A few months ago, I had a nightmare where I could only speak in Instagram captions. Like if I saw someone spill coffee, I screeched, “YOU HATE TO SEE IT!!!” Had social media ruined me? I wondered. Then a friend said the same thing happened to her. (Literally. Unbelievable but true.) And she found a cure: She deleted Instagram. It hadn’t been easy but she was happier and her mind felt clearer.
I was jealous of her Kondo-esque elevated state of being, so I decided to try it too. First, parameters: I’d erase the app from June 1 to August 1—yes, peak Hot Girl Summer. I gave my password to a friend and told her to change it. I also set goals: purge my mind of meme-speak, break my scroll habit, and actually think about how I felt instead of posting about it (deep, I know). So here’s how that went.…
What to do with all these photos???
Two friends from Texas came to visit on my first ’gram-free day. They are wonderful and photogenic, so when they did things like sip wine on my fire escape, I went into a fugue state and came to with approximately 75,000 new pictures in my camera roll. Normally I would’ve posted these with a caption about how “Wine and sunsets are great, but good friends are greater!!!” But I had nothing to do with the pics now. If an image sits on your phone but never makes it to Instagram, does it even exist?
“Oh, I wouldn’t know. I’m off Instagram.”
Feeling mysterious and cool, I was positively dying to talk about my new lifestyle, like a college junior searching for reasons to bring up the transformative holiday they had in Amsterdam. When anyone referenced a recent flurry of IG activity, I cleared my throat and yelled, “SORRY, I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT, AS I AM NOT CURRENTLY ON THE APP INSTAGRAM!!!!” Were people annoyed? Absolutely. Did I care? No!
Wait, did my commute get longer?
In my life B.I.B. (Before Instagram Break), I spent my trip to work scrolling, tapping, and refreshing. Now I used the 20-minute train ride to answer emails. Productive, yes, but soon, I started yearning for that mindless scroll. So I embarked on my least favourite phone chore: cleaning out my camera roll. This will take weeks, I thought, looking through 7,000 selfies and blurry food photos. It took me one and a half commutes, and I descended back into boredom-slash-email.
It takes 21 days to form a new habit, according to the pop-psychology book Psycho-Cybernetics. And also according to me. At the dawn of my fourth Insta-free week, I awoke, for the first time, still of thumb and clear of mind. The vague pain in my right wrist was gone. I blew dust off a journal I bought in 2007 and wrote down several sentences for fun. In a beautiful moment of clarity, I called my boyfriend to tell him, “My brain is more powerful now. I actually find myself considering things!!!”
Weeks 5 and 6
The crossword phase
Lying in bed one Saturday morning, on the brink of death by boredom, I downloaded the New York Times crossword app and ripped through my first puzzle. The high from this experience is without comparison: the glow of the screen, the thrill of the words fitting together, the satisfaction of solving a pun. I spent the next two weeks obsessed with the crossword, like someone who’d just eaten sugar for the first time. Until I realised I had simply replaced my Insta habit with something equally addictive.
Out of nowhere, a tiny devil appeared on my shoulder and whispered, “Hey you know you can just go to Instagram dot com, right?” I stood firm, but by the end of the week, the voice had become a scream. I asked the friend who changed my password to hand it over. (She did. Thanks for nothing!) Just steps away from the finish line, I started bingeing useless content on the desktop and mobile browser versions. I eased my shame by telling myself “using Instagram” didn’t count if I didn’t post. Sure, Jan.
So about those goals...
Okay, I cheated a little. But this was the longest I’d been without Instagram since downloading it in 2011. I thought for sure I’d be a ~changed person~. But while my hiatus didn’t help me do anything mind-blowing, I did achieve smaller goals: I felt calmer and stopped processing the world around me in caption format. It’s now been nearly three months since the end of my break, and I still don’t have the app on my phone, because—who woulda thought?—scrolling isn’t as great as seeing something and just...enjoying it.