It's two weeks since I deleted Instagram from my phone and laptop. I did one last "seeya socials" post, answered the first few comments and just like that... I was gone.
At the time I wasn't sure I would even return. I had been listening to podcasts and reading articles by creatives who had quit Insta and their studios had survived and it seemed they never looked back. Their optimism and positivity convinced me that there could be life after IG, and I was keen to see what that looked like.
I had taken digital detoxes before, a week here and there, but this time I felt truely ready to quit. I was tired and overwhelmed and a little blue after such a tumultuous year or two, and the strain of mothering two teens and a pre-teen is not to be underestimated here either. I found myself feeling more and more distracted, unmotivated and the work was just not coming. My focus had shifted to thinking about posts and checking in on comments - I wouldn't have said I was addicted as such, but picking up the phone had become an unconscious reflex whenever a spare minute appeared. While I wasn't comparing myself to others or scrolling for hours (at that point) it was definitely disrupting my peace of mind and I felt, that if left unchecked, these media habits could be detrimental to my mental health and my creative life.
I try to show up daily, sometimes multiple times daily for the people who support my studio and who I feel really connected to on IG. I've met and formed some great friendships on the platform and I'm always so amazingly grateful to those who reach out, but with so much happening on IG lately, the push to create content, the nudge towards reels and a waning reach, I was getting pretty angry and resented the way I was starting to feel using it. That push to "keep up"....I don't know, as I grow older I'm not that keen on satisfying an algorithms demands. I've been pretty open to making a reel, or showing up live, but I was starting to feel manipulated and encouraged to behave and engage in a way that was counterproductive to my work habits and creative flow, plus I really hate being told what to do, especially by an app!
I was even starting to question whether I wanted to be a conscious consumer of tools such as IG and Facebook that were so ethically and morally corrupt when it comes to the mental health of our young people or the proliferation of hate speech, and in the end make no apologies for valuing profit over people. I'm still struggling with that one.
I found I was distracted, bored, uninspired, sick of flickers of interest and soon forgotten images, and was craving a slower more meaningful interaction with people I knew or artists whose work I loved or words I wanted to read. I found myself listening to a podcast about a photographer who had quit the platform who said "think about all of the other opportunities, platforms and options that you're missing out on by having all of your eggs in one basket...IG." And yep, I pretty much had all eggs in that one basket. In fact 97% of traffic to my website comes from IG and those visits account for roughly half of my yearly income, so yeah, IG is integral to my ability to earn a living from the knowledge and the skills that I have. But it did get me wondering, what AM I missing out on, what am I not seeing, what opportunities am I missing by being so focused on this one avenue of connection? So it was time to zoom out and take a look at the bigger picture.
So what did I find out after wiping IG from my life for two weeks?
Apart from the huge initial relief of hitting that delete icon on my phone, what I really noticed was the silence. Now, I'm a massive fan of silence and being a sensitive introverted soul I'm utterly comfortable being alone with my own thoughts for long periods of time, but this silence was different, in that it was accompanied by an unusual feeling of invisibility. Suddenly I felt completely invisible, and that felt a little uncomfortable. If I was invisible, how do I make a living? How do I communicate with the people who like what I do? How do I share, or inspire or talk or connect? I didn't know that relief and anxiety could exist in the very same place at the very same time - turns out it can.
As the days progressed I observed a kind of softening and opening up. My initial anxiety about my livelihood, anonymity and guilt of not showing up for people who supported me subsided, and I started to look around a little more, a bit like visiting a new city, like travelling to a new place when you wake up the day after arrival and take a stroll to gain your bearings and ask. "where do I find myself today?". Suddenly when I was online, I was "travelling" to new places, visiting new websites, watching videos out of pure curiosity, stumbling onto articles like turning a corner and instinct tells you there is something interesting just down there. In the real world I was not feeling as pressured, I had nothing to prove really, I had nothing to share, I didn't feel compelled to show what I was working on and sometimes I didn't feel compelled to work at all, but just rest and think. I was enjoying my studio time and I was able to focus on things more intently, without the constant need to pick up a phone - in fact the phone didn't even come with me to the studio, I didn't need it anymore.
Little by little I could hear my voice again. It became clearer and more confident as the days went on. I was able to objectively observe myself again, a birds eye view of everything rather than the tunnel vision created by an IG feed.
It was more expansive and my mind was clear. My black and white thinking subsided, I didn't need to disappear from IG all together, I needed to temper it, to lessen my interaction so that I can still be there, to connect with the beautiful people who I love to meet there.
In the new found quiet, I saw that I have so many options to communicate around me that I hadn't fully explored. So many draft blog posts unscheduled, Pinterest boards that didn't feature my work at all, and even found myself popping over to Patreon, a platform that in the past I has dismissed (and maybe not fully understood) and seeing the possibilities there with fresh eyes and enthusiasm. I looked a little more closely at Substack and even Youtube which I had never thought was a place I'd think to start a channel, it seemed far less noisy now compared to the constant swiping of reels and non-stop scrolling. I remembered that I do actually have access to platforms that I can control and own the content I create, like my newsletter, website and blog. IG could vanish and there goes years of time, images, documentation and observations. And then there are traditional formats too, like print media and good old world of mouth which is still such a powerful means of communication.
But numbers don't lie, and Instagram is still integral to my studio and making a living, and once again, it all seems to come down to balance and clarity and asking yourself how you wish to work, what works for you at various stages of life, what is fun (a most underrated reason for doing things) and how much time you can afford to maintain and contribute to the platforms you choose.
After 2 weeks away, I've been able to zoom out and take stock. I've been able to ask myself these questions without the noise and distraction of digital media and I have returned to a much calmer, less agitated state - which is integral not only to living a creative existence but just as a human, it's much nicer to live this way!
"Everything in moderation" my Pop used to say, and I think he was right. We need to honour our own wishes, our own pace and our own trajectories and feel less inclined (or forced) to succumb to the modern pressures of social media - of which we own and owe nothing.
I'm looking forward to connecting with the people I miss on IG again and have found a buoyant sense of interest again in the other platforms I've discovered and re-discovered while away.
My main take aways from this time away?
- Instagram is still an important part of my studio practice and means of income
- Moderation is key
- Go "travelling" once in a while and wander to new destinations, online and in the real world
- Showing up is important, but you get to decide when & why
- Taking a break from social media feels amazing, do it every few months to zoom out and see things differently
- Put your heart into the things you can control and the things you own
You know where you can find me.......@jo___olive but maybe not everyday from now on!