I left Instagram for the first time in 2012 over the Terms of Service debacle. When I returned in 2015, Instagram was something else. Gone from the spotlight were all the personal, crappy phone pictures, and in their place were these extremely glitzy and glamorous exposures of a perfect world.
The change was intoxicating. Overwhelming to the senses. Like going from a 14” black’n’white TV to the latest 70” HDR OLED flatscreen monster. Same medium, perhaps, but wow, what a difference in experience.
Everything was beautiful. Beautiful cars, beautiful landscapes, beautiful food, beautiful people. At first glance, it seemed to be a celebration of all the best life has to offer in goods and experiences.
It also seemed like a breath of fresh air compared to the negativity and hyper-realism of social media at large. No political bickering. No sad people (or, if they were sad, they were chic sad in that melancholically cool way). Just an endless, scrolling stream of hedonic pleasures.
It didn’t take long after returning before I felt an obligation to reciprocate. To invite the camera into my own HASHTAG BLESSED world of cool cars, world travels, amazing sunsets, modern architecture, and smiling kids being HASHTAG WILD. I was giving back what I was getting, and it felt good. For a while.
But it didn’t take long for the feelings to become mixed. While I was sharing beautiful pictures of beautiful things, it clearly wasn’t the whole story. I didn’t share many of the most beautiful discoveries or memories I was making writing software, reading philosophy, or building community. And I most certainly didn’t share any of the mundane or the hard or the tragic or the heartbreak. It was all visual pleasures.
That’s the stereotype, right. Instagram isn’t the place for reality. It’s for the curated highlight reel. And I thought I understood that bargain. Surely people wouldn’t take this to be the whole picture. Surely they’d understand that it’s not all race cars and champagne and glorious sunsets. Surely I would understand that. Surely?
But the ambience seeps in. The aesthetic becomes the essence. And the feedback loop sends you in circles. It’s addictive. Even when you’re aware of it, even when you have your guard up. And I was aware, and I was on guard.
Yet still I found myself trapped in the same habitual patterns that have ensnared millions of Instagram users. Post an image, then check back for likes and comments within a few minutes, then a few hours later, then again the next day. Ugh. Chasing affection from people I mostly didn’t know, so I could please an ego that vowed not to care.
Even when it becomes repetitive, it’s hard to snap out of it. You’d think there’d only be so many cars or watches or beaches or sunsets or whatever you could take in before you’re full. But somehow Instagram always just left me hungry for more. More consumption, more contribution.
You don’t really realize how cooked you’re getting while sitting in the stew. But something important is dissolving.
I’ve taken intentional breaks over the past three years, but they always just felt like that. Breaks. Not conclusive. Not final. So their reprieve was temporary and limited.
It wasn’t until the latest barrage of Facebook sludge washed over me that I gave serious thought to getting off again. To make another clean cut.
Funny thing, as soon as I made the choice, it seemed so perfectly clear. Why had I been stuck here for so long? Why had I kept feeding Facebook the fodder they were using to addict others?
Yes. This has all the charm of a steak lover suddenly turned proselytizing vegan. Or the born-again Christian who’ve just traded in last week’s debauchery to ask you too to accept Jesus into your heart.
It’s not that either are necessarily wrong, it’s just that the snap is suspect. The main ingredients in credibility is time and commitment. Otherwise it easily just comes off as obnoxious.
So yes, I recognize that this is a compromised tale, and that I’m in no position to stand grand. I’ve contributed to an utterly unrealistic and unhealthy depiction of success or even just The Good Life. I’ve feed an aesthetic that devours unfulfilled aspirations and spits out alienation and resignation.
And look, I’m sure there are people who know how to enjoy places like Instagram in moderation. But after they added the timestamp to the messenger, it was clear that I wasn’t the only one with a problem. The majority of the list had shockingly recent “last active” markers. That, ironically, was part of what made me look up and catch the reflection in the mirror. And I didn’t like what stared back.
Marcus Aurelius has a great line about how your thoughts color your soul. And surely what you see colors your thoughts. Ergo, what you watch colors your soul. That should have been obvious on a second look long ago. Now it is.
For me, that is. I’m exactly not here to tell you what to do. Just what I did, and what I was thinking. You probably have a completely healthy relationship with the lifestyle projections and Good Life aesthetics you’re consuming on Instagram. Right? Of course you do.
Interested in pondering further how social media is dyeing your soul? I’d recommend How To Break Up With Your Phone, Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Acocunts Right Now, and the discussion on authentic thoughts and identities in Escape From Freedom.