During “deep” winter, I noticed my mind had developed a “tick” that often prompted me to check in on the world through the lens of an iPhone anytime life afforded me a handful of spare seconds. This “check tick” would fire as soon as I turned off my alarm in the morning, at most red lights during my commute, while standing in line at Target, stretching after a workout, catching up on last week’s episode of Scandal, reading in bed at night and on various occasions in between. Eventually, handfuls of seconds turn into fistfuls of minutes and minutes into armfuls of hours. I realized that, on most evenings, I would rather conclude my day with eyeballs wandering through Instagram than reading. This both startled and grieved me. I was not “ok” with spending hours scrolling through doctored evidence of perfect scenarios with my eyes, mind and thumbs.
For the first few weeks, my “check tick” found other digital equipment to play upon. I began substituting Twitter, Pinterest and even email and the weather whenever I felt the need to “check.”
With some patience and self control, however, I noticed the random urges subsiding as March wore on.
I found I could focus on a book for more than just a few minutes at a time without reaching for my phone. I noticed more about my own surroundings when I normally would’ve buried my eyeballs in someone else’s. Life felt richer, cleaner, purer without the filter of social media sucking the color from the present moment.
Now, four weeks later the “check ticks” are completely gone.
I’m nearing the proposed end of my Instagram hiatus.
But I may not return - at least, not to the same degree of devotion.
And here’s why:
1. I can focus. As a kid, I could read for hours on end without having to mentally “come up for air.” As I morphed into an adult, I found myself losing the skill of prolonged focus on a printed page. Research has shown that social media’s command over our lives has actually taught our minds to jump from stimulus to stimulus every few minutes. For example, the average person checks their phone more than 150 times a day – that’s once every 6.5 minutes! This would explain why, just a few minutes after sitting down with a book I was excited to read, I’d feel my attention pulling in other directions. Since I removed Instagram from the pool of stimuli to choose from, I essentially re-trained my brain to focus on one item for an extended period of time. I now have no problem passing two hours where I only pause to turn the page.
2. I’m a better observer. Earlier I mentioned a heightened awareness of specific sensory details about the world around me since quitting Instagram. I now observe the glassy street mirroring the colors of headlights and traffic lights as I drive to work on a rainy day. I note the sound of my shoes clicking on Target’s tile floors as I hunt for the assortment of items I’ve set out to gather on my lunch break. I construct metaphors for what I experience in my head – a mental exercise that is both fun and rewarding.
4. I don’t have time. I once used Instagram to “kill time,” but in reality, I don’t have time to kill. Life is too short not to seize every opportunity to learn more about the world around me through reading or observing, “feeding” my creativity, brainstorming about my passion project (stay tuned, world) or praying for people I love, even at stop lights and while waiting in lines.
Now what? Today I plan to cautiously re-download Instagram, but I’m unwilling to return to patterns of thought that dwarfed my own potential. How we spend our time reflects what is important to us, and thus I’ve created a new “acceptable use policy” for Instagram that I plan to follow to the letter, despite it being slightly unconventional. After I finish my current reading endeavor, I'll post this new philosophy.
Until next time.