I Quit Instagram... For the Weekend
Talk to any blogger (sorry — influencer... and insert a not-so-subtle eye roll here) and chances are they'll tell you that they've just about had it with Instagram's games. Every once in a while, I'll find myself getting entirely too caught up in the endless quest for decent engagement. Why? I noticed last Friday that I was putting too much effort into curating my feed and wasn't getting back the response I'd like. It gave me anxiety, particularly because the post in question was a sponsored one, and I didn't want the sponsor to think that I was slacking, or that my lack of engagement was due to some fraudulent or otherwise shady practices. I had to look in the mirror and confront my delusions. It seemed that giving up my Instagram app for a long weekend was going to have to happen, so, I did.
If you came here looking for tips to organically increase your following and your engagement, you're not going to find it; because if there's anything I've learned, it's that I haven't the slightest clue how to do so effectively without spending beaucoup bucks on marketing. What I can offer you is this salient piece of advice: quitting feels so good. (Even if it's just for three days.)
In recent years, it seems that Instagram's role in the space has shifted from being a fun tool to complement and enhance existing blogs to a necessity that nobody asked for. In a busy world where no one has time to read a 2,000 word blog post about feeling sad, micro-blogging offers a solution. Content is quickly created and consumed, with trends now moving faster than they ever have before. Many bloggers are making the switch and declaring Instagram as their main platform. For now, this may even seem like it's a great plan, because it can be lucrative.
Getting paid hundreds to thousands of dollars for a simple square photo sounds like the dream, but is it sustainable? That's not for me to ascertain, but I will say that my pursuit of that lifestyle left me feeling very empty and unfulfilled. Inevitably, Instagram will fall by the wayside, and another platform will step up to take its place. I used to think there was shame in not riding the wave to Instafame, it seemed like such an ubiquitous and relatively easy way to "be your own boss," which is kind of the dream, right? Let's face it though. I'm disillusioned by it all and I'm finding more meaning in creating a platform that can be my own, without keeping myself beholden to whatever The Zuck is cooking up. While Instagram and the social media world at large may not be insidiously plotting to harm our fragile psyches, I've found that for me, blogging has unlocked an unhealthy pattern of behaviors. I know that I can't be alone.
I've found that for me, blogging has unlocked an unhealthy pattern of behaviors. I know that I can't be alone.
Ever notice that there's a lot of repetition in the #OOTDsphere? Seasoned bloggers know what's up but those who aren't privy to the process of creating sponsored content and all that it entails may notice that their feeds are overtaken by certain wrap dresses and bucket bags en masse and assume that the fashion world is just that small, and every "influencer" (once again, it hurts) has similar taste. You've probably wondered to yourself before, "hmm, were all these bloggers co-conspirators in the world's most specific heist, targeting ruffled off-shoulder tops?" Nope. The answer is that the big bloggers you follow were paid and/or compensated to style that item for a photo and post it with the proper hashtags. If the item's price point was just right, smaller bloggers followed suit for the sake of fitting in, buying into the trend, and making the item seem like the "must have" purchase of the season. Everyone else then felt the need to cave in to their capitalistic desires. I can guarantee you, whatever recent "it" bags, dresses, shoes, tops, etc. have taken over Instagram in recent times, none of it happened organically.
As a marketing practice, it's brilliant. Brands pay a lot of money to big time bloggers but those figures are still tiny compared to what would have been spent on traditional advertising. After that initial investment, trends trickle down and the "gotta have it" craze takes care of the rest. Some say though, it's killing the fashion industry. More than that, it's wreaking some serious havoc on our souls.
Everyone wants to be liked, which is how social media has solidified itself as such a huge presence in so many of our lives. We share updates, quips, photos, and other bits and pieces of our lives that we would normally have no business sharing if not for the little hearts that pop up, always there to comfort us, like pieces of affirmation we can bottle up and save for a rainy day. Studies have shown that the parts of our brain affected by getting "likes" on social media are the same ones that react when we win money or eat chocolate. Going after these feelings is not a bad way to brighten up a bad day, but chasing after them habitually is certainly no way to live.
Who the hell is spending $170 on this insanely impractical bamboo bag?
I've found that I need to tread particularly lightly in the world of social media because I can be such an approval addict. My brain is already bad at providing me with the dopamine that I need to get through the day, and when I lean on things like Instagram likes to supplement it, bad things happen. I mentioned earlier trying to fit the "Instagram Fashion Blogger" mold, which quickly turned from a cool way to make money by taking photos of myself into a need for constant validation. (Yes, it's possible to get addicted.) My foray into this world was swift and uncomfortable, starting and ending with a $170 bamboo bag that promised, "Wear it with everything. You'll never need another carry all again."
Every instance of "OMG! THAT BAG!" was further affirmation that I'd made it. I was FINALLY one of the "cool girls."
I wouldn't have bought this bag if not for its pervasive presence on my Instagram feed. We've all seen it, we've all longed for its unique shape to grace our wardrobe, blessing our #OOTDs and flatlays with its elegantly-constructed crescent silhouette and intricate bamboo details. Okay. Maybe not all of us, but a lot of us. One interesting theory regarding the psychology behind Insta-purchasing comes down to envy. I think that's definitely an intriguing concept, but I think for some, it comes down to fitting in. For someone like me who was bullied a LOT growing up, being a part of something that felt a bit like a movement was monumental. $170 plus shipping was a small price to pay for validation, and every compliment was further affirmation that I'd finally made it. Never mind that the bag was wildly impractical, that I basically had to sacrifice the use of one of my hands to carry it around, and that it was basically useless unless I had a series of small pouches protecting the items inside it from the elements and from poking through or falling out of one of the gaps between the bamboo pieces. I was a "cool girl." I quickly realized how fleeting those sentiments truly are though, and as soon as I caught myself reaching for the credit card to make that next feel-good purchase, I knew that I HAD to be stopped. (By the way, the bag is not a semi-permanent temporary decorative fixture next to my television, holding my remotes and hiding other unsightly but functional items that I need but don't fit my decor.)
When Albert Camus said that, I highly doubt he was talking about Instagram. (Just a hunch.) However, it certainly applies to life on the 'gram, and the tremendous strides that some people take to curate a picture-perfect life. I get caught up comparing myself to anyone and everyone with a pulse and a comprehensive hashtag lexicon. It seems like everyone's life is better than mine.
I was mindlessly scrolling through my own feed the other day, before my break, and realized that I'm part of the problem. Taking an objective look at @emricchini made me feel uncomfortable, I was somewhat envious of this person who looked like me but seemed so carefree, so immaculately groomed, so impeccably styled at all times. I looked at an uncluttered photo of my dresser and compared it to the present mess that'd been accruing since I fell back into a depressed episode. Pill bottles strewn about, a shirt I deemed unworthy of decorating my body crumpled in front of the mirror — something I clearly did because I was running late and didn't have time to properly fold it. I felt like a fraud, a charlatan. I posted a photo, one that wasn't particularly interesting but still met my standards. I can usually gage how "well" a photo is doing in terms of engagement if it hits 150-200 likes in less than half an hour. At the 27-minute mark, this particular entry had about 72 likes— less than half of what was "normal." It threw me into chaos for a moment, and I realized that I had to break the cycle before it ruined my night. I quietly archived the post, hiding my shame and failure (so overdramatic, I know) and made a quick announcement via stories that I'd be taking a little break, that that it was absolutely necessary as a self-care measure. Thus began my little experiment. Along with Instagram, I also took a break from Facebook and Twitter. Here are a few things I noticed during my social media-free weekend:
- I absent-mindedly opened my Instagram app 23 times, a few of those times included almost mechanically scrolling and liking posts that struck my fancy.
- I didn't know what to do when I saw a random pair of shoes on the steps of the subway as I was heading home on Friday. Not that I didn't know what to do with the shoes itself, but I felt empty when I took a photo and couldn't post it to Twitter, accompanied by a wiseacre remark. (By the way, when I made my triumphant return on Monday, I didn't think the discarded shoes were funny anymore and I was glad that I didn't send an unfunny joke about them into the void.)
- I didn't realize how much I depending on Instagram as a means of communication until I needed to get a hold of someone and realized that I didn't have her phone number.
- I realized that the last thing I do before bed and the first thing I do when I wake up is scroll, scroll, scroll (after checking my email, that is) and that I got a much better sleep and was able to get our of bed when I wasn't doing this.
My value isn't tied to digital head-pats that are entirely at the mercy of the arbitrary distinctions of some algorithm conceived to make a white dude tons of money.
If you've stuck around this long, you probably want to hear my conclusion. The truth is, I don't have one. I wasn't struck by some life-changing realization, and I didn't solve any of the big, looming problems in my life, despite having some extra time on my hands. I did, however, feel refreshed to not be a slave to the cycle for a few days, and I came back with a renewed sense of purpose. My short respite reminded me that there's a great big world outside, and its wonders cannot be confined to a small square that will serve as aspirational content at best and evoke envy and feelings of inferiority at its worst. I repeated to myself over and over that my value isn't tied to digital head-pats that are entirely at the mercy of the arbitrary distinctions of some algorithm conceived to make a white dude tons of money. I was reminded to make content and share content because I love making and sharing content, and while it may be frustrating that a very limited amount of people may get to see it, having a platform at all is still cool as hell.
My takeaways? Instagram can be fun, and when used correctly, it can be a great tool to spread brand (blog) awareness and slices of life that may be too mundane for a dedicated blog post. I'm going to take its existence with a grain of salt and have fun with it until the next big thing hits. Until then, I'm not going to lose my mind over poor engagement. I have much more important things to spend my time on. (And so do you!)