I remember the day I downloaded Instagram. It was 2012 and two of my girlfriends sat over my shoulder guiding me on the correct etiquette of how to act on the ‘gram.
“DO NOT automatically follow all of your Facebook friends, just start with a few. You don’t have enough traction yet.”
“Follow @doutzen, she’s so pretty and her feed is amazing. Ooo follow @angelcandice too!”
Soon they had added the full line-up of Victoria’s Secret angels to my follow list along with a select group of my good friends from college and high school. Next would come instructions on how to post. No posting group pics – that was for Facebook, this was more artsy. I took the advice and posted a picture of the Thanksgiving stuffing I had just made, heavily filtered, and watched the likes roll in: 1 in total. I was doing well, batting 100% likes per follower (only one of my two Insta-tutors had followed me back, which is sad in retrospect).
With time and tutoring, I learned how to post more riveting content. I found more of my friends on the platform and followed more influencers. I was hooked. I felt connected. I had my finger on the pulse of so many worlds, it was exciting. If my high school friend went on vacation, I was there. If @karliekloss was learning to code, I knew it and could talk about it over brunch.
However, this feeling of connectedness came with other feelings I wasn’t prepared for – the draining feeling of FOMO and envy. This is apparently common. University of Pittsburgh conducted a survey of 1,787 U.S. adults, ages 19-32, and found that the most active Social Media users were three times more likely to experience negative feelings like depression than their less active peers. It’s hard to admit that I felt that way and envy is not something I’m proud of, but knowing I’m not alone in this feeling makes it significantly easier to accept. Still, Instagram seemed to hit me harder than Facebook and I couldn’t understand why.
Recently, however, I had a breakthrough. I was scrolling through my feed, and noticed how my friend had rented a neon green Mercedes-Benz G-wagon to match her neon green outfit while she was in Miami. Ugh, she always looked so good and that car was insane. I liked it and continued to scroll through my feed. Then, I awoke up from my zombie-like Insta-slumber. This was not a friend of mine, this was @kimkardashian!!! She was hiding out in-between my mother’s pot-roast and my camp friend’s inspirational quote, when I finally spotted the difference. I had been comparing my life and the life of my friends to the life of a superstar and it was not a fair comparison.
I had been giving equal weight to “keeping up” with Kim as to keeping up with my actual friends. Time spent scrolling was littered with gluttonous reality TV-like entertainment that I had been trying to keep in check elsewhere in my life; I justified it as time checking in on friends and family. Kim Kardashian was not my friend, she was a distraction.
To be honest, I think there is a time and a place for Kim Kardashian content. I truly enjoy following celebrities and influencers. It is entertaining and even sometimes informative. But I don’t want to confuse this with the “social” part of Social Media. I recognized that by grouping celebrities with my friends, I struggled to monitor how I was spending my time.
I had to take action, I wanted to purge the noise from my feed while still having access to it. I took the following steps:
I strongly recommend this. Now I monitor how much time I spend on my second account, where scrolling now feels like a real indulgence reserved downtime on the weekend. Whereas I check in on my friends on my main account every day. I am more in control. I spend less time aimlessly scrolling and more time keeping up with my friends’ moves. Now I know Kim Kardashian’s new makeup line is not getting the same level of attention as my mom’s latest painting. Ultimately, I think time in person with friends and family is always the goal.
The anxiety and competitiveness that Social Media brought into my life caused me to want to do something about it. I created an app called Ussie, a private visual messaging platform where all of the messages are meant to bring us closer together. Each message sent is visual and meant to convey “this made me think of you” instead of the navel-gazing content of normal Social Media. If you ever need a break from Instagram, come check out Ussie.