After taking more than a year-long break from Facebook and Instagram, I recently returned to Instagram. I was a little startled by how abruptly some strange habits and thought patterns returned. Whether to my benefit or detriment, Instagram causes some phenomena that don't happen naturally. I don't know if most people struggle with these, but---in case you are also re-evaluating your social media usage---I wanted to share some observations after going a year without, both positive and negative.
Suddenly I wanted to catch up on what my acquaintances have been up to. Have I seen them since middle school? Maybe once or twice. Will I see them again? Probably not. But now that I downloaded an app I'm almost urgently interested in their welfare! Stalking someone on social media is so alluring for the same reason that gossip is so alluring: we gain access to knowledge that doesn't naturally belong to us. We haven't invested in the friendship or necessarily disclosed anything about ourselves to this person, but now all of a sudden we can scroll far down the list and see what her college major was and how many boyfriends she had last year.
I became more body-conscious. Most people who post pictures of themselves on Instagram are photogenic and, well, thin. Looking in the mirror after spending a couple weeks back on Instagram, I felt less attractive than "everybody else" than I usually do; I'm typically content in that department. In the real world, most people around me also have muffin tops, meh clothing, and forgettable hair, and it really doesn't matter. Instagram shows us the most aesthetically pleasing pictures of the batch taken by image-conscious people in their most stylish clothes, on their best hair days, who get praised by the masses for the way they look. I'm not skinny-shaming or fat-shaming anyone here and I'm not even talking about Insta models (I don't follow those.) I was just a little bummed that my self-confidence in my appearance faded so quickly by comparing myself to a skewed sampling of the population.
I started caring, quantitatively, what other people think of me. Unless you're living in Black Mirror's Nosedive episode, people don't evaluate your worth quite so publicly. You don't have a number of followers to quantify how many people are interested in what you have to say. Your shared opinions aren't evaluated by likes. So, in the real world, I'm just trying to communicate with others in the best way I can. On social media, it's difficult not to bend my posts toward what's been well-received in the past. It's harder to be "myself" when I know what parts of "myself" people seem to like more than others.
My inner dialogue increased. I felt more self-aware, introspective, and special/interesting...all in unhealthy ways. It took about six months after quitting social media before I finally stopped crafting captions in my mind, but those habits had no trouble returning when I began posting on Instagram again. Something changes in the way I live when occasionally an experience will produce the thought, "That would be a good post!" And now, with Instagram Stories, there's the added complexity of "Is this worth an actual post or should this just be a lighthearted temporary thing?"
So those are the downsides. But I think I'm going to keep Instagram around. Here's why.
I love being connected with some of the people I don't naturally see often. There are some people (like Lana, Steph, and Rebecca) who I've met only once yet deeply longed to be best friends with, but most of them live in other states. And some people (like Diana, Lauren, and Alex) are dear friends who have moved far away, and though we've been texting pictures of our kids to each other, it's so great being able to see more frequent updates. That's a really beautiful thing about social media: we're able to maintain relationships with people we really do care about.
I am genuinely encouraged by some of the things I see on there. Joy is contagious, and there are some people that I am just seriously happy for. Instagram, unlike Facebook, is generally upbeat and positive. The comments are set up for giving compliments, not for debates. So seeing smile after smile of people that I love and respect, I am happy for them. I'm so grateful that my hard-working friend finally got her Master's or that my friend with photography skills landed a dream job in NYC. I'm so grateful that a woman I know who was struggling with infertility is now expecting her second child. I'm so grateful that another woman I know who was struggling with infertility is speaking openly about how she can still have joy in her pain. Some beautiful truths and stories are being documented on Instagram, and it's a great place where I can "rejoice with those who rejoice."
Instagram Stories are plain ol' fun. I don't think the feeling of walking side-by-side in life with someone via Stories is as dangerously artificial as I thought it would be; it's merely fueling my love for people I already love. (And if people annoy me with their posts, I just unfollow them! Easy.)
Will Smith's instagram is so funny! And he has dropped some major wisdom-bombs when he's being serious. He definitely makes positive contributions to society by his presence on social media. Which brings me to my last point:
The fact of the matter is, people my age live on social media, and I really care about being a blessing to people my age. I don't like how social media leads millennials to to think about marriage, parenting, and---most importantly---Jesus, so if I can paint a different, more attractive picture of those things by having a presence on social media, I certainly want to do that. I want to communicate to the world that I think for myself but I also believe the Bible is completely true. I want to exemplify that a fun-loving 25-year-old can also have four kids and a committed marriage. If a fellow free spirit finds it hard to believe that a life with limitations can be a happy one, I would like to show them with living proof!
Also, though re-entering instagram was initially addicting (I severely lack self-control), a life of scrolling on feeds has lost its charms. I'm pretty convinced that real-life experiences with real people are better. I know that wanderlust is empty and that traveling to cool-looking places isn't going to fulfill me. I know that, for the sake of my mental health and emotional stability, I need to be off the screen more, and I need to stop comparing myself to others. (After all, according to TIME magazine last year, Instagram is the worst social media for mental health.) So hopefully now I can enjoy and use all the beneficial aspects of social media without being ruled by them as I have in the past. And, if not, I can always delete the app for another year or so and try again later.
Hopefully that helps if you're navigating all this! :)
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today