My finger hovers over the little “x” in the corner of the Instagram icon.
I hesitate for a moment, watching the little icon wiggle back and forth. I’m not deleting it altogether, I reason. Only from my phone. I tap the “x.” The words, “Delete Instagram?” pop up.
I press delete.
More than one time, I’d decided enough was enough. I would delete all my social apps from my phone and live a life without Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. And more than one time I re-downloaded those same apps, settling back into the same old habits.
This time though, I tell myself, will be different. I decide to carefully observe my behavior—like an anthropologist—making note of my tendencies, weak moments, and how I feel without it in my life. The problem was not just about how much I was using it, it was how it was making me feel.
Like many of my fellow millennials, I have the same anxieties and doubts that plague our generation: “Who am I?” “What is my purpose in life?” “Am I following my passion?” While, for many people, social media is a place for inspiration and joy, for me, it just amplifies feelings of insecurity, jealousy, and doubt.
Why can’t I have the freedom and zest for life that my photographer friend has, who posts photos from her recent travels? The zen mindset of a yogi entrepreneur, as she does a headstand on a pristine beach? Or the confidence of a cousin who is perfectly content raising two kids?
Scrolling through my feeds makes my chest feel tight—I clench my jaw, and my breath turns shallow. I am jealous and angry. Am I angry at them for having seemingly better, more complete lives? Or angry at myself for not having the same confidence they seem to radiate? Facebook comments and Instagram likes are the nods and smiles of approval I crave in order to feel smart enough, talented enough, and pretty enough.
I realize it’s all a choice. It’s not Instagram’s fault. I choose to check my platforms while I eat breakfast in the morning; I choose to procrastinate at work by checking the number of likes on my latest Instagram post; I choose to scroll through Facebook before going to bed.
All of this has left me feeling as if I’m floating away from myself, unable to live creatively, with confidence, or with passion. Unable to find solid footing. I can feel my inner voice start to falter and fade away.
Is social media the culprit? Or at least the conduit for this negative self-talk and judgement? The only way to find out was to remove it from my life. Cold turkey.
Here’s what happened:
As soon as I wake up, I reach for my phone. I swipe left and right until I remember that I deleted all my social apps last night. Searching for somewhere to go, I land on my email and read a couple of newsletters. I check the weather, my Wells Fargo balance, when eventually, I put my phone down and get ready for work.
At work, I pick up my phone every few minutes, for no reason at all. It’s like there’s an internal clock inside me that rings, telling me to check my phone. I swipe back and forth, only to put it down again. This happens again and again. I do it so absent-mindedly, it’s hard to keep track of how many times I actually pick up my phone. I stop counting when the number reaches 32 by noon.
I’m itching to share my news. What if a friend posts something on my wall and they think I’m ignoring them? I write a post explaining why I’m taking a month-long detox, encouraging friends to text or call if they want to get in touch with me. As I scroll through photos to use, I stop. It’s only Day 2 and already, I’m making an excuse to use social media. About taking a break from social media. The irony makes me cringe.
But I need a second opinion. After all, I just wrote what I consider an eloquent post. I text my husband Mike. “Don’t do it,” he texts back. I read back over what I’ve just written. It’s dripping with arrogance and smugness. My face grows hot. I delete the post immediately.
Work is making me so stressed that I don’t have time to think about checking my feeds. Instead of having F.O.M.O., I have F.O.M.D.—Fear Of Missing Deadlines. It’s a blessing in disguise.
One week down. As cliché as it sounds, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I do sometimes wonder what I’m missing out on, but I remind myself that I no longer have to worry about how my Instagram feed will affect me. I no longer have to make up witty captions or agonize over which filter to use. There is a word for what I’m feeling: relief.
My friend Lauren calls me for the third time. When I pick up, I explain how busy work has been and tell her about my detox.
“We’re going to make an official announcement on Facebook, and I wanted to be able to tell you before it’s public,” she says. “We’re pregnant.” I am over the moon. (She and Dave have been trying for a while now to get pregnant.) But after we hang up, I notice two interesting things:
1) Sharing big news directly—over the phone or in person—still has value. That intimacy of hearing someone’s voice has (thankfully) not been totally lost in today’s digital age.
2) Making an announcement on Facebook is just as important. In fact, it is now something people plan. Sure, it’s a baby announcement, which makes it a bigger deal. But we can’t lie and say that Facebook hasn’t infiltrated the way we communicate with people in our lives.
I cheat. I log onto Facebook and look at Lauren’s baby announcement. I’m curious. But also, I don’t want to feel left out. Even though she told me the news before making it public, I still want to see what everyone else is seeing in this moment. Social media invokes a sense of collectiveness that is pretty powerful. The feeling that we’re all in this together, that we’re discovering something new as a unit. That, I don’t think, is a bad thing.
I notice that I no longer itch to check my phone every five minutes. I can actually leave it alone for hours at a time, busily tasked with something else, happily forgetting the rectangular hunk of plastic in the other room. I create a rule: when I’m at home, I turn the volume up on my phone so I only need to check it if I hear a call or text coming through.
I can also concentrate quicker and for longer. Suddenly my to-do lists and at-home projects are shorter. With less time checking Facebook, I finally finish putting together the cork board that’s been collecting dust for a year. And I complete a book that’s taken me six months to read.
I’m writing more, too. Journaling mostly, but I’ve also started writing a short story.
I start my morning with a 15-minute meditation practice, silently repeating the mantra So Hum (I Am That) while thoughts tumble in and out of my head. Before, I would have spent the first 15 minutes of my day on my phone, checking social media. This morning, I don’t even touch my phone except to start a timer.
Meditating helps me feel more grounded, more present, and less anxious about stressors in my life. I’m practicing yoga more too, but instead of doing it to Instagram an impressive pose, I do it because it feels invigorating yet calming to move my body.
While on the subway heading to work, I can’t help but notice other people’s phone habits. Everyone’s heads are collectively bowed down, the artificial blue light inches away from their faces. Nobody notices that I’m practically staring at them.
In the first few days of this detox, I would read or listen to a podcast to distract me from looking at Instagram, but now I can go without anything and it doesn’t feel like a big deal. I can sit in silence and just be.
I meet up with my friend after work for a drink. The bar is busy and we’re having to kick our voices up a notch to hear one another. As we catch up, she picks up her phone, swiping a couple of times, then sets it down. She does it again a minute later.
And it isn’t just her. Everyone around us abandons their conversations to be on their phones. Me? I’m happily ignoring it as it rests in my bag.
Today is the first day in which I go a full 24 hours not once thinking about social media. It is also a day in which I feel fully self-aware and comfortable with my life. Work is busy but in a productive way, I enjoy a fascinating article about the novelist Margaret Atwood on my way home, and I practice yoga in the evening. Lying on my mat in Savasana, I relish this moment, feeling like the world is giving me a big hug. I feel fully present and—dare I say it—happy.
Throughout this whole process, my husband Mike is incredibly supportive and generally good about not bringing up things that have been posted on social media, for my own sanity. But tonight, as we sit on the couch watching TV, he leans over to show me something on his phone.
At first it looks foreign to me, but then I realize that it’s an Instagram post. I’m surprised at how cluttered it looks, the slashes of bright colors and text busying the screen. It feels good to come back to my side of the couch. It’s a distinct feeling that I already have what I need. I don’t need social media’s validation in order to be happy.
The last day of my detox has arrived. I forget it’s day 30 until I see it written in my calendar. I expect to feel more excitement or a sense of achievement, but instead I feel at ease, a sense of unabated calm. For me, that’s better.
I don’t know what I’ll do tomorrow—if I’ll slowly transition back into using social media again or if I’ll continue to live without it. This month was about more than giving up social media for a month. It was about inviting more curiosity into my life, feeling more joy, more freedom.
Taking a quiet walk in the park without instagramming a filtered photo of it. To call a friend rather than like their Facebook post. To read more. Write more. To meditate every morning. To enjoy all these beautifully simple moments because they are just that—beautiful and simple.
Life goes by too fast to be worried about the next social media post. After a month without it, I’m more relaxed than I’ve been in many months, happier physically and emotionally, more creative, and more present. An unremarkable walk in the park suddenly becomes more remarkable.
You can’t Instagram what that feels like.
Author: Jordan Parker Reed
Editor: Sara Kärpänen