An Instagram Dilemma

A few months ago I was riding my cruiser bike to the post office when I realized something odd: I was pedaling down the ice-covered street in the middle of town on a perfect bluebird day, checking Instagram. No hands on the handlebars. No mittens, even. Not a wink of awareness for cars, pedestrians, icy roads or the beautiful scenery all around me—just total and absolute devotion to whatever was on my shiny little screen. I couldn’t even wait until I was standing in line at the post office. I thought: Something’s not right here.

I admit I’m addicted to human connection. Most of us are, and I think that’s natural. Social media is part of that—but the problem is, it’s not entirely the same thing. Somehow double taps, comments, tags, hashtags and reposts have started to creep in, providing the feelings that hand holding, eye contact and looking at the sunsets have given us for the past centuries. And I admit, it’s become a crutch for me. This way of connecting can feel easier than running into people at the coffee shop or happenstancing my way into that view from the top of a mountain. For me, I think it’s gotten out of hand. Like, running-people-over-on-the-bikepath-because-I’m checking-instagram out of hand.

So I decided to do something to understand my addiction to social media. My life feels so full, generous and rewarding, so why am I so glued to my phone?

I’m not shy. I live in an incredible community with tons of people who love me, I get after it outside all the time. Yet for some reason, I’ve been having trouble with the down time, the gaps between adventures and soul-quenching conversations. I was going to sleep with my phone every night, and then scrolling first thing each morning. What the heck! I thought I loved solitude, being “disconnected,” reading books, and mental rest. Suddenly I realized I was obsessed and overly absorbed in everyone else’s life (as portrayed on Instagram) and how it seemed they perceived mine. “Gross,” I thought to myself. “What is this all about? And how can I learn about my own behavior, because this doesn’t feel like me.”

So I created two new rules for myself:

1. No phone in the bedroom.
2. Every time you want to “check” Instagram, write down why you want to check it in an Instagram diary.

And my squishy rule that I broke over and over was:

3. Limit the times I look at Instagram to when I post something.

It took me at least three weeks to break the habit of mindlessly clicking on the Instagram app on my phone. Literally the first 20 entries in my Instagram diary were, “Just reached for it without even thinking about it.” There were also multiple entries along the lines of, “Just looking for a distraction to calm my nerves about this or that situation.” I also have justified my social media “checking” behavior as a form of marketing my new business as an artist and freelance illustrator.

The most revealing discovery I made? I genuinely don’t care about likes or other people’s posts. What I care about and crave more than anything is comments—why and how people are responding with my art, my words and whatever it is I’m sharing. I also got exceptionally anxious about checking Instagram a lot right after a big trip that I posted a picture of, a new painting I’m really proud to share or some big revelation I just had. It was a form of “staying in it” and not wanting the experience or feeling to be over.

I think the best part of social media is the consistent reminder that life is wide open and available to us, but in order to take advantage of that we have to keep getting out there and getting after it. We can share our experiences with others, but nothing compares to each new moment that happens in real life—especially not lying in bed looking at our phones. 

I don’t want to date my iPhone. I don’t want to fall asleep thinking about whether I was creative enough to explain myself to the world in my last Instagram post. And I definitely don’t want to worry about feeling like someone else is getting after it in the mountains more than I have been lately, based upon their social feed. I want real connection. Real experiences in nature. And I want to look you in the eye when you’re going through something hard. I crave hugs, shared meals, conversations on beautiful ridgelines and being surprised by how great the view is from a place I’ve never been to before.

Social media is one of many outlets for me to share all the joy I feel in my heart, all my curiosity for the world and all my mini-revelations. I don’t want to be making all these awesome revelations about life in a vacuum—and sometimes when you live alone and have these thoughts late at night while you’re dancing by yourself in your kitchen, it can feel like a vacuum. So in proper balance, social media can be a great gift. The key: proper balance.

I’m stoked to know more about my own tendencies and to have a better sense of what makes me tick. Connection, joy, and shared experiences are awesome, even virtually. But here’s to real-life chest bumps over digital double taps.

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Artwork by Sarah Uhl.