I Gave Up Instagram for 7 Days and Diarised What Happened

Unsplash / Alex Bracken

About two years ago (pre-pandemic of course), my brother and I went on a mini-getaway to Forster on the South Coast and I ended up spending five days logged off Instagram. The house where we stayed was out of town, and, unbeknownst to me, completely out of mobile phone range. I was hoping that, in any or all corners of the house, my phone would at least oscillate between zero to one bar, but after spending one hour holding my phone midair hoping for a signal, I realised I had zero hope. So, with nothing else to do but to enjoy my holiday without worrying about documenting it, I spent the next five days (not by choice) off Instagram. When we left Forster and my phone came back to life, I logged back in and resumed my addiction; and never gave it any more thought.

Last week, I decided to do the same thing. That is, give up Instagram (this time by choice) to see if anything would change; my productivity, my sense of self, my free time? I’ve been planning (or wanting) to do this for some time now because I’m afraid to download the app on your phone that tells you how much time you spend scrolling — that in itself is a reason to give it a rest for a while. Thing is, up until two years ago, I worked as a publicist and abandoning your phone (let alone your Instagram) was considered an unwritten law. My job never allowed it. Yet now I wonder, is using this as an excuse a convenient way to hide the fact that I was and still am addicted?

Over the last year, I changed my entire career. I decided that after working as a publicist for over ten years, it was time for me to pivot to a role that would allow me to a) enjoy and b) actually acknowledge my creative side. Writing! Instagram went from being a tool that could measure my success, to a writer’s block trap… all the more reason to switch it off for a while.

What I found was a little disturbing.

As ashamed as I am to admit it, Instagram is one of the first things I look at when I wake up. Day 1 was no different. Except this time, I remembered not to. I don’t know how I adopted this morning reflex. I used to wake up early and spend time on my own, slowly making a coffee, enjoying the quiet of the morning. Now, I’m scrolling others’ activities and checking my emails before even leaving my bed! Yes, it is my choice to do so, however, I am merely pointing out how easily one can become addicted to avoiding FOMO.

I decided to start a tally on Day 1. Every time I went to check my Instagram, I would put a tally on my notepad. By midday, 29 points. Horrified at the proof that we can do something so often without thinking, I promised myself I wouldn’t touch it again for the rest of the day. 29! What groundbreaking thing was I hoping to see in that few hours that I had to keep checking my feed so often? At 1:56pm, I caved and opened Instagram on my laptop. I knew I was breaking the rules but did it anyway. After having proof that I was missing absolutely nothing, I logged off and marked my next tally.

The last (and only) time I gave up coffee for a while, I experienced a detox period the first two days and Instagram felt no different. I was used to a hit of Instagram just like a hit of caffeine.

Day 2, I had a meeting on Sydney’s North Shore and it was beautiful and sunny. My instant thought was to snap the picturesque location. I hadn’t opened Instagram that day so I was feeling strong. Instead of “sharing”, I sat in the garden and enjoyed my own company. When was the last time I enjoyed something without feeling the need to document it? Was I doing fun things (and reporting back to my followers about doing them) because I wanted people to know I was enjoying my life, or because I actually wanted to enjoy them?

Gave in again at 5pm, again for no reason.

On Days 3 and 4, I observed a need in myself to fill time when I was feeling uncomfortable. Spending solid time with the sometimes-unpleasantness and frustration of writing (and writer’s block) seemed to magnify my subconscious reflexes to fill the gaps… by opening Instagram. Procrastinating? Finding the task at hand difficult? An Insta hit will distract me! It’s like I was looking for inspiration outside of myself. Being inwardly honest about this was just as uncomfortable. Is it possible to cultivate creativity if I let my mind have nothing to digest for more than a moment? Inspiration is good. When it drowns out your own imagination though, I believe it’s not.

These days also came with the realisation that detoxing off all social media apps (including Bumble) might have been more beneficial. I dislike dating apps, yet I opted to sign up to one without realising that my download was loaded with self-criticism: you’re just replacing Instagram with another app!

Day 5. I didn’t feel the need to check anything for hours. I thought about it though. As a publicist, I grew accustomed to sharing many of my projects on Instagram. I did this with published articles too. I was surprised at how much I struggled with the idea that, just for that week, nobody would be able to see (and thus validate) my work. So instead, I sent the piece of writing I had just had published to my best friend who responded with a beautiful comment about how it helped her. This seemed so much better and gave me inspiration for my next day on the job. On Day 5, I concluded that social media apps have the power to capture my attention when I am at my most vulnerable. That deserves to be questioned, whether I knew it all along or not.

Day 6. How much I can get done without being distracted by social media! There can be enough hours in the day. One of my to-do lists, which remained stagnant for several weeks, finally started getting smaller. Coincidence? Probably not. I do admit that I did log onto Bumble several times that day and had no reply from the guy I showed interest in (a typical Bumble experience for me, but we’ll leave that for another day), so without further thoughts, I logged straight out. Why subject myself to the anxiety this induced?

On Day 7 — the final day — I walked through the city for my morning coffee and became aware of how many people had their noses buried in their phones. It was because I had my eyes up out of mine. I had no desire that day to see what everyone else was doing and decided to focus that energy on myself. I tried to notice the emotions that came up when I would otherwise go for my phone in a bid to dull discomfort. That night I stayed up late, which I hadn’t done in months because normally I end up in bed by nine, exhausted. Could less screen time be increasing my energy levels? I’m not convinced of that just yet, but it happened.

Before challenging myself to seven days off Instagram, I didn’t think I had a personality that got easily addicted to things. Maybe it isn’t about personality. Maybe it is about how these apps are wired to work on me. My job is to nurture awareness about when to let them have that power.

The next day, I woke up early, slowly made my coffee, and enjoyed the quiet of the morning.

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