This summer I’ve started tapering off Instagram.
I say tapering off because that’s what it is — I don’t plan to quit altogether. But I’m intentionally lessening the time I spend there, and reflecting on what it does for me.
Let’s get into why I’m doing this first and then I’ll tell you how I’m doing it in case you want to do something similar. And then, if you’re really curious, I’ll share some reflections on how spending less time on IG has impacted me so far.
Why I’m Tapering Off Instagram
I like to get up a few hours before I need to go to work and do some things that are good for myself. I never do the same thing two days in a row. Sometimes I journal, sometimes I work out, sometimes I make a particularly tasty breakfast.
But over the past year, I found myself feeling called to IG the way a progeny feels when summoned to their maker on True Blood (I know that reference is way too old but let me get in a True Blood mention where I can, please). I found myself losing my precious morning time to scrolling mindlessly. I’d shower and lay down in bed in a towel and get lost in profile after profile after profile after profile. It was one such morning — when I found myself several years deep into Maren Morris’s posts for no good reason — when I decided I had to curb this behavior.
I’ve done a similar taper from other sites I used to spend a lot of time on — first Snapchat, then Twitter, then Facebook. Those sites lost their value to me over time. The information being shared on them felt less relevant to me, or the platforms became more awkward to use. I still go on for the things I need — I’m a big fan of Facebook Marketplace and my foster dog Facebook group. But I don’t feel this unhealthy relationship that I started to feel with Instagram. I still feel like I’m the one in control.
My goal is to restore that same kind of balance with Insta — that I can use it for the things that matter and feel meaningful to me and without getting sucked in too deeply.
How I’ve Been Tapering Off Instagram
It’s remarkably simple:
1. Turn off notifications on my phone.
I have all Lock Screen, Banner and Badge notifications turned off for all of my applications except for time-sensitive things like phone calls, Lyft, and Grubhub. I like engaging with my phone when I choose to engage with it, instead of my phone telling me when to react to something. This has been my policy for many years. If you’re trying to quit or curb your IG habit, it’s a small step worth trying.
2. Delete the Instagram app from my phone.
I still use Instagram on my web browser on my phone, but the experience is just bad enough that it makes me not want to use it for very long. The video doesn’t autoplay, which really helps to not suck me in. And I can still check and respond to messages from my pals.
3. Find something else to fill your time.
I know, I know, a person wiser than I would advocate for taking a moment to just be present here. But I can’t just quit staring mindlessly into my gd phone cold turkey!! It’s been really helpful for me to have something else mentally stimulating that I can pull up when the urge to stare into my phone arises.
And for me, that thing for me has been Sudoku!!
4. Re-download and re-delete as needed.
So far I’ve been re-downloading the app on the weekends, but I don’t feel quite as called to use it since I’ve been breaking myself out of the reflexive habit of daily use. But it’s nice to be able to publish multiple photos to your story and multiple photo posts on occasion (something you can’t do in a browser).
And that’s it! I feel like I already have a much healthier relationship with Instagram and like it does not have so much control over me. And I am a becoming a *~*sUdOkU qUeEn!*~*
The CONS of Limiting My Time on Insta
I’ve been intentionally limiting my time on Instagram since June. So for the past two months or so, here are some of the things that have been kind of a bummer.
1. Becoming the kind of jerk who brags about spending less time on social media
I remember when other friends made big declarations in the past about abandoning a particular social network, it always made me feel sort of dissed. So you don’t care about me enough to want to know what I’m up to Internet? Fine. I would think. You think you’re better than me because you don’t feel called stare into your crotch for 45 minutes straight looking at vacation pics of people you don’t know? I judged harshly.
Now that I am the exact person I felt dissed by, I would say that the inflated sense of moral superiority is definitely a perk of spending less time on social media. But I’m also disappointed in myself that I can’t use Instagram in a way that feels purely healthy without putting up such strict boundaries around it.
2. Losing a bit of relationship connective tissue
Instagram is a way I’ve stayed casually connected to my many dear pals who don’t live in my city. Sure, I still text those people, but there is something that feels organic and easy about a quick emoji sent in response to a Story leading to a short convo that fills you with warm fuzzies.
I also feel the loss of those peripheral relationships with people who are more your Instagram friend than they ever were in real life. You have those people in your feed, don’t you? Despite not seeing each other in many years or only knowing one another a bit in college, you’ve somehow developed a delightful internet relationship that mostly consists of hyping one another up and sharing the occasional meme. These relationships are not meals — fully satisfying and wholesome — but they are the snacks of life. And man, do I love snacks. They’re fun and entertaining and a nice little pick-me-up just when you need it.
These things seem trivial but I think they’re actually really important. This casual connective tissue has helped me maintain a network that has led to professional introductions and resume editing clients and joyful relationships with people who I only know in that obscure, internet-friend way. I think this is probably the greatest potential loss of being on Instagram much less.
3. Diminished creative juices
At the risk of sounding completely unbearable, Instagram has been a creative home for me. It’s been a vehicle I’ve used to share my dance vids, which bring me so much joy. It’s where I share my writing. I think there’s something about the easy artistry of creating stories or writing captions that triggers the creative part of my brain and makes me want to do more and more creative things. For now, this feels not-so-great. But perhaps I’m just saving up the creative juices and I’ll use them on something that’s truly a masterpiece, and not just me reposting an astrology meme with a Jonathan Van Ness GIF over it. Only time will tell.
4. Less self-documentation
I’ve also felt less called to document my life on a day-to-day basis. And that’s probably a good thing? I’m taking fewer selfies and cat pics and plant pics and dance vids. But I wonder if I’ll miss these things looking back. I don’t usually spend much time reminiscing and staring into my Photo Roll, but I do love an occasional scroll through my own Profile or Archive, reflecting on Young Bridgett and the Bridgett I’ve Become.
The PROS of Limiting My Time on Insta
Despite the cons I mentioned above, I keep deleting the app from my phone. Because at this point, even with all the stuff I miss, it feels a little better, a little safer, to not have it so easily accessible to me. And there are three big reasons why:
1. Greater self-control.
I like that I don’t get sucked into my phone like I used to. Instagram is really the only thing that I abuse on my phone. And I’ve gotten really, really good at Sudoku.
2. Less self-judgement.
I like that I don’t compare myself to others so much. Even as a person whose therapist has told her, “It’s very obvious that you are extremely confident,” I find it hard not to work myself into a hazy feeling of invalidation after being on Instagram for a while. When I’m on it, I vacillate between looking at posts of queer folks living their best Internet lives and wondering am I queer enough?? to looking at posts from young moms juggling babies and careers and thinking could I actually like doing that?? My scrolling cultivates a kind of constant introspection and self-evaluation that I’m a little happier and healthier living without.
3. More privacy.
Listen, I’m a post-modern gal who has never really understood why people get all worked up about privacy when we’ve all signed our basic information away in exchange for free content on the Internet. But I think maybe I am starting to get it now? There is something nice about my digital footprint being pretty tiny. I feel less watched and examined. I don’t think about who might be seeing me and what they might be thinking about me. Being less seen has been surprisingly liberating.
In college, I read an essay series by social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson about how Instagram forces us to “view our present as always a potential documented past.” He wrote:
We come to see what we do as always a potential document, imploding the present with the past, and ultimately making us nostalgic for the here and now.
I think in addition to seeing my present as a potential past, it’s also caused me to view my life as an ongoing broadcast. Who is tuning in to watch my life unfold? What does it mean when the people I love most aren’t watching? What does it mean when strangers do? What does it make people think of me? What does it make me think of them? They’re the kind of questions that start off small but end up carrying weight over time. And it’s surprisingly refreshing to not be asking them on a daily basis.
As someone who feels grateful to social media as the foundation of my career in digital marketing, it feels odd to be at a place where I’m not particularly active on any social networks. I want to believe that social media can be good for us. I have so much hope in it still, perhaps naively. I know people get all twisted up about Facebook being run by money-hungry demagogues who want to steal our privacy and Instagram being a place that’s driving teens to unseen levels of anxiety because of the comparison culture it cultivates.
I think these accusations are right. But I think it’s on us — the people, not the tools — to correct these moral wrongs. Putting all the blame on an app feels like a red herring, a cop-out. Social networks are networks of people, so these problems are people problems, not technology problems. Blaming an app feels like removing the accountability (and the opportunity to do better) from ourselves.
So I don’t blame Instagram for being a place that doesn’t always make me feel great. I’m using this intentional time to reexamine why it doesn’t. To get a better handle on my internet presence and to try to limit how much binging and self-judgement and oversharing it leads to. My hope is that I get to a place where I am able to maintain a healthy balance of self-control when I’m on Instagram, so I can experience all of the things that I enjoy about it.
Until then, I’ll keep improving my Sudoku game.