Insights From Missing Instagram

In January, I had a mini experiment of sort. I gave up Instagram for a month in a bid to improve my productivity. I failed, but instead arrived at several interesting findings.

1. Bite-sized designs facilitate social media consumption.

As soon as the experiment started, I became conscious of the instances when I would turn on the app— when I had nothing to do, in between work, and on my commutes. The urge to pick up my phone and press the Instagram icon was so strong. It was as though an addiction or a habit that I have gotten so used to, that I do it subconsciously. I resorted to Candy Crush, Tsum Tsum, and WhatsApp as alternatives to Instagram, and to help cope with that urge.

I suppose that is cheating but the urge gradually weaned off after the first week, and I relied less on alternative social media. What I realised was that all these social media platforms (games, chat etc) had something in common. They were designed in small packets such that users only needed a couple of minutes to consume one unit of it. These small packets can be stacked to become ‘nicely tailored’ for all users, to use it when they want, for as long as they like. This feature makes social media a nifty workplace distractor; what some people consider to help keep them sane amidst the crazy-ass workload.

2. The difference between one-way and two-way social media.

In the first few days, there were times when my WhatsApp became awfully quiet. No messages there, or on Facebook, or in any emails. I turned on my phone, nothing. Ten minutes later, nothing. With no messages to reply, it became even more tempting to turn on Instagram.

While WhatsApp and other chat applications require two-way interactions from users, Instagram and Facebook News Feed appears more “flexible” because it needs only your one-way actions. You can scroll through the Feed or click on Explore anytime, without the need for another person’s actions. A conversation app in comparison requires a reply, before you can input an action, unless you want to be that bugger who spams a dozen messages even before your friend reads the first.

3. Abundance of social media alternatives.

As mentioned earlier, I resorted to other social media platforms to substitute Instagram. There are so many other channels that can fulfill my need for a distractor. I am not downplaying the differing functions of these social media; nothing quite replaces Instagram’s photo sharing function yet.

What I posit is that it does not matter if we remove one or two social media channels from our life. The daily bits of available time will most likely be spent on other social media platforms anyway. There is an exception however, for those too busy to consume any type of social media and those who remove social media wholly.

4. Homogeneity of Instagram posts.

When I first got back to Insta, I spent a good 30 minutes and only managed to skim through five to six days worth of posts. It got boring. Everything was repeated. The types of post in my feed can generally be classified as Food, Travels, or People I Meet. There are other categories I do not subscribe to e.g. Pets, Products, Soccer and other hobbies, Celebrities.

The Instagram feed is made up of posts from users you follow, which is why there will not be much variety, only tailored/chosen content. *Compare that to Facebook’s news feed.* I use Instagram mainly to follow my friends, which explains why all the posts I see are just Food, Travels and People I Meet. Personal accounts are used mostly to detail daily happenings.

5. The illusion of social connections.

Despite the monotony of the posts, there were several posts that intrigued me and called for a second look. These posts made me feel, “I’m so glad that this happened for you”. Why then am I learning about it from Instagram? Shouldn’t we be discussing about these happenings? It was then that I felt disconnected from these “friends” that I “followed”.

The problem does not lie with Instagram or Facebook. Without them, I would have probably lost contact with many of these “friends”. Instead, we now get to update each other via social media and can send acknowledgements in the form of comments or a ‘Like’. However, it has become so convenient to be connected via social media, I have taken for granted and forgotten what it takes to maintain a friendship — actual conversations with one another.

Most social media channels give us an illusion that we are updated about our friends. Are social media updates enough to maintain your friendship? Can virtual updates and acknowledgements replace physical ones?

Epilogue

Many of my peers are fresh grads in our first year of employment, and we prioritise work and our new social circles inevitably. We try our best to keep in contact with each other while using social media to facilitate mutual updates and coordinate meetings. Sometimes, our real-life interactions are perpetually postponed because of our busy schedules and are eventually forgotten, or even replaced by conversations over social media. I suppose this applies for anyone transiting across different stages of life, and struggling to keep up with existing social networks.

I am not in any way discrediting or criticising the benefits or usefulness of social media; I believe it can supplement our lives. In fact, social media has become so powerful it can replicate aspects of face-to-face interactions. The catch is in our tendency to be overly dependent on social media, which may lead to a (small) part of our social lives migrating from reality to online.

And the creepiest part of it all is that we do not realise it.

Note: I have since started to use Instagram again, albeit less frequently and less intense. I am less likely to post on Instagram to update others about my life because I now feel that the proper way to share updates with the people who care is to tell them about it and engage them in a conversation.