Last summer I stopped posting on Instagram.
We hadn’t long come out of our first lockdown in Scotland, but despite the clear skies and emerald trees, everything was overwhelming. I worried about my temporary job contract, my family, paying the mortgage, my partner’s work.
To reduce my anxiety, I stopped sharing moments of my life on social media.
As the weeks passed, and autumn came in a bloom of gold, my mind quietened.
I found space to think deeply about life here and now.
As I did, a faint sentence echoed whenever my thoughts fell to social media. It said:
My life is not content.
I wasn’t sure where this mantra came from. It seemed to have bubbled up from the depths of my brain, questioning the tension between our online lives (the content of posts and photos) and our contentment itself. But I listened.
Because in the last decade, the way we communicate with our friends, family, and even total strangers has transformed. And thanks to the pandemic — lockdowns, remote working, and homeschooling — this change has accelerated.
Now, we host pixellated parties and office meetings by video. We broadcast life milestones like marriage and childbirth to our feeds, often to faces we haven’t seen in years. Some of us aspire to influence, molding our moments for others to consume.
By necessity, our lives and relationships are more digital than ever before. That means it’s even more important we question the value social media brings into our world.
I wish I’d questioned that sooner myself.
Because a few years ago — not that I would have admitted it at the time — I was addicted to Instagram.
Trying to find my way with a career, I’d started my own travel blog on the side. Influencer marketing was growing and so were the opportunities. I set up an Instagram account and began to share photos from my weekend adventures there, too.
Soon I would come home from work — which, by then, also involved social media — and spend hours at night online. Commenting on other people’s posts, ‘growing’ my audience, agonizing over my captions and what people would think of them, and curating my life in such a way that I became, online at least, a one-dimensional character.
I did this solidly for almost 2 years.
I thought I was sowing the strong foundations of a side business. What I’d sown were the seeds of an obsession.
It took me a long time to realize this, and even longer to upend the negative behaviors I’d cultivated over the years. For example, I would find myself in a beautiful location and the first thing I’d think of was which spot I could take the best photo from. Content came first, the actual experience — and my own happiness — came second.
My story is an extreme example. You may not relate to it at all, or you might shiver seeing your own habits reflected in my words. Regardless, there is a lesson here for everyone who loses precious minutes or hours every day scrolling, tapping, or swiping.
We need to be more mindful of how we use, and share our lives, to social media.
When I consider how I’d like to use Instagram and other digital platforms, there are a few mantras I now return to. These may also be valuable reminders for you, too.
1. Our lives are not content.
Our lives aren’t a series of moments we need to curate in photos and videos for our Instagram feeds. Our lives are made up of the smallest moments, the deepest of them spent without distractions, our phones far away from our dependent fingers. Just breathing and being.
2. Nobody has to ‘like’ our lives apart from ourselves.
Social media platforms are built to be addictive by taking advantage of our social anxieties; our desire to be liked. But step back and remind yourself that the choices you make don’t need validation from anyone. The only person who should endorse your own life is you.
3. Consider the purpose of your post.
What we share on social media can be heavily influenced by how we want the world to see us. How much of our posts are a performance? Who are you really sharing this for? There’s something powerful nowadays about keeping things close to your heart, private, secret. Maybe there’s no need to post it online at all.
Now more than ever, when so much of life has moved online, it’s an even greater challenge to be a digital minimalist.
Yet with the trees empty and flecks of snow making our windows glitter at home in Scotland, perhaps disconnecting more mindfully can offer greater calm in a chaotic world.
About the Author: Laura is a writer and social media specialist based between the sea and countryside in Scotland. Her work centers on slow travel, digital minimalism, and how social media is changing the way we experience places. Find her at laretour.com