s a great idea to take a break from Instagram (and social media in general). I agree it’s so easy to lose time in it. I’ll have to check out Digital Minimalism. I’ve been hearing great things about that book!

  4. I really like that you took the time to talk about how you wanted to check it and what it meant to you in the end not to. You hear of people doing this but you rarely get a glimpse into what the day to day of that is like.

    1. Thank you! I decided to not edit my journal entries and put them as they were so people can see what it means fighting with your addiction!

  5. I think the main point that I’ve caught on to is this one; “It was also adding additional noise and confusion to my mind”. I’ve been thinking about all this for a few weeks now, and I’m uncomfortable with it all really. I had a social media-free month in March and enjoyed it but it ended because of reasons. I’m detoxing again, don’t know for how long.

    My own blogging and reading personal blogs gets to stay, the rest goes. Get some clarity. And yes, I found this blogpost by googling “why do I miss blogging?”. Dang confusing stuff.

    1. I’m glad my post resonated with you, Ellet! How funny the way you stumbled upon my blog 😀 I feel like blogging more frequently allows me to stay away from social media so I’m trying to do it as much as I can.

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