Once I fell in love with the notion of Experimental Life (introduced by Jonathan Fields on my favorite podcast The Good Life Project). It proposes to see our projects not in the terms of succeeding/failing but in terms of an experiment: whatever outcome is, you have collected some data. This gives a kinder perspective on what we use to call “mistakes”. And it also encourages me to test different lifestyle habits without letting it define me. Last year I had an experiment of doing a social media detox and I wrote about it here – later also I went off Instagram for three months. Now I want to share why I did it and what I have learnt from it.
Getting caught up in the game.
First, let me tell a story of how it all started. These days Instagram is a super popular platform and many teenagers claim they use it more often than Facebook. When I first got on IG some 5 years ago, I didn’t know what to make of it. I found accounts of some celebs (Rihanna and JLo) and some yoga divas, I posted some everyday pics – but this social network didn’t engage me much. It all changed when 3 years ago I discovered a glamourous world of Russian Instagrammers. I remember that it was autumn, I was sick and spending days on my couch. I found one profile and it led to another – and as it was popular with sfs (shoutout for shoutout) that time, suddenly my following list grew very long. I also found travel accounts and some great photographers. But my main bubble has become the Russian speaking community, spread around the world. Some would even call themselves instabloggers since they view their Instagram gallery as their blog, writing long posts, doing content planning, streamlining the account to one theme, etc.
Instagram has swiftly become my daily habit. It gave me a window into the world, where I could see beautiful city pics, exotic travel destinations, and photos of a pretty lifestyle. Especially during the autumn and winter months which tend to be cold, grey and boring, Instagram was an easy escape into a better life. To be honest, I turned a bit grumpy at times. I thought: “Well well, it is easy to make beautiful shots when you live in a city like Paris, but what are we to do in the cold and boring Scandinavian capital?” (At that time I was a bit obsessed with the accounts from Paris, and my feed looked more French than anything else). But I got also inspired to look closer in my own city. And guess what, if you are searching, you will find. I have developed my eye for detail, I started noticing pretty doors and facades, and interesting corners – and suddenly Oslo has become not so boring. Slowly I was getting better at playing a tourist in my own city. In the end, I called it “micro exploring”. Thank you, Instagram, for making me a better explorer!
But this habit had its side effects too. I found myself spending almost an hour every day on Instagram, some nights that would be a couple of hours. Spending time in this way didn’t energize me. It was like any time spent on social media: you are watching the life of others, which seems so much better and prettier than your own life – and as a result you feel more depressed than uplifted. I also found myself getting caught up in the numbers game. I would check how many likes my post received, I would observe how fast the number of my followers was growing (not fast). I would compare myself to others and what the key of their success was (and why their boring shots of coffee and macarons were receiving thousands of likes). I would also read articles on how to promote your Instagram account. And in the end, I would understand that this success didn’t just happen to them but the girls with boring coffee shots were working for that: being active, taking part in every sfs, commenting popular bloggers, doing mass following (and then unfollowing) – or some could also buy followers. In a way, I aspired to be a popular Instagrammer – but I didn’t want to do the necessary work for it :). I was hoping that it all could happen by itself – and of course, it didn’t cuz my content was not some exclusive high mastery of photography.
I bought myself a new camera (and it was worth it! I used to love photos in the pre-Instagram era, but lost that hobby due to the bad quality camera I had). I downloaded VSCO and other apps for editing images, I tried to keep my gallery in one photo scheme…You see, I have gone at some lengths for developing my Instagram account. And as it didn’t pay off (in form of numbers), I grew slowly bitter. Another side effect: I tended to check IG any time I had to wait, and in the end my mobile was glued quite often to my hand. Then I discovered the “Stories” feature and the roaming price was cancelled – which turned into a constant push to document my life: stop, snap and share.
All this time I was making a mental note to myself: “Luckily I am not a teenager, otherwise this would make me sick”. But this was a sheepish excuse – because my Insta addiction was not healthy either. It was not so scary since it was not oversized – maybe, even worse so because it kept me thinking that I had it under control. So, when I read a couple of times about a detox from social media, I stopped and wondered if this is something I should do. But somehow, I persuaded myself that no, I don’t have to. I am not an addicted blogger checking her phone every 10 minutes. Then the new year of 2017 came and I thought: “this is the time to test the digital detox”. And, as sane and unaddicted as I was (or considered myself), the thought shot through my head: “Whaat? One day a week without Instagram? How can I afford it? I have to post every day!” Well then, let’s make it Sunday. “Sunday? Are you crazy? The day when I need it the most?!” Yeah, it sounds funny and a little bit unrealistic as I write it now, but this was my reality. I thought that I was keeping balance in my social media use – but it seems like it was using me much more than I was using it 🙂
Detox from Instagram and what I learnt from it.
January last year I started a new habit: no social media use on Sundays. I try also to keep away from Internet those days, but with this I haven’t succeeded a lot. Sometimes I have to google a thing, sometimes I want to read a blog or answer comments on my blog when the week has been too busy for it. But I got good at keeping away from social media (primarily, Instagram, because Facebook has lost its appeal a long time ago). It was strange to imagine how I could live a Sunday without checking IG – but then it became strange to imagine that it could be difficult. It was not difficult. The world was turning on. I lost some numbers of likes, because I went down on my activity on other days too, my followship didn’t grow – but I stopped caring about it. I saw how ironic it was to get caught up in this game that gave me no money or pleasure. There are many people making money on IG, and then it’s only logical that they work hard on it. Then there are people who just love hanging out there, making new friends. If I were 10 years younger, maybe, that would be my space too. But it was not me, not really. That kind of communication was not so exciting to me. So, if there is no connection rich on emotion, and no income – why would I hang out there for hours?
It didn’t take long before my habits started to change. I stopped checking my feed every time I had a minute to waste. Before, I tried to post more than once a day, but now there could be days without my activity. I stopped feeling like posting, updating and commenting (for greater interaction) was something important. Instead, I did it if I felt like. It became the thing it was meant to be – a hobby, a pleasant addition, while before it got my seriousness like it was some kind of career. Yes, some people make a career on Instagram, but it looked like it was not me. I just wanted to get some benefits – without doing the hard work for it 🙂
In the autumn of 2017 I walked off from Instagram for almost three months. It was not my intention, it just happened naturally. First, there were some days, then there was a week, and suddenly it became a month. And as I didn’t make this “diet” intentionally, there were no restrictions. Sometimes, I would come back, scroll my feed, think “should I post?”…but it all felt so meaningless, that I would just walk off. I like working with no restrictions – I have a rebel in me that wants to do the thing that I prohibit)). So, I have to move with some sense of freedom. It just felt that I am not gaining anything, spending my time on IG. And in the end, I got kinda tired of similar images of picnics and girls in hats, and even for the great shots my eyes got just so spoiled when I would scroll the feed aimlessly. I wondered then: can you get used to too much beauty? So instead, I went for beauty in my immediate surrounding. Somehow, I didn’t get spoiled by it. And these are some lessons I learnt on the way.
- My life is beautiful. Though not in the format of Instagram-squares. When I stopped viewing everything through that frame (“how Instagram-able is it?”), I could just breathe out and enjoy things without the back thought of how good content they could make. Yes, my city is not Paris full of pink flowers in spring, and it is not London with the colorful houses of Notting Hill – and its pretties are too humble. But it is my city as it is my life, I have no other in this moment, and I’d better enjoy it as it is. Rather than living through somebody’s else eyes on their cities. And I have learnt this simple wisdom: when you set out to search – you will find. When you start looking for beauty – it is all there, just around you.
- My life is rich. What happens when we roam to the social media and forget the life around us – we live through others’ emotions, instead of our own. They smile, they are happy – but what are we? That is why, maybe, it feels so emptying after you’ve spent a while on Facebook or IG or Snapchat. It feels like everyone is living a life, while your life is boring. But of course, it is boring! Because you are not tending to it! You are trying to hook up on someone else’s emotion – not your own. Though you are not sitting on the beach of Bali or standing on some mountain right now – but your life is still full. Full of life. Start noticing it.
It feels like a mindfulness practice, but it is really that easy. It is just to start noticing the small things around me. And suddenly I can go smiling the whole way. On the same (boring) street which I am passing every time I go from work I can still get some emotions. Which cannot be put into some social media feed – but they are so real. The lights inside of the bars, and people’s faces there. A black guy with the indigo blue headphones that look so good with his black skin and a blue shirt. An older Asian man, in the sushi place I know, reading a book while I am passing outside. A kid screaming questions to another kid on another side of the road, full of emotions and energy. How am I to document them? And why would I need to document them? Here there are, so fleeting but so real. I can only live them through and let them go. But that makes me more alive than watching someone’s fancy destinations and lifestyles on their accounts.
- My life is happy. I can breathe lighter when I stop comparing myself to others. When I realize that I am just a usual human, and there is no point for me trying to copy the glamorous bloggers of Instagram. Theirs is the work. Mine is the life. And in this life enough was given making it possible to enjoy it. Attention to details and gratitude open the channels for happiness and energy. Constant watching someone’s else glamor and glory make me eyes inattentive to the details of my life and steals my gratitude.
In the end, it is all about how you use the social media. I have discovered for myself that I have to use it with measure. I want it to be the social media serving me, not me serving them. I am happy to be getting more mature about it, even though I had to go through some pitfalls.
If you have experienced similar issues with digital addictions, or if you are learning to be mindful in some other ways – tell me in the comments!