As I climbed into bed on July 31st, I held down the little Instagram icon on my phone until it went shaky and then I hit the X to delete it.
It felt exciting and thrilling.
I woke up the next morning to start my August without my favorite social media app.
I did it because I needed to get some stuff done I’d been putting off with excuses of never enough time and I’m so busy. I did it because I could feel myself having a free second and immediately grabbing my phone. I did it because I wanted to see what living my every day life without telling anyone about it felt like.
I loved every second of August without Instagram.
The first few days didn’t feel as bad as I thought they would. I figured it would take a little bit of time to remind myself to not see what strangers were doing on the internet and to tell strangers what I was doing. But instead it just felt like relief. I felt free in a surprising and light way.
We bought a new camper and I didn’t announce it on the world wide web.
We went camping and on road trips no one knew about.
I buried a friend and processed my grief with friends and family members, not by a short blip matched to a cute picture.
I had dinner with friends, read influential books, attended events, and dealt with a sick puppy with the full attention of someone with nowhere to zone out on the internet.
I didn’t delete Twitter or sign off Facebook, but those are places I don’t spend much time anyway. My usage didn’t go up in August, didn’t take the place of Instagram’s absence. I didn’t find a new place or way to waste time, I just stopped wasting time.
It was really nice.
In August, I was a whole lot less likely to know where my phone was or care about it being near me when I couldn’t use it to address boredom or to avoid something. My phone was left upstairs on the nightstand a lot more than normal; a morning or whole afternoon would pass before I realized I hadn’t checked my phone. I was slower to respond to text messages or phone calls and no one seemed to care.
I noticed a lot of us (me included) have an exaggerated sense of self and our own importance when we explain how we have to have our phone with us—accessible at all times—so others can reach us. Unless you’re on the donor transplant list or in the Secret Service, you probably don’t need to be as easy to get a hold of as you think you should.
This break didn’t help me establish better sharing boundaries; I did that years ago after a bad experience on a blog post I wrote. I learned hard and fast what I should write about on the internet and what I should not. I’m sure there are some people who say are you sure? about my proclamation of boundaries and limits, but I can assure you, I share maybe 1% of my life and stories and moments on the internet. I rarely share things in real time and there are very large parts of my life I won’t be writing about here or anywhere else.
That shouldn’t feel shocking or disappointing; the best parts are always better in real life, in real relationship, in real moments on our living room couches or at a friend’s kitchen table.
Last year we participated in a group at church with some people who knew me only from the internet. At the end of the experience, one of the people commented to me that he didn’t realize I held all my cards so close to my chest. He assumed he knew me from this little space and then suddenly here I was being vulnerable in a group about things he hadn’t picked up from Facebook.
As creators of content on the internet (if you share things on Facebook or post on Instagram, you’re a creator of content), we know we don’t share all parts of ourselves on there. But somehow when our roles are switched to consumers of content, we forget that part.
I have strong boundaries about the stories I share on the internet. It’s hard for some people to believe that when I share some hard stories here, but the reality is I share very specific parts of my life here. And other parts I don’t. August reminded me about where I want to focus and what I want to keep for myself.
One thing I did learn while away from Instagram is there are some people I need to unfollow. If Instagram is not real life (and it’s not), I don’t have to keep following people I don’t want to follow because it might hurt their feelings. There are a few people I mute because I can’t stand how whiny or negative they are, can’t stomach how much they claim to be victims of their own lives. I follow a few people who are so unhealthy and unaware of themselves that it’s shocking.
Hey, Mary, you actually don’t have to follow them at all!
What a relief and joy. When I sign back on to Instagram, I’ll be unfollowing the obligation follow. Thanks, August, for that lesson.
Tomorrow is September 1st. I won’t be running back to Instagram the minute my eyes open in the morning. It’s Labor Day weekend and we’ll be camping with friends, celebrating the long weekend and my husband’s birthday. Maybe I won’t load the app back to my phone until we get home, who knows.
The reality of my work and income means I can’t be completely absent from Instagram. Instagram drives traffic to my blog, creates income for our family, and helps me share events and experiences of people I partner with. For me, Instagram is a business strategy. It’s not my only business strategy–that would be a horrible way to run a business, to rely solely on a free service that could go away at any time–but it is one of them.
But the break was good.
I think I’ll purposefully schedule more of them, be more intentional about stepping away from it to make sure I’m not using it in an unhealthy or damaging way. To clear my head, my heart, and my purpose.
I love Instagram. I loved it when I left, and I love it right now even as I’m not using it. There are lots of great things going on there. But there are also lots of great things going on outside of the app, and I don’t want that small screen to get in the way of the bigger, more beautiful and real picture.