5 Surprising Things that Happened When I Took a Break from Instagram

 
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At the time of writing this (end of April 2019), I’ve been off of Instagram for about six weeks, and honestly I’m having a hard time wanting to come back. Why is this a big deal anyway? A couple of years ago I decided to start posting my artwork and works in progress consistently to give myself some accountability, so I could start working on building consistency with my studio practice.

After I graduated with my art degree I didn’t paint much at all for several years, partly because I didn’t “have” to anymore, and partly because I was wrapped up in being a grown up and going to work so I could pay my bills. I started missing painting a lot, so I did start dabbling here and there, but every time I walked away feeling defeated because I didn’t feel like my work was any good. So what was the point? Art wasn’t paying the bills, and only made me feel bad about myself.

After a few years of painting extremely inconsistently and feeling unfulfilled in my day job, I realized that despite how much I wanted to run from it, I was in fact, an artist, and trying to be anything else was going to leave me feeling incomplete. So where do I go from here? My art stinks but I want to be a practicing artist. Practice. Enter: Instagram.

 

A portrait from my “100 Days of Snapchat Portraits” daily Instagram project, 2017

 

Like anything new, it starts out exciting and I was eager to feed the algorithm all of my art. Oh, it’s Donut Day? Let me make a donut painting for you. The Cubs won the World Series?! I’ll make a painting about it! One reason I was content in feeding the algorithm was because I didn’t have any direction or know what kind of art I wanted to make, so instead of not making anything I let the algorithm decide my output. In retrospect, not a terrible idea compared with giving up on making art altogether because I was lost.

 

“Purple Prince,” 2016 (sold) I created this painting the day Prince died as part of a 30-day art challenge.

 

The problem is, once you start feeding the algorithm, you can’t stop. It starts controlling you, and devouring every minute of free time. The algorithm says I need to post daily, the algorithm says I need to be online 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after I post something. The algorithm likes video, the algorithm likes variety, the algorithm likes engagement……..and before you know it, the algorithm owns you.

I decided I’d had enough. I didn’t want to be controlled by the algorithm anymore. Furthermore, when I sat down and figured out how much time I was spending trying to keep up with it, I realized the benefits I was receiving in return were severely disproportionate. One of the hallmarks of a bad relationship is when one party is taking a lot more than they give. It was definitely time to break up. Or at least, take a break.

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I deleted the app off of my phone, and decided I would check in on my iPad on Sundays just to make sure there weren’t any DMs I needed to respond to. I left a message in my bio so anyone visiting would know I was intentionally taking a break and not just ghosting. I posted a goodbye post so I could share some reasons why I decided to step away to hopefully encourage anyone experiencing the same feelings to feel like they aren’t alone, and that they too have the power to say “enough.”

Here’s what happened:

My head cleared, focus and prioritization improved

All of a sudden, my head wasn’t filled 24/7 with thoughts like “what can I post today?” “Is this photo good enough to post?” “How am I going to find time to post today when I have so much to do?” “Oh shoot I forgot to reply to so and so…I better go do that now.”

Without these things taking a serious draw on my mental capacity, I felt a weight lifted, I felt free to attend to things I knew were more important (family), and when I was doing those things I was able to think more clearly. When you think about the sheer amount of content you consume by being on social media several hours a day, it’s no wonder my brain was shorting out….

To me, the infinite scroll on social media is like sitting down and consuming an entire bag of chips in one sitting…you’re taking in a TON without realizing it, and it’s totally unhealthy and addictive.

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I saw Instagram for what it really is - a captor.

There’s a thing in my career field of UX design called dark UX…it’s when the user experience of an app serves the purposes of the business to the detriment of the user. The app is designed in a way that leads the user to places they didn’t want go, spend money they didn’t intend to spend, or unintentionally spend two hours going 25 weeks deep in someone else’s feed. In the case of Instagram, I think this applies. Everything about the app is made to keep us on there longer, posting more, engaging more, and on and on. I believe several years ago when artists were just beginning to find success and exposure on the platform it wasn’t the same. It’s evolved over time, and it’s devolved in supporting emerging independent artists.

Think about it, the longer we are on, and the more often we open the app, they more data they have to show advertisers “you’ll get this many eyes on your product if you spend x-dollars on ads on our platform.” Cha-ching. On the flip side of those of us creating content, we’re told by the platform that we’ll “hit it big” in the economy of likes and follows, and monetary success, freedom, and the life we’ve always dreamed of will follow. Please….

Negative thought patterns ceased

Here’s a scary realization I had a few weeks into my detox: I felt so much better mentally, that it occurred to me that I didn’t even realize how negatively affected I was by being on Instagram all the time. Wow. Talk about a toxic relationship—you know, the one where after you break up you’re ask yourself things like “how did I not see how bad this relationship really was?” Hindsight, ya’ll.

Of course I had read about the negative effects of social media, but I always thought “nah, not me. I don’t feel any of those things.” My only explanation is that maybe I became desensitized to it after a while. And the opposite happens when I get on now—I have a heightened sensitivity to all of the bad feelings caused by viewing everyone’s highlight reels all the time, and it actually helps with the whole “fight or flight” response. Get off! Get off! To offer up full transparency–because I know I’m not alone in this–these were feelings like “I’m not a good enough artist,” “I’ll never be good enough to get x number of followers,” “why does that person get more opportunities than me?” or “why do they have more followers than me?” (yuck, I’m awful!), “I’m not doing enough to get my work out there,” and on and on. Gross.

All lies. So blinded by the shiny ‘gram. God help us all….

I was more present with family and friends

Before I deleted Instagram I always was proud of myself for not being on my phone around friends and family. I think for the most part I was pretty good about it. The thing is, it was always still there in my mind. The thoughts, the worry that if I didn’t check in or didn’t get my post done that something “bad” would happen. So even though my phone was in my purse or another room, the thoughts were still there. I love being “bored” now in the presence of others. It forces me to start conversations, find other things to do, and if nothing else, dream up new artworks to make!

I was able to strategize my overall marketing plan, instead of treading water on daily Instagram posts

Once I realized that the time I was investing in Instagram was not paying off (aka moving me toward my goals), it made me step back and think about 1) how I want to market my artwork 2) the best way to reach the people that will love and buy my art, and 3) give me a return on my time. Going forward, I’ve invested in an Instagram scheduling tool so I’m going to be posting less, automating the process, and creating an overall marketing strategy outside of Instagram. And you know what else? I’m going to post whatever I want to post, and I don’t care about my follower count. Good riddance. I do see the value in maintaining a fresh feed, but beyond that, unless you’ve already established a wide audience on the platform, we’d all be better off being better humans and investing our time in our art practice and other marketing activities that will actually pay off in something other than likes and follows.

In Conclusion…

While I have returned to Instagram, it’s in a much less frequent capacity, and now when I feel bad feelings coming on, I bail. I also avoid accounts I feel contribute to bad feelings, and make sure the content I’m consuming is beneficial to my mind and positivity. I’ve also been trying to cut myself off from the “mindless scroll.” It’s such a trap…so if I catch myself doing it, I immediately close the app. It’s going to take discipline to stay out of the fray, but I’m committed to not being sucked in again. If you see me doing it, feel free to call me out. See you IRL✌️

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