Updated: Dec 31, 2020
Posting a small announcement on my story and collecting a few phone numbers from close people, I blocked Instagram on my browser, and deleted the app off of my phone. September 2020. I was on my phone a solid four hours every day. That might not seem like a lot, but for me, it indicated I had become a large time waster. When I went into the “Screen Time” settings on my iPhone, I noticed Instagram was my most used app by far. Ever since I got the app last fall, I had gotten into the habit of checking my feed every single morning. And when I did, I wouldn’t realize just how much of my time was devoted to refreshing. Refresh. Refresh again. And refresh again. After reading many, many articles, I decided to conduct an experiment and log off for roughly a month.
The first few days were challenging. Learning to become accustomed to not swiping on my home screen to where the app used to be was difficult. Yes, I know, many people have said this, but, realizing my reward system wasn’t being activated with every scroll and click took a few days to adjust to. Getting a like on a post influences your focus. Even seeing likes on your classmates’, or perhaps an influencer’s post activates this reward circuit and attention.
I feel like I’m beginning to realize more and more that so many people have little awareness, or contrastingly, ignorant of what is going on around us in the world of social media. Yes, it can be used with moderation and for good, but the first steps are to acknowledge the prevailing problems so often brushed under the carpet. Not only privacy issues, but social issues as well. Pew Research Center released data September 9 indicating approximately 79% of Americans state “social media distract people from issues that are truly important” is applicable. Social media does help raise discussion about social issues. It does a good job of connecting people to host these discussions with various posts. But I’m distraught. There’s a tinted obstruction of valuable, researched information. Obstruction of civil discussion. Obstruction of a toxic-free culture (which is nicely presented in Varun Mandgi’s article on cancel culture).
Going back to my personal experience, a rush of relief ensued after about a week off of the site. My self esteem was no longer damaged by the constant comparisons to other people. A sense of self returned, the authenticity that I had longed for. My revelation about 1 week in: it’s all a competition. Who can appear the happiest and prettiest? What photo should I post to make myself look good? How many people liked my post or viewed my story? Although these behaviors don’t always lead to causation, the correlation is still particularly strong whether we notice it or not. A recent documentary on Netflix, The Social Dilemma, is a nearly perfect exploration into these issues. Aside from breaching a user’s privacy, the guiding of attention with every post is able to make more and more money for the company. Dr. Jonathan Haidt, a well known social psychologist, emphasizes in The Social Dilemma that collectively, “...a whole generation is more anxious, more fragile, more depressed...this is a real change in a generation.” Equating self worth to an app? How is this escalating, unnoticed by my generation?
By week 2, I was completely out of the loop. Aside from the occasional log in to a news website or texting with my friends, I had no clue as to what I was missing out on. And, I didn’t miss out on much. Coming back, I have a renewed relationship with Instagram. Maybe it could even be considered a rebirth of sorts, in crude terms. I can take a step back and evaluate how I treat the app, who I follow, what stories to view. So, reader, I want to leave you with this article. Take the research and knowledge to contribute to an imaginative mindset about leaning towards a safer, healthier usage of Instagram and social media. Here is the information I have collected, a personal experience that illuminates the refreshing feeling of being logged off. “Slow down, you crazy child And take the phone off the hook and disappear for awhile,” as Billy Joel sings in one of my favorite songs, “Vienna”. Take a break. Whether 2 weeks or a month, step back and look around you.
Ronnie Volman is an associate editor at The Incandescent Review. She is an experienced writer with previously completed courses at Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. In her free time, she likes to hike, read novels, and watch Netflix.