Note: I’ve kept this post in “Drafts” for quite a while. It seemed self-indulgent to publish in the midst of everything that erupted shortly after I wrote the post. But with the growing awareness around the country of social media’s power for change (and also its troubling, relentless control over our minds), I thought I’d send this out into the world as a glimpse into how social media can be a major battleground for people, and that we ought not to jump to conclusions or blame shift when somebody is inactive or “remains silent” on social media during times like this.
Further, I want to make clear that this is not a post meant to make judgments about anyone else’s social media use. I have seen many good things come from social media, and I think it’s a helpful platform. This is simply a personal anecdote!
May 18 —
Last October, I deleted my personal Instagram account. I had gotten caught up in a lot of social media habits that were not healthy for my own mental health and spiritual needs. My addictions associated with the app were a con that far outweighed the pros of sharing art and encouragement. However, I kept my photography business account in the hopes of growing a brand and earning a little extra besides my tiny editor’s stipend.
I initially intended for my business account to be more streamlined: less following of casual, personal accounts and more networking with other creatives. But I didn’t go in with a super clear idea of my own boundaries (which of my peers should I follow? follow and mute? not follow and risk offending?), my reach (who am I trying to market to?), or my photography editing style. Before long, and with the added effects of COVID, this account became more personal, with the only exception being that my feed was my portfolio and not a photo journal of my life. With the lack of in-person socialization, my entire social life could be found in this little pink app.
This frustrated me. I often threw my phone across the room (making sure it landed safely on my bed) whenever I got fed up with how tired I felt after being on Instagram for several hours. When my counselor suggested I decrease my online time, I told her I couldn’t delete the app. How else would I keep in touch with people? I got into the habit of deleting the app every so often, just to take a break, then coming back at a later time to answer messages and check in with pals.
Then I noticed I was idolizing aesthetics. I would spend hours trying to arrange my future photos so they would look perfect on my feed. I would get angry and start swearing when I couldn’t get them to look the way I wanted them to, or spiral into grief over how I would never measure up to other creative feeds I also idolized.
To make things worse, addictions previously associated with my personal account began to crop up again with my business account the more time I spent on the app. I won’t go into tons of details about that here; that’s not the point of this post. But I was spiritually troubled to see how I was relying on certain things for peace and affirmation rather than turning to God with my concerns and desires.
When the school year ended, I deactivated the account as a social experiment with myself. With two weeks before my remote summer internship, I wanted to take the opportunity to get off technology as much as possible. Further, I wanted to know if I would notice a big difference in how I lived my life or how much time I had available to me throughout the day if I got rid of the platform I’d come to rely on.
The difference was mind-blowing. I was able to read more books in a week than I usually could, focus on whatever tasks were at hand, and better enjoy my text or video call interactions with close friends. Rather than being bombarded by hundreds of lives, I could focus on a few and really cultivate those relationships.
But I still had my doubts. Social media is THE WAY that creatives network these days, and by deleting Instagram I would be deleting access to all the connections I’d managed to make as a result of the platform: photographers, writers, Christian artists, speakers, etc.
Still, as much as I would like to continue building a portfolio and having an “in” to the creative crowd, I have to come to terms with the fact that that’s not where God is taking me in the near future. For the present, as I enter my last year of undergrad and wrestle with what comes next, I need to focus on other aspects of my career. It’s possible that social media networking will crop up again on my radar at some point. But for now, despite the turmoil we’re all facing, I don’t have the capacity to build anything beyond the next few days, and even that is hard to surrender.
So. Goodbye, Instagram. We had a good three-year run but it’s time to part ways for the time being. I survived most of my teenage years without you, and I think I can survive however long this next absence lasts.
At the end of August, after a summer away, I created a new account. This was not an expected or planned turn of events, and I’m still not sure what voice in my head I’m listening to (my own? the Lord’s?). However, I’m going in with a few guidelines for myself.
- See this platform as a space for encouragement. Rather than trying to garner likes and exposure or otherwise build a brand using every trick in Instagram’s algorithm hat, I want to use my account to share less filtered thoughts that I wouldn’t share here on my blog. I want the visual and written art I create to be from my heart and with the intent to share light. This means going against the grain of social media, but it also means learning to harness social media’s potential to spread hope. I pray for the discipline to make this account about God and not about me.
- Limit my following. I’m leaving my account public (for now — that might change) but I’m limiting the number of people I’m following. So, if you’re one of those folks who keeps score, please don’t take it personally if I don’t follow you back. I’m just keeping it close, here. Just because I don’t follow you back does not at all mean I don’t care. Know that!
- Avoid the explore feed. The vortex of all vortexes. In the past, this feed has led to my spending hours upon hours lying in bed absorbing pointless content. (Especially back when Instagram was first infiltrated by Tik Tok videos… ugh.)
- Do it for the art for the Lord. Similar to my first point, I don’t want to lose sight of why I create in the first place. I don’t want to get so bogged down in gorging myself on affirmation and little red hearts that I forget the holiness of art, whether that’s visual media or written words. If I do forget and need to reset, it’s okay to take a step back for a while. And on that note, we lead into the last little guideline.
- Be okay with taking breaks. I don’t owe anybody my presence on social media, and nobody owes me the same back. If I find myself falling into old patterns and temptations, that’s an indication that I need to sign out, delete the app, and set it aside for a while. Nobody will judge me; nobody will notice. And that’s a good thing! I have this tendency to believe I’ve failed when I fall or when my weakness is exposed. I’ve got to fight that and realize I’m just a human who needs every drop of God’s grace he gives me, and I’m a human who needs time to rest. Praise be that God gives me spaces to do that, and often that means completely stepping away from the spaces that aren’t conducive to stillness, like social media.
If for some reason you’re reading this after I’ve added this little update (a couple months after the post’s original publication), thank you for taking the time to listen to the ramblings of my heart. I hope you’re well. 🙂