goodbye instagram, you were never my friend

12:37 PM

Thirty days. Seems like a lifetime in our current, breakneck paced society. Thirty days without posting, scrolling or liking. Over the course of this self-imposed “break” I’ve had many friends and family check in and ask me “so how has it been?” eagerly awaiting a response. The short answer? In general – it’s been good. If you have a minute though I would like share a bit about how it all began, how it has changed and how I got to where I am today.
You see I’ve been a part of “social media” since college. I got my first Facebook account my sophomore year. Then came my blog, on Tumblr (back when there were only a couple hundred users) in 2007. Blogs are what really hooked me. The thought that I could write out every juvenile (and to be honest incredibly navel gazely) thought in my head and people would read it, and even like it, was addictive to put it mildly. It was intoxicating. The women I connected with there were from all over the country, from all different backgrounds and we were all young, wide eyed and excited to share with a capital “S.” I went from girlfriend to fiancée to wife in a span of three years and shared just about all of it. Our joys, our struggles, our first fights… The space felt safe, comforting and somewhere I reflexively went for advice or just the desire to have someone commiserate.
Then, seemingly overnight it all changed. We discuss trolls these days so flippantly. They’re a “household name,” an impersonal label we give to… people. Because that’s what they are – people. Back then I knew the trolls by name, some I had hugged once or twice. But they came for me nevertheless with their pitchforks. It was my first experience with “doxxing.” It was brutal and left me gutted for years. For the first time in four years I went dark. I erased, deleted and threw so much away. To this day certain combinations of letters on a blue screen make me feel lightheaded. It was an ugly, dark and lonely time.
But then something happened. Something beautiful, redemptive. Something that made me feel hopeful, allowed me to remember that humans are capable of not just cruelty but kindness too. Two pink lines. The whomp, whomp of a little heartbeat and a swelling in my belly. I was overflowing with joy and I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. So I did, metaphorically speaking. I began to blog again and I downloaded a brand new and exciting app – Instagram. The tiny retro camera popped up on the screen of my iPhone 4 and I posted my first photo – a selfie, heavy on the filters.
As I slowly made my return to blogging I realized, much to my dismay that in addition to the original trolls there were now hundreds, thousands even of new ones armed with even bigger, better, shinier pitchforks waiting in the dark recesses for your tiniest misstep. They were poised and ready to dispense their “punishment” however they saw fit. But in general the refrain could be reduce to one line – you are always doing everything wrong. Intentions no longer mattered. Only one thing mattered – the mistake itself. Nothing could ever bring absolution, in fact defending yourself only insured a harsher, unrelenting punishment. We were taught to “not engage.” And to grow a “thicker skin” which I did by way of erasing myself from the narrative of my life. After all who could argue with a bowl of cherries? So I shared less of myself, wrote shorter blog posts, became vaguer and vaguer and the captions shrank in length with every passing year.
And as the blogging world was changing – no more banner ads, no more thousand comment threads, the Instagram or “IG” world was changing at warped speed too. Some of it without our noticing. First came liking, then the hearts, then the follower counts started to balloon to the hundreds, then thousands. And then just like that, it became a race. First for popularity alone, then for money of course. Commerce loves when people think they’re competing. And at some point, ever so gingerly the curation set in. All of a sudden everyone had the same white homes outfitted in the same #sponsored furniture. All babies were born with chic bonnets and waffled blankets and knit booties. And just as quickly the #copycat wars began. And just as quickly they ended once people realized that everyone was a copycat and we didn’t even know who the “original” was anymore. Mommy blogging especially became a sea of clones.
With the race to please sponsors heating up and rumors of six digit paychecks flying around it became clear that curation both of words and photos was the way to go. I played the game for a year or two but I wasn’t one of the lucky few to become an “influencer.” I stopped trying eventually but once you start to curate it’s hard to stop. Especially when all around you the biggest compliment one could get was “I love how pretty your feed is,” meaning how uniform, how cohesive and “clean” it all looked. I made little stabs at authenticity here and there, at laying myself bare as much as I felt safe doing but it always ended up feeling awkward and I would inevitably get a jab here and there. So the curation felt not only easier but safer too, emotionally speaking.
But then life happened. Messy, un-photogenic, complicated and scary life. There was no filter to put on it to make it look better. No way I could eloquently explain what was happening. And I began to realize that this, this insidious little app, was not at all what it had proclaimed itself to be. It promised community and all I got was isolation. It promised connection and all I got was misunderstanding, bullying and at best a feeling of inferiority. It promised excitement and all I got was the same mind numbing content. But I kept going back. Partially nursing a hope that things would change, that it would improve on itself somehow. But mostly I am realizing now, I went back because I was programmed to. After almost seven years of using the app they had me trained exactly as they had set out to – it was the first thing I saw before my eyes would even adjust to daylight and the last thing my retinas would register as my eyelids would flap over them with exhaustion.
I remember learning of Pavlov and those infamous dogs in my very first psychology class in college. I found this new information thrilling and utterly fascinating. To train a dog like that!! Can you imagine? Now we’re all those dogs. They have us so well trained. I forget to pay library late fees. I forget to turn off the oven or lock the door. I don’t pick up the dry cleaning when I’m supposed to and I forget the one thing I needed at the grocery store. But I never forget to “check.” I never forget to tap that square of pink and purple, waiting for that dopamine hit. But I’m done now. I’m not a dog, I’m not a computer to be programmed and turned on and off. I’m a person.
Turns out I actually don’t really like subway tile. Or keeping my mouth shut. Or “curation” or wide leg pants. But I forgot all of that. I forgot that I have a voice unique to me and only me! I forgot that I have my own views on the news, home décor and matcha (I hate it). But for over six years I allowed an app and its creators to enter the most intimate parts of my brain, to wind its algorithm into the synapses and receptors and to direct my day-to-day movements but most importantly to hijack my emotions. I began to need, even crave those numbers. They could define a good or bad day and leave me tossing and turning all night. They made me forget that I actually like myself, hell, some days I even love myself! But I forgot all that.
Sure, we can say “get a hold of yourself” or I can be criticized for being so “weak.” Everything in moderation they say. But that’s the equivalent of putting someone’s bed in the middle of a casino floor, handing them a bag of money and telling them to try and not gamble so much. The best and brightest minds are employed by these social media behemoths with the sole purpose of coding these apps in a way that ensures complete and utterly blind submission. To those of you that are able to withstand the lure I commend you. Me? I’m not that strong. And when I stepped away for thirty days I realized I really didn’t like the person I had become.
But slowly the paranoia, the need for the dopamine hit began to wane. My confidence started to return in little trickles and for the first time in what felt like an eternity my mind began to come alive. All of a sudden I knew exactly how I wanted to end the short story I had been working on for over five years. I began to devour books with the same voracity I had when I was young. I picked up painting again. I had convinced myself that I didn’t have time for any of these things because I was a mum, because I had young children, I was busy. Turns out I was “busy” but with something else. I was busy scrolling… scrolling. Endlessly scrolling. And I had tried everything over the last few years to control “it.” I had whittled down the people I follow to around 150 family members and “online friends.” I made rules about when to use it. I would lock away my phone. I would post less. I took breaks. But none of it worked, sooner or later I would succumb to the algorithms, my hand molding itself into the shape needed to cradle this cursed device twelve hours a day.
So here I am, thirty days later, with the unshakeable belief that enough is enough. Life is simply too short. I’m taking back control of my mind. I’m taking back control of my time. I want to feel ownership and autonomy over my life again. I want to go into a store and be drawn to something because I like it, not because an algorithm moving across four different social media platforms has been working overtime to convince me of the product’s attractiveness. I want to read a news story and be able to hear my own thoughts and opinions on the subject. I want more meaning and depth. I want less curation and more mess. I want less #ads and more life. I want more quiet, more white white space. More room for growth and I want to be able to sit in an empty room with nothing but my own thoughts and feel nothing but peace and calm, instead of withdrawal.
This is the end of the road for me and this little app. But not the end of the road for my relationships. I plan on returning to blogging the way I used to do it when it brought me so much enjoyment. I want to post more frequently and less perfectly. I want to get back to just writing out what is on my mind. To sharing photos as they come, whether they be on my phone or my camera. I want to return to a simpler time. I love that my blog has remained immune to all the changes. There are no algorithms, no likes or even comments at this point. Just me and my “pen.” So here’s to good,old fashioned “sharing” without the need to have our input be quantifiable or profitable. Here’s to doing things for me. Here’s to freedom.

*I would also like to share a few resources that helped guide me to this decision over the last few weeks. They are all such good, unique and interesting perspectives:

- George Soros on the future of Facebook and Google

- Washington Post reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey's take on "mommy blogging" and Instagram

- Craig Mod of Wired on reclaiming our "attention" 

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