- In the fall I deleted my Instagram account before spending my birthday in Honduras.
- I haven’t reactivated my account or looked at the social-media platform since.
- Without Instagram, I have an easier time enjoying the present. I no longer stress about taking good photos, uploading them quickly, or getting lots of likes. It’s incredibly freeing.
There’s a four-minute video my fiancee took of me on a beach in Honduras where it looks like I’m doing nothing but staring at the ground. For four whole minutes.
In reality I’m watching a tiny peach-coloured crab ducking in and out of its shell in a kind of delicate dance on top of a tangle of blue-green seaweed. I was curious.
Curiosity, though, is a trait of mine that tends to disappear when I’m on social media.
Had I been using Instagram during that weeklong birthday vacation at the beginning of December, this moment probably wouldn’t have happened.
But just before boarding the plane, I gave myself the gift of choosing to hit pause on one form of social media. Out of all of the options – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – Instagram had been my stand-up favourite.
I loved taking photos and editing them. I loved getting validation from friends who liked and commented on my pictures. I also loved – or at least felt compelled to love – ogling the images others posted.
Yet as I watched their adventures unfolding in front of me, I couldn’t help feel like my activities didn’t measure up. I was either missing out on something or not doing enough. As I scrolled each stroke of my thumb seemed to erode the miniature bursts of confidence that every like on my photos seemed to produce.
I’d also been reading the news.
This fall, Facebook had been accused of failing to interfere in several orchestrated campaigns of misinformation, racism, and ethnic cleansing carried out on its platform.
First was Myanmar, where military personnel had reportedly used Facebook as a tool for ethnic cleansing, according to a blistering October article in The New York Times. Then came reports that Facebook had hired a Republican-linked opposition-research firm called Definers Public Affairs to smear activists within the company.
So in November I decided I’d had enough. I deleted Instagram and started the process of exiting Facebook’s other two platforms, Facebook and WhatsApp. I’m still on Twitter, which I use primarily for work.
A few days later, I took my first vacation in years and celebrated my birthday in Honduras without two-thirds of my normal social-media diet. I haven’t reactivated Instagram – or even scrolled through a friend’s – since. It’s not that I buy the “social media is bad for your brain” argument (in fact, I’ve written about why most of the so-called research behind that claim is bogus). I just felt as if Facebook was playing too central a role in my life.
By scaling back, I learned a lot about the relationship I want to have with myself and the world around me.
Breaking up with my favourite platform
I fell out of love with Instagram the moment I realised it made me fall out of time: recording moments after they’d finished rather than experiencing them as they were unfolding.
When I first started using Instagram, I thought the platform was helping me to savour each moment. I could snap a photo of an experience, save it on my phone, and simultaneously broadcast it to my family and friends.
In reality, using the platform shifted the act of experiencing to past tense. If you were to take me back in time to some of my most “Instagrammable” moments, I couldn’t really tell you what happened. Instead, my clearest memories of the event include a sharp recall of the rush to edit and post and a strangely crisp recollection of the images that people liked the most.
So just before leaving for Honduras I decided to delete my Instagram account. I opened up my laptop (you can’t delete your account from your phone), told Instagram why I was leaving (the option to delete appears only after you’ve selected a reason for leaving from a drop-down menu), and clicked “Permanently delete my account.” (If you survive the onslaught of messages that ask if you’re “sure” you want to leave, you’ll be tempted again about 24 hours later by an email that let’s you reactivate, no questions asked.)
A few days later I boarded a plane and prepared to spend a week without the social-media network I’d relied upon the most.
Living in slow motion
At first, being without Instagram was lonely. It didn’t help that I’d just left most of my closest friends and family 2,500 miles away, or that I’d also just promised to scale back from Facebook, the other platform I used most frequently.
I missed knowing what everyone was up to; I missed everyone knowing what I was up to.
And then I realised: There was a great deal of freedom in not knowing. I could do whatever I felt like doing, not whatever I felt like I should be doing.
The next few days felt like they unfolded in slow motion. In retrospect, I think it was just the first time in a long time when I didn’t feel rushed, pressured, or observed.
I knew that even being able to take a vacation was an immense privilege, but for years, I struggled to enjoy it, to feel like I was doing what I should when I should, that I was where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there.
Then I got off Instagram, and it suddenly became a lot easier.
From our friend’s apartment on Roatan, Honduras, my fiancee and I wandered along the pale warm sand, felt it scrub our toes and heels, and listened to the waves crash in the distance. We hung our feet over a dock nearby and watched hundreds of tiny fish circling in the clear water. We watched a sunset and felt the breeze tickle our necks as dusk settled in. Out on that dock, I also finished the first book I’d read in months.
Later on, we took a boat to another island, where I scuba dived for the first time. Swimming in the turquoise water behind our boat, we crossed paths with a pod of dolphins and heard them squeakily calling to one another as they passed. We got caught in a torrential downpour, ate street food from a cart, tasted freshly caught lionfish marinated in lime and salt.
On the beach I found a tiny crab, crouched down next to it like a child, and watched it timidly climb up and down tiny mountains of seaweed for four whole, uninterrupted, blissful minutes. I imagined what the world must look like to that crab – so much beauty to explore, yet so many giants to be afraid of too.
With the exception of one photo I posted to Twitter, none of those moments exist on a social platform. But I remember them like they were yesterday.
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