The Instagram Problem

Illustration of a girl thinking at the window

This essay was shared with my newsletter subscribers last week and it resonated so much I decided to publish it here as well

Self portrait illustration

The optimism waned almost immediately. A yucky feeling installed itself right above my navel and I couldn’t quite pinpoint it. What do you call this? It’s not sadness nor anxiety. It’s not awkwardness, it definitely is not indigestion.

There is no word for it I think, but I would describe it as a feeling of simultaneous meaninglessness and desire for meaning.

Resisting Instagram until late 2015 I became aware of it’s pitfalls almost immediately. Just as I had remained in the periphery of Facebook for years using it only for local groups or events, I wasn’t impressed by my findings.

​But by 2015 I was dreaming of making art the center of my work, a naïve beginner who thought: “if I work really hard I will be able to learn fast and get paid for it”. And so I started posting my drawings.

​I went through that terrible period of counting likes, followers, comparing how fast a fellow artist grew, I followed artists in secret, sometimes bitterly. I posted and waited. Like the teenage girl who posts a selfie and gets no likes, the heart sank. I always told myself: grow up!

​The icky feeling was intense, not because of lack of engagement but because I worked hard on my websites and tried to do all the tricks in the book to get some result. I sold leggings, and tote bags, clip art sets, prints. But the main focus of everything was Instagram.

​I took a first month off from Social Media in 2017. Then again the next three years. This past summer I took two months off.

The sandals I didn’t buy

In the midst of it, I shifted from trying to sell Dropshipped products to simply having my blog. ​

The focus now is reconnecting with my own preferences, interests and tastes. Take the weight off Instagram.

​This requires a bit of discipline.

Uninstalling the app for a couple of days is the first line of defense.

​The second is following diverse accounts and not only artists.

I followed more historical, vintage, poetry and tarot accounts.

​And once I felt a bit more “mature about it”, I decided to invest in a course.

It was a good moment to do it, I learned a lot about photography and my feed did change from posting badly overhead photos to images that better represent my workspace. It didn’t grow exponentially like the testimonials said. It didn’t matter, mostly, I began treating Instagram like my own private magazine. This turned it into a fun thing again.

​For a bit.

​It so happens that no matter how hard one tries, Instagram sucks our time and energy. One photo takes quite a few minutes to perfect, edit, write, hashtag and publish. I usually do not write on my phone (tired eyes) so I transfer my photos to the desktop and use the Facebook Creator Studio (*sigh*) to write and publish my photo. It’s a drag sometimes.

Some of the things I tried and didn’t work

  • Batch editing and scheduling – talk about ripping the insta part of the gram. Zero spontaneity
  • Writing a month of captions – read above.
  • Taking many photos and just pick and choose – the time it will take you to later sift through everything defeats the purpose.

Now, I don’t obsess over the perfect photo. I use VSCO to edit, usually the same preset and I’m so lazy that I copy and paste edits to my photos. Maaaaybe I’ll edit the exposure. And yet, doing the minimum, minutes given to Instagram add up.

The collective misery

I took the Instagram course in February and did most of it. I decided to join this round and I couldn’t help but notice that after the cohort’s initial enthusiasm, joy seems to dwindle after the first two weeks. When I log into the community, I see a long trail of insecurities, discouragement, sadness, feeling inadequate and a lot fear of “Not doing it right”, which in turn rubs into me and makes me question my own account and my own photos.

It’s a vicious cycle:

​Feel bad – resolve to distance myself from it – find a stride – unconsciously begin comparing again – look for how-tos – feel bad and start gain.

The Thinking Life

So what am I doing?

First, I wanted to write about it. To acknowledge that I’m not above it and that feelings come and go. Second, reduce decision fatigue by deciding quickly if I’ll post a photo or not. If not, I delete it. If yes I post it. No more scratching my head about whether it’s the right time, if the hashtags are right, if this or that.

​Everything circles back to Feeling. Does it feel good, does it feel icky? It’s as easy as that. The more we try to strategize and hack our way through it, the quicker we enter the tunnel of meaninglessness.

Breaks are important, yet when I wrote about my summer break I received several messages saying: I wish I could do that. And I wondered: what prevented them?

​Instagram has been great for making friends, finding solutions, learning stuff; it seems we find everything through it but when uneasiness arises we have to use all our might to distance ourselves from it. Uninstalling the app for a while or disabling the account, pruning our following list, discovering things in other platforms and finding inspiration elsewhere.

​It can be done. Online life is more than this.

​We can visit virtual museums, take notes, read biographies, watch documentaries, listen to new music, read, listen to and write poems.

​An expression in French that always makes me laugh or cringe depending on the context is cri de coeur (a scream from the heart), but in this case, I’ll say this is my cri de coeur to fellow artists who develop heavy hearts because of a social network: if it doesn’t feel right, distance yourself for a bit. We usually need more than one break to start to feel like the world isn’t going to end because we “neglect” our account.

​Or as I do more and more often, go on a commenting spree, you know if you feel sad that your post didn’t do well, someone else is also feeling down, so pick a hashtag and visit posts and leave thoughtful comments. You just made someone’s heart skip a little.

The plant I didn’t kill

Thank you to everyone who replied and shared their experience with me. I will definitely continue exploring this topic as well as everything related to how our brain has not evolved enough to keep up with times like these and how, in my very inexperienced and non-academic views, most of our mental health problems are stemming from our stuck homo sapiens brain.

Creativity should be one of our defense mechanisms but we are losing it in real-time by trying to monetize and popularize it. The funny thing is that we all know the benefits of stepping away from these tech titans and yet we are unable to.

Many questions, many questions…