I feel like this post is about two things: one— the thoughts that went through my head before, during, and after the only social media break I’ve ever taken since it became a thing at some point in the last 10-15 years, and two— how I’ve noticed the general tide beginning to shift for a lot of my friends that are also social media users/creators.
When I logged off for a month I was pretty surprised at the responses of “I wish I could do that” or “I just decided to do that too” or even “I actually just deleted my account recently” from friends of mine. I started asking people that said those things if they were hearing similar thoughts from other friends as well, and they all answered with a resounding “yes!”
Why is that? What’s happening?
I obviously don’t have a definite answer that covers everyone’s reason for wanting to pull away some (or a lot) from social media lately, but I have a few ideas why based on my own experience and what I’ve heard from others as well. Here are a few top reasons that I think are a part of this recent trend:
It takes up too much of the day: I became so much more connected to how I spend my time once I became a Mom (free-time in particular is SO limited now) but I hear this from non-Moms too. When time is such a precious thing to you, you really start to question how you use it and what return you are getting from what you put your time into. I think for some people, it can feel like they are spending so much time on social media rather than living their real life with the people who are right in front of them, and depending on what types of accounts you follow (I think this choice can be a big part of this too) you may not feel like you are enriched in any way once you actually put the phone down or close your laptop.
The pressure to be perfect/creative all the damn time: Whether you have 10 or 100,000 followers online, it can feel like a constant struggle to always be posting content that is on-brand, on-message, visually appealing, witty, and also several times a day. It’s a lot. It’s hard not to think “what do people want to see” and “what will be the most popular” rather than “what makes me happy” or “what am I proud of” when deciding what to post. And speaking as a person whose brain naturally gravitates towards wanting all their aesthetics to match and coordinate in every area of life (it feels like a disease at times!), wanting and needing my grid to “match” can feel a bit like an obsession and be visually unsettling when it’s not all color coordinated. Do you even remember Instagram before having your feed color co-ordinate was a thing?? Letting go of that grip on your brain can feel so freeing.
The jealousy, oh the jealousy: I’ll put jealousy under these headings as well, but it really deserves a whole post to itself which maybe someday I’ll have the time to write. Being jealous of strangers is no good (especially when you have no idea if what you are jealous of is actually real or how much effort went into making their home/life/outfits looks so effortlessly curated all the time) but being jealous of your actual real-life friends online is really no good. That will not lead to a deeper relationship—it’s basically a connection killer, and therefore a friendship killer, if you ask me.
The fakeness/vapidity of a lot of content: I think this one also speaks to what kind of accounts you follow so some people may see more of this than others, but even though I don’t follow accounts that make me feel this way, I know how many of them are out there as I see them on the explore page, etc. I don’t think this means that every post should have so much deep meaning and soul-crushing-real talk (I mean, that’s a lot to handle for every post) but I think we’ve all seen accounts that just feel…kind of empty. There’s not really much being created, or a positive message being spoken, it’s just kind of curated white noise that most likely looks pretty but doesn’t actually stir anything positive within you.
They connect with people less: Sometimes, especially with our actual friends we follow online, it can be tempting to catch up on their life online and say that the friend itch is satisfied and no further action is needed besides a “like” and perhaps a comment. Remember before social media when you called, texted, or hung out in person with people to hear what they’ve been up to and what joys and struggles they are experiencing? Social media can have such an amazing power to connect people but for some it also keeps them from engaging in a more personal one-on-one way that they would have before that was their main connecting thread.
Ok, so now that we’ve covered a few of the issues that have been maybe boiling over for some people lately, here’s my personal thoughts on the situation and why I still decided to come back to Instagram after my month break.
Before the break: I had actually been trying to tweak my social media mindset for months once I realized how I started to feel about it. I was feeling that pressure to create ah-maaazing content that everyone should want to see like I mention above, and it was becoming a heavy feeling that felt draining. I could tell I was starting to care too much when a post did or didn’t do well, and it felt so silly to be affected by it so I wanted to wipe that care from my mind. Also, I was also feeling that I needed about 10 hours more in each day to complete everything I wanted to get done, so the time drain was also a big factor—I’ve been rather terrible at self-care lately and I wanted to create space and say “yes” to more things I should be saying yes to and “no” to what’s really not important right now. So, I decided to take a break from Instagram (and my blog as well) just to see how I felt without them.
During the break: I kind of didn’t want to announce the break since sometimes social media breaks can feel like a self-important HUGE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE AWARE AND PREPARE FOR THE LIFE-CHANGING IMPACT, but I also didn’t want to concern any sweet people that would probably wonder and worry that something happened to us (Lola especially) after radio silence for a few weeks, so I made a simple post, logged off, and moved the app icon on my phone to the last page instead of the first. NOW, it wasn’t a total true break in every sense as I did log in most days to a work IG account since I needed to be involved there for my day job, but it still felt a lot different not using my personal account. It felt quieter in a small way in the back corner of my brain rather instantly.
The biggest thing I could tangibly notice was that two weeks in to the break I had taken exactly 1 photo of Lola and 0 photos of myself in two weeks. For a Mom with a smart phone in 2018, that’s a little crazy and it kind of freaked me out! I put that phenomenon on the pro and the con though list if I’m being honest. I loved the freedom from not owing anyone any photos of anything, so I just didn’t take any, but at the same time, I know that looking back some of my favorite photos of Lola or Todd and me were ones that I would have wanted to take but that “TAKE ALL THE PHOTOS” voice was probably the thing that actually made me pick up a camera or phone to do it. So, I guess that means that some of that voice is good for me as it causes me to make an effort to document some sweet moments I would like to remember, but too much of it can feel dictator-like and just plain overwhelming. I’m also learning lately the importance of not taking photos of everything that you want to remember as studies actually show you remember it better when you aren’t stuck behind a screen or a lens during the moment so I’ve been thinking about when I want that to apply in my life as well.
Ok, now can we be really honest? I also loved the break from what is basically my 4th email inbox (I have 3 other emails that I check every day for work, this blog, and personal other stuff). I love being able to pass on recommendations or help other people with questions about something I’ve done, a project I’ve completed, or a Mom-related issue, but it can be hard to answer each one in a way that feels kind, thorough, and thoughtful in a small amount of time. I’ve even stopped myself from doing stories about something cool or a new weird thing I’m trying etc. because I know I’ll get a ton of questions about it and I desperately want to be able to answer every one with a personal answer and I just don’t have the time to do that most days. That roadblock would especially bother me when it was something I really wanted to share because I thought it could be so helpful to someone else, but I was stopped by the knowledge that I just didn’t have the energy or time to be everyone’s personal guide through all the questions that would likely come up from mentioning it. That sucks. I think I had to accept that I can’t always be available to everyone like the helper side of me wants to be—sometimes you have to set limits, even on good things like helping, to keep yourself a little more sane or learn to try and help in better ways. For example, I realize it’s easier to have a discussion on something in an Instagram post rather than stories since I can see all the comments in one spot, rather than lots of separate messages, so replying to questions is faster and everyone can see the answers and learn communally.
Also, I realized during the break that I really missed my online Mom Community! I do have some amazingly kind and wise Mom friends that let me pester them with lots of questions all the time, but it’s so amazing to call out into the online world for Mom help and get overwhelmed (in the best sense!) with lots of caring thoughtful advice. That feature of social media has been very dear to me and I am thrilled any time I hear from another Mother that watching me go through something publicly was helpful to them in someway too.
After the break: Once the month had ended and I logged back in, I decided to make some simple changes to help keep all the best parts of Instagram for me (Mom community, seeing my friends and what they are up to, trying to be a positive voice in the social media Wild West) and diminish some of the negatives. I turned off the setting where you can reply to stories to help make the inbox a little lighter hoping that people would still feel free to DM me if they had a question that they felt was a little more pressing (which happily, seems to be working out that way!) and that has helped a lot. I definitely want to say though, don’t ever be afraid to email me or message me if you do have a question or thought for me! Depending on how the week/month is going I may be able to answer more or not as many as I’d like but please don’t be put off from trying if there’s something that you really need help with.
I also have cut back on the amount of time I spend per day on the app just browsing around in the feed and unfollowing accounts that haven’t really been adding much to my life. It has to be OK not to see everyone’s post and be totally caught up on everything—the world will keep turning.
I also have an ongoing effort to just post whatever makes me happy, whenever I feel like it, and let that be my guide to how “well” I’m doing online rather than through amount of likes and followers. If I have 3 photos that make me happy, I’ll post them all! If I don’t feel like being on my account for 4 days, I’ll see you when I get back! And if you want to know a secret, I’ve lost about 600 followers since I came back from my break—maybe it’s related to changes I’ve implemented, maybe it’s a coincidence, I don’t know. But you know what? I don’t care. I really don’t. Maybe those people just don’t find me interesting—that’s ok! Maybe my grid isn’t pretty enough for them—that’s ok! Maybe my grid is too pretty for them—that’s ok! None of that really matters in the grand scheme of life and you can’t be all things to all people anyways. I just need to be me and that’s enough. To try and be an honest and kind voice in a space that loves to whisper to people that they aren’t enough. They are enough. You are enough. And anyone that wants to hang out there with me and be enough together is welcome.
Final words: All that being said, I have no hard data to back up what seems to be happening to people I’ve connect with on this—maybe overall social media use is actually up and this is just a small pocket of the population, but while it may be more of a thing with my age range of friends (do 18-year-olds have these issues with Instagram? IDK!), I do think something is happening and I’m glad that it is. Most any tool, any invention can be used for positive or negative purposes and I hope that we can be wise enough together to notice and gently encourage each other to swing back the other direction when we feel things are getting out of hand and reprioritize when needed.
I, for one, am happiest when I live life for myself and my family and pop into my social online world for some virtual hugs, a few high fives, and commiserating as needed. I want to take pictures because it makes me happy (and I think it’s OK that things like Mommy/Daughter matching outfits make me smile so I probably will take photos of those!) but I don’t want to feel like I need to live my life “for the photos” because I really, really, don’t. I hope you work at finding a balance that makes you happy too!