My 16th birthday fell on a dreary day in the middle of the coronavirus quarantine. November of 2020. It was raining hard, but I got to leave the house for the first time in months to get my hair done and buy some socially distanced coffee and new reading material at Barnes & Noble.
After I got home that afternoon, I plopped down on the couch to read my new books, but I couldn’t focus for more than a few minutes before getting distracted. Why? Because my brain, almost automatically, was too busy planning what I was going to post on Instagram to commemorate the day. I ended up going with a picture of me wearing a new lavender sweater and holding my dog. The caption I was planning: “I’d almost forgotten the taste of caramel iced coffee #sweet16”
I downloaded the photo, edited it a bit– it needed to be post-worthy, of course– and scrutinized my own appearance onscreen. Was my facial expression a bit weird? Or was I just overthinking this? I wasn’t looking at the camera; my eyes were downturned looking at the puppy. My hair looked nice for once. Right? Yes. It looked good. Right? Or did it look awkward? Did I look awkward? I was awkward. I was always awkward. No. It was fine. It was a great picture. This was great. I posted it, and then, anxiously, awaited the likes and comments. Who was going to wish me a happy birthday? Who wasn’t? Did it matter? Of course it did.
Later that night, I felt a gnawing sense of shame for three main reasons: the first, that I’d used a hashtag in the caption (cringe); the second, that I’d spent such a ridiculous amount of energy thinking about an Instagram post; and the third, that I knew exactly what I was doing and I knew it was sad but I couldn’t shake the artificial importance I had placed onto Instagram.
I knew that by posting that picture, I would be showing everyone who followed me that a) I have a cute dog b) my hair can look good c) I got iced coffee d) I am happy, even though I’ve been locked in my house for several months and there is currently a global pandemic.
From simply looking at my feed, no one would be able to tell how miserable I had been for the past 9 months. They’d probably think I was living my best life, loving 2020, completely unfazed by quarantine. And ironically, they would probably feel exactly how I’d been feeling every time I’d opened Instagram since that March. Well, really, since I first downloaded the app in 2018.
Fast forward to now, almost two years after that birthday, and I have just deleted my Instagram account permanently. No going back.
Deleting Instagram was an idea I flirted with for years, and I’d gone on cleanses of deactivating my account multiple times before, but I always chickened out and relapsed before ever permanently deleting it.
However, I finally took the plunge about a week ago. And now that I don’t have it anymore, I’ve started to become more and more nauseated by the culture surrounding Instagram, especially among Gen Z. Here’s why I deleted my Instagram account forever.
Why I Deleted Instagram
1) The main reason I originally downloaded Instagram was peer pressure
I got Instagram towards the beginning of my freshman year of high school, and school wasn’t exactly going that wonderfully for me. I had entered high school like pretty much everyone does, intending to remake myself into a new identity, but it didn’t work out exactly the way I had planned. I was lonely, I didn’t feel like I fit in, and a lot of girls made fun of me.
I had wanted social media for a long time, partly out of curiosity, partly out of wanting a feeling of independence, but also partly because I thought it would make me more accepted. Of course, this was stupid.
First of all, I hate taking pictures of myself in general (that’s still true), and I was also very insecure about how I looked, so I did not even post anything for the first nine months I had the app. I just thought that merely having it made me “cooler.” It was extremely cringey, yes. But I was 14 and that was how my mind worked.
Even after a couple years went by and I grew out of this mindset, I still didn’t want to delete the app because everyone in my generation has it. It’s like the default social media. You just expect that someone has an Instagram when you meet them. Or I did, at least. I always looked for people on Instagram after meeting them. I talked to acquaintances through Instagram. I caught up with my current friends through Instagram. I stayed in touch with old friends through Instagram. I wondered, at times, whether it was even possible to have a social life without Instagram, when everyone else was on it. So I never deleted it, even when I noticed how addicted I was. And that brings me to my next point…
2) Instagram made me feel dependent on something I didn’t even enjoy
Instagram– as all social media is intrinsically designed to be– was very addicting. I liked the instant dopamine hit of seeing people’s posts. I liked talking to my friends about what people posted. I liked when my friends tagged me in their posts. I liked being in the loop.
And when I started posting things myself, I became addicted to seeing the likes notifications pop up. I liked the feeling, the quick jump of excitement, of seeing that little red icon appear at the top of my screen– hey, people are liking my picture. I liked scrolling through the list of people who had liked my post, analyzing who had liked it, who had commented, and what this meant about their opinion towards me. I liked when people I knew from school would comment something like “so pretty!” or “so cute!” even though at the same time those comments pissed me off because they were such a weird, generic, empty social courtesy that seemed somewhat dystopian to me. At least that person cared enough to say it, I told myself. It’s just what you do.
I ended up pretty hopelessly addicted to Instagram, and I found myself checking it every day… just to check it. During the coronavirus quarantine, I was constantly opening Instagram and would spend hours each day on the app. I also realized that I was getting no value out of using it, despite the amount of time I was spending on it. Instead of learning things, or doing something that would better myself, I was resorting to mindless scrolling, watching reels, lamenting my life, reveling in jealousy and bitterness.
3) Instagram made me obsess over my image, and the app had way too much of a hold on my life
When I had Instagram, I mainly used it like the majority of my generation does: I had a personal account on which I followed my peers and posted photos of myself and my life. The problem with this was that I found myself placing way too much importance on my Instagram feed.
This is extremely embarrassing to admit now, but when I was in early high school I felt like having an Instagram was a necessity to be “relevant.” I wasn’t “relevant” regardless, but still, having Instagram and posting on it seemed like, well, an important thing to have. I wanted people to think I was a cool person to be friends with, and to do that, I thought, I needed to have an Instagram feed that made me look cool. I needed to post things that made me look like I had an interesting life and lots of friends, and I needed to post only pictures in which my hair looked nice and I was wearing makeup (not a common occurrence in my everyday life) and I needed my Instagram to look as polished as that of other girls. I wanted to participate in the same trends. I wanted to get the same kinds of comments. I wanted to look like I was more popular than I really was. I tried to curate my feed in a way that made me look like how I wanted to be rather than how I was.
And posting on Instagram was an anxiety-inducing experience. I scrutinized every photo I posted, wanting to make sure I looked okay, wanting to make sure everything looked nice enough for the ‘gram. After all, so many people were going to see it, and they were surely going to judge me for it.
When I got a little older I stopped trying to seem “cool” on Instagram and posted more of the kind of things that more accurately represented my real personality, but I still placed a lot of value on curating my feed to show only the best parts of my life, or to present myself in the specific way that I wanted to look. When I went on vacation, I was always planning the Instagram post I would make to show my vacation online. I worried about how to choose the best pictures to present myself in the way I wanted to be seen.
I even started archiving my posts from when I was younger and trying to seem “cool” because now I wanted to seem as if I didn’t want to seem cool. I was trying to get my Instagram to look as if I didn’t care how my Instagram looked. And I was spending time thinking about how best to make it seem like I didn’t spend time thinking about that stuff. I wanted people to think I didn’t care what they thought. The irony was palpable and eventually I had to admit it to myself.
I realized that my relationship with Instagram constituted a warped view of reality, and it disturbed me. I didn’t like the preeminence of this social media app in my life and my perception of normal social behavior.
I, of course, cared about the way I presented myself to the world. And Instagram, I thought, was the way to present myself to the world– or, at least, my peers. Though it was irrational, for a long time I felt like deleting Instagram would be throwing out an integral means of establishing myself and connecting with others. And I realized that this was a scary way to be thinking.
4) Instagram was preventing me from living in the moment
I recently reviewed The Stranger by Albert Camus, and one of the quotes from that novel that has stuck in my mind is this: “If something is going to happen to me, I want to be there.”
Mindfulness and living in the moment is something I have been trying to work on recently. You only get one life, of course, and I want to be present for every minute of it, as much as possible. I want to experience my life as it happens. I want to absorb every moment for what it is. I want to travel the world for the sake of it. I want to witness the beauty of nature and the novelty of being in a new place without calculating how it’ll look on my feed. I want to take photographs for myself, not for my reputation. I want my experiences to be mine, not merely opportunities to exploit and commodify for social media.
I didn’t like the way I felt obligated to post on Instagram after any interesting life event I had. Prom? Better post the pictures. Graduation? Of course I need to post some pictures. Pics or it didn’t happen, as they say. Right?
No, I realized. That’s no way to live.
5) Facebook has been destroying Instagram
One of the less personal reasons I made the decision to delete Instagram was because Facebook has recently been making a lot of very… not so good changes to the platform. First, they have been attempting to copy TikTok with Instagram Reels, and as I consider TikTok content to be one of the worst things to come out of Western civilization, I do not want it popping up on my feed. And it has been popping up quite a lot recently, as Instagram seems to want to become a video sharing app. You know, because that can help you milk the most mindless-scrolling time.
Instagram hadn’t even been showing me posts from the people I follow anymore, just bad short-form video that nevertheless sucks you in to keep watching and losing copious amounts of braincells. And giving Zuckerberg a ton of revenue.
(I also just dislike Facebook in general. I no longer have my Facebook and WhatsApp accounts either)
6) I realized that Instagram was ultimately stupid
The preeminent point of social media is to connect with people, and I realized that I didn’t need Instagram to do that. There’s already Discord and regular text messaging, both of which I use more often to contact my friends.
Instagram just generally functioned as a way for people to show off their lives to others that they barely knew, hoping to impress. I found myself wondering why I was sitting here looking at selfies from people I honestly did not care for and whose appearance on my feed made me strictly annoyed. And why did they need to see my pictures? Why was it necessary for me to commemorate every notable event with a post on Instagram? Why did I care? Why did it seem so important to post things? Why was I offended when people unfollowed me? Why did it feel as if this thing that was meant to be a fun way to connect with friends was instead a sinister means of quantifying social approval?
And why did I feel compelled to check the app whenever I was bored? I barely knew or liked half the people I followed. Even people I was friends with or wanted to be friends with, well, how was looking at their curated pictures and leaving a superficial comment going to help me deepen any sort of real friendship?
In fact, getting off of Instagram would allow me to know who actually cared enough to reach out to me and have a conversation via messages. It was more fun, anyway.
So, maybe my experience renders me an outlier. Maybe I was just abnormally neurotic about my appearance on Instagram, maybe I have a uniquely addictive personality, maybe I’m terminally online to an embarrassing degree and normal people don’t have this problem with social media and Instagram: it’s a distinct possibility. But I am forced to notice the hold that Instagram, as well as other social media apps that have arguably more of an influence, like TikTok, have on my generation at large.
You seldom see anyone in Gen Z, or really, anyone in any generation for that matter, without their phone. It’s normal to fill the lonely empty moments of life with a quick scroll, absentmindedly double-tapping photos or watching quick fifteen-second videos.
It’s normal for people to take pictures solely for Instagram, meticulously edit and then post them for some short-lived social validation in the form of likes and comments from peers and strangers alike. It’s normal for girls to care about how their Instagram feed appears to others. It’s normal for people to lament the toxicity of social media, but opt to remain on it all the same.
And the more I think about it, the more outrightly dystopian it seems to me. What are we doing to this generation? Why have we forgone experiences for appearances and connections for commenters?
I thought I would regret deleting my Instagram account. Surely I’d be back on it a couple days later, right? But so far, all I have felt is relief and liberation.
Because I don’t want to be a slave of social media companies anymore. It’s unsettling that they have so much control over us with these vapid apps that substitute shallow self-image enhancement over actual social connection. It’s unsettling to realize that people take Instagram seriously as a marker of social status and a necessity for life when it’s just an app designed to keep you as attached to it as possible so they can sell more of your information and show you more ads and continue to rake in the money.
I’m so happy now to think about how I will never again spend way too much time obsessing over the right sequence of pictures and captions to post on my Instagram feed so that people I don’t even like will judge me favorably. It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders every time I think about how I’ve gotten rid of my account for good.
Because I’ll be able to enjoy my life without ever having that pesky thought, almost involuntary in its persistence, about how it’ll all look on Instagram.
Do you use Instagram? Why or why not? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section!
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