Our Baby Convinced Me to Quit Instagram

Our baby convinced me to quit Instagram. Not literally, of course. Our son is eleven weeks old today. He keeps a rigorous schedule, the little one. Feeding time, activity time, tummy time, reading time, tender time, naptime, bath time and bedtime — all carefully managed by his new parents to minimize crying time.

Now in my thirtieth year, time is something I think about often. All the years before this year, I thought mainly about how to spend it. Now I just think about it. Probably an inflection point many people experience, for me it meant passage to a new phase of adulthood. Real adulthood. In the past, in conversation with friends or colleagues, I’d wisely offer, “time… it’s a finite resource,” but the sentiment had no teeth. Just a nice cliché to emphasize how busy we all are, how vital prioritization is to our modern lives. Now that I’m thirty, I’m beginning to appreciate how that cliché works.

It started with a screenshot I took of a piece of art by Rob Ryan. I’d discovered him on one of those winding web detours for which I was beginning to have less and less time. Ryan has a tiny shop in East London where he sells his work — intricate papercut pieces that read like visual poetry. I found a snapshot of the interior of the shop. Behind the cash wrap hangs a piece that incorporates a working clock. Around the numbers of the clock, words say, “There is no such thing as the wrong time. There is no such thing as quality time. There is no such thing as work time. There is no such thing as free time. There is no such thing as spare time. There is no such thing as play time. There is no such thing as down time. There is no such thing as the right time.” And then in large letters at the bottom, “THERE IS ONLY TIME.” Peering into my screen, I saw this piece and something I vaguely knew to be true immediately became truth: there is only time. Command+Shift+4. I wanted to keep that one.

A few weeks later, my husband and I learned we were pregnant. Pregnancy is a unique exercise in time. As parents to be, we marked time in ways we never had before: a 40-week countdown blocked out by trimesters, with all the attendant developmental milestones to track. Watching the What to Expect weekly videos became a Sunday night ritual for us. Time expands and contracts in weird ways during pregnancy, a bit like one’s belly. Waiting to tell loved ones until you’re far enough along, waiting to show, waiting to tell your boss, waiting to get the results of screenings and ultrasounds, hoping the baby will come a little early and then realizing the baby has the nerve to show up late. So time had become even more salient in my mind when our beautiful son Theo arrived. And when he did, that time so easily taken for granted, “me time,” vanished.

Suddenly there was no time for anything, and social media, which I’d had plenty of time for pre-Theo, got pinched out. Journalist Andrew Sullivan recently wrote for New York magazine, We all understand the joys of our always-wired world — the connections, the validations, the laughs, the porn, the info. I don’t want to deny any of them here. But we are only beginning to get our minds around the costs, if we are even prepared to accept that there are costs. For the subtle snare of this new technology is that it lulls us into the belief that there are no downsides. It’s all just more of everything. Online life is simply layered on top of offline life.” After eight weeks of trying to maintain the real me, the virtual me and the real Theo (who did not yet have a virtual Theo but surely would in fewer years than I’d like to admit), I gave up. The costs Sullivan pointed to had become painfully clear. Refreshing myInstagram feed interrupted precious time with our son. His fleeting babyhood would last only a handful of months before fading into his longer boyhood. It began to nag at me. I brought the topic up with husband one evening. We lay head to toe on the sofa, hoping little Theo was down for the night for good. We were telling each other over and over again, in different words, how grateful we were for our new family. The Instagram thing came up. Our conversation ended with him reading aloud a quote Google brought us on his iPhone, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Theodore Roosevelt. Theo.

I’d long viewed social media, for me personally, as a not-so-constructive means for comparison. I easily rationalized it though. My consumption was pretty under control at ten minutes, five times a day. And the odd gem would come up that made it all worthwhile — a trip I’d never thought to take, a quote that made me think. So I told myself. But the nasty thing about Instagram was that those short ten minute downloads impacted my day in a very meaningful way. My social media habit was not “simply layered on top of offline life.” It completely fragmented my offline life — I digested people’s musings, accomplishments, whereabouts, inspirations, mantras and selfies long after I put my phone down. And when I posted the rare photo, I’d refresh the app no less than thirty times as the likes added up. I’d flip back to past photos, comparing the number of likes. As I tended to my son, a real human being — the thing we all call miracles, because they truly are — large parts of my brain were at work processing everyone else’s lives and how ours measured up. When the Theodore Roosevelt quote came up, something snapped. A friend came to meet Theo a week later. A mother herself, she said, “It’s true, that expression, ‘The days are long, but the years are short.’” I decided the next morning to sign off. These years will fly by and I’d hate to look back and admit I wasn’t fully present. There are miracles, beyond babies, that happen to us all. See them and appreciate the costs of not paying full attention. Remember this: THERE IS ONLY TIME.