How are we all feeling about social media these days? I only ask because in the last month I have had a major shift in perception, particularly towards Instagram.
God I used to love Instagram. I mean, I still do up to a point. It’s just endlessly fun and interesting. Reels, Instagram’s answer to TikTok, is hilarious and a damn sight more amusing than tapping through boring IG Stories. And I got sucked into it, badly. While Reels is brilliant if you need to make ten or fifteen minutes go up in smoke, it’s too easy to think “I’m bored”, open Reels and then 45 minutes has vanished.
And I no longer have the excuse that it’s the modern equivalent of knitting for mothers will small children. You know what I mean, an activity that you can pick up and put down multiple times a day and it doesn’t matter if you are interrupted. I no longer have the excuse because my children aren’t really that small anymore and I would quite often do a deep dive into Reels when they were both out of the house all day.
And I think it melts your brain. Do you remember a few years ago reports that Silicon Valley bosses – think Steve Jobs – didn’t let their own children have an iPad? At the time I thought it was because they were pathetic ninnies, but in fact it ought to have been a huge red flag. This shit is bad for you. And they ought to know because they invented it. In fact, there was a thing in the paper yesterday that Facebook bosses know that Instagram makes teenage girls incredibly unhappy. An internal memo in 2019 told the company that Instagram makes body issues worse for 1 in three teenaged girls and that’s only the ones who admitted it.
But even back when it was the early days of smart phones and apps, they must have known and understood full well that the flick, flick, flick of apps and games and whatever was not only highly addictive but shrivelled your attention span and left people fidgety and forgetful. Whether they also understood how anxious, paranoid and depressed it could also make people back then I don’t know, but that’s certainly what it does do.
When Instagram isn’t actively destroying braincells, it is almost impossible, unless you follow only news accounts not to “compare and despair”, even if it’s not conscious, even if you are not a teenage girl. I have for a long time operated a strict protocol of muting any account that makes me feel bad, even for a second, and even then the tidal wave of EXCITING NEWS and NEW COLLABORATIONS and NINETEEN FIGURE BOOK DEALS and LOVE THIS GIRL and NOT BAD FOR A TUESDAY gets in there and sets up shop and makes me feel bad all day. Often I don’t even know why I feel bad or what I feel bad about, I just do. I feel bad.
I think it’s the exposure to the endless other possibilities of what you could or should be doing that is so confusing and ultimately quite paralysing. Rather than just plodding on with whatever it is that you are doing, after even a modest amount of time on Instagram you look about yourself, scared and confused and think “Maybe I ought to re-train as a potter, or a calligrapher or a paramedic!” If you have even a slightly fragile sense of self, it’s worse. You can fall into a deep, dark pit of self-hatred because you are not Emma Raducanu, despite having no interest in tennis and actually very weak lungs. It can make you feel really quite unwell.
And I know this because for the last month I have had a 15 minute time limit on Instagram. You can do this too by going to Settings/Screen Time/App Limits. Fifteen minutes gives me the option of checking for DMs, which I get every now and again, and broadcasting new Spike posts as the email-out alerts are on the fritz at the moment. And yes, okay, also to enjoy a burst of Reels should a 15 minute window of nothing arise in my day. And when the “5 minutes left” note pops up I am aways so surprised, it comes round so quickly. How much time was I burning on there before?
Since I’ve had this limit on my Instagram I have felt so much better. I don’t want to make a living from Instagram – I tried that once and it wasn’t compatible with good mental health – and so what is it there for? It certainly shouldn’t be for lying for 30 minute stretches at a time on the sofa flicking through Reels while absolutely nothing else gets doing. And then feeling like crap afterwards.
I know that many Spikers are not and have never been on any kind of social media and I’ve always found that most impressive. But those of you that were or still are, what’s the deal with you and it at the moment? Are you at the time limit stage, or have you deleted your account entirely?