This time last year it would be no exaggeration to say I spent most of my time on Instagram. It was not as though I did Stories of making my breakfast or getting changed, but sure, I would be ten minutes late to leave the house because I wanted to get that caption just right before I did. And so on. I’d hazard a guess that I spent… about two hours on Instagram, if not even a tiny bit more, accumulated over the course of a day through scrolling, posting both to my feed and stories, commenting on the posts of others. Two hours!
Something changed towards the start of this year when I posted something or the other about inclusivity and representation. Everywhere I looked on Instagram, everyone was saying the same thing: Why Aren’t You Listening? and I found myself saying the same thing too, until I realised I didn’t want to anymore. It served no one, nothing. I wanted out yet at the same time I was being dragged in. I started setting an alarm to be there for only half an hour each day instead when it hit me that I had better things to do. It was as simple as that.
The hours I spent on Instagram have been replaced with working, reading, not hiding from my kids as much and most importantly writing. It’s no longer that much of a priority for me. It is not that I hate it, or that I have fallen out of love with it, but that actually the less time I spend on it, the more it has become what I imagine it was always supposed to be: a place into which I may dip in and dip out, a place to connect with like-minded souls whom I think I might like to share a cup of tea with one day. A place to share both aesthetics and my thoughts and to appreciate other people’s too. It’s nicer this way, to not let it consume me.
It suits me this way.
Here’s 10 things I’ve learnt about Instagram since stepping back:
1) Your followers will plateau and that’s okay - someone kind mind mention you or tag you and suddenly an influx of followers might arrive but then… nobody new will find you for months. It’s just the way of the world. It doesn’t matter anyway because…
2) …The less you care about your follower numbers, the higher they will go - I remember when I foolishly tried to run an online store using Instagram for marketing (what was I thinking, honestly) that all I wanted was to desperately hit 1000 followers, as if somehow the universe would align when I did. It didn’t. At some point I naturally stopped caring. It wasn’t an active mindset nor was it a conscious choice or mantra that I repeated to myself; it just so followed that the less time I came to spend on Instagram, the less things like follower numbers began to bother me. The irony is not lost on me that the least effort I make, the more people follow me.
3) You don’t have to declare you’re stepping away I see this often, the announcements that it’s all got too much, that we’re shutting Instagram down, that we don’t know when we’ll be back. I understand the need to do this but, well, I guess it’s just not for me. I’m not a world leader; I have no personal statements to the press to make. If I choose to spend less time online, the world does not stop turning. You don’t always owe an explanation to everybody.
4) And, also, it is okay to step away because sometimes Instagram sucks. Sometimes it’s time consuming, sometimes we have commitments, sometimes we have relationships to nurture with people we can actually reach out and touch. So, yes, it’s okay to step away.
5) There’s a difference between solidarity and self-promotion This is the bit that makes me feel most unease. Hashtag inclusivity, diversity, representation matters and all of that. “Instagram is political! Your silence says more about you than you think!” But must we demand it? What is the point of that? As Jia Tolentino points out in her excellent essay “The I In The Internet”: “The internet can make it seem that supporting someone means literally sharing in their experience - that solidarity is a matter of identity rather than politics or morality… This framework, which centers the self in an expression of support for others, is not ideal.” And also: “The audience’s way of shaping a role for the performer can become more elaborate than the performer itself. This is what the online expression of solidarity sometimes feels like - a manner of listening so extreme and performative that it often turns into the show.” (This essay is in her book, Trick Mirror). Something to think about, folks.
6) Instagram is still a friendly place When I needed to talk to some authors about the agony of my book being on submission, I bit the bullet and DM’d some writers whose books I loved because I just needed some advice. They didn’t tell me they were too busy and they didn’t imply that it was beneath them - they were lovely, supportive, encouraging and it blows my mind, really, that I could simply just write to them that way. It’s the day-to-day connections which make Instagram a friendly place for me. It’s all there in our pockets; it’s this that makes it kind of fun.
7) You don’t have to share everything When my little boy was in hospital, I felt like I needed to reference it in some way on Instagram because it was a huge thing happening in my life that I couldn’t magic away. I couldn’t contemplate not acknowledging something so real or pretending like it wasn’t happening. But two things: 1) I didn’t share the horror of it in real time and 2) nor did I ever fully disclose the details. These days I choose not to share images of my children’s faces because of an inexplicable need to keep them anonymous best I can - though this is no judgement on anyone else and comes from simply what feels right for me right now. For me somethings are private and will always be; for others, sharing might feel good. I understand the power of vulnerability and reaching out in hard or lonely times but I also believe in protecting its deepest, most inner and personal part too.
8) It’s just one tiny part of life Even if you’re trying to run a business or a brand, even if that brand or business is you, your success and value doesn’t start or end with Instagram. It took me a while to realise this. Instagram alone won’t make or break you. It might help, but it’s not the only thing. It’s just one little piece in the puzzle. I hold onto this.
9) You don’t have to follow the rules I have overheard people on the tube discussing The Algorithm in very grave ways. I understand some people make extreme amounts of money out of this so it is important. But is it that important? I’m unconvinced. I know there is lots of reasonable and sound advice on how to engage your followers, things like asking questions at the end of your post to draw people in and maybe I’m just incredibly naive but I also think that sometimes…
10) …Just being yourself is enough.