Instagram is toxic
And why I will no longer be using the platform
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and it’s time. In my last post I shared the shame and guilt I feel around relationships. After some reflection and some meaningful conversations (thank you for reaching out!!), I think the shame and guilt comes from unrealistic expectations and miscommunications about relationships caused by social media, how differently Los Angeles is organized compared to London, and my job.
In this newsletter, I am going to focus on the effect of social media.
Numerous articles, books, and movies document how social media has drastically changed our personal relationships. While social media is a tool, I definitely have not learned to use it in a way that helps us build and maintain deep, meaningful, and nourishing relationships.
I have decided to only use email (substack/blog), WhatsApp/text, and phone/video call (and stop actively using Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Hinge/Bumble/Tinder, and Twitter) and here’s why:
Reason 1: Followers Not Friends
Video/phone calls and long emails, but when shit hits the fan, there is no way that person can fly out in ten minutes and come help me crying by the side of the road after a car accident; they can’t pick me up after I get my wisdom teeth removed; they can’t help me navigate the school system that is actively harming my students, my colleagues, and my own mental and physical health. These types of relationships require proximity that most social media tools, especially Instagram, do not take into consideration.
I have found, however, that video/phone calls and long emails/blog posts where you can privately respond help me maintain a connection with friends and family who live far away to share advice and experiences, celebrate big life achievements, and make plans to be together.
Instagram does not make me feel connected. It makes me feel like a follower and not a friend. I especially hate finding out big life achievements over Instagram. I have been meaning to tell these friends that it upset me, so sorry if this was you - but finding out someone I considered a close friend is getting engaged, buying a house, having a baby, or adopting a puppy made me feel really unimportant. In the moment, I told myself - well, this is the 21st century - this is how we do this, but I couldn’t ignore the plummet in my stomach thinking, “Really! They couldn’t have called?!”
To me, 75% of the joy in celebrating life achievements is seeing people’s reactions when you tell them your news. It creates a special memory! I remember when my friend called me to say she was engaged. I was in this bougie grocery store in Shoreditch buying pasta sauce, and I was so excited that I dropped to jar! The red paste went all over the floor. “I’m so sorry, sorry,” I said, “My roommate from college just got engaged and I’m so so excited!!!”
When I found out another close friend got engaged, I don’t remember anything except that I was casually strolling Instagram, usually when I feel lonely, and I saw a picture of them at a restaurant, and read the caption. “We’re engaged!" it said. WHAT!! I commented and then texted her. She didn’t respond for a few days because she was busy making plans, and then said, “Thanks!” Then it took another week for us to find time to have a phone call about it. During that time, my excitement dwindled and I felt hurt that she didn’t call me to tell me the news herself. I had to found out she was engaged in the exact same way that her old roommate who is my ex-boyfriend that she doesn’t talk to anymore found out; the way her old boss found out; the way a random person she met while traveling found out.
Is this the way we do it in the 21st century? Or is this just the way people do it because we are so busy and overstimulated that we don’t have time for the most important and essential things in life, our close family and friends!
I am not your follower, I am your friend!
Reason #2: FOMO vs Invitation
I am part of an organization called OVERDUE. We organize community service events all over the world; we have chapters in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Miami now. It’s exciting! The way we got started was on NextDoor, and from there Instagram and basically all the social media platforms. While we have found a number of people using these platforms, it’s kind of capped out. We keep wondering, how can we get more people to come?
I think that while some people feel empowered enough to come to a random event they find on the internet to hang out with a bunch of strangers, most people don’t. For most people, watching videos of a bunch of people they don’t know drinking at a bar together after picking up trash makes them feel FOMO. It doesn’t feel like an invitation. More than that, it can feel like a brag. Look how good of a person I am!
I’m on the board and I volunteer almost every Friday, I feel like that sometimes when I go on Instagram and look at our posts/stories, and these are my FRIENDS! I am even in some of the videos that cause me to feel FOMO.
I see other organizations posts too, and I have that same excluded, disconnected feeling. I think, they look so happy without me. I don’t think, gosh, they really want me to be there!
I think, “Gosh, another event I didn’t have time for because I have to work hard doing an invisible, undervalued, and exhausting profession. Another event that was way too far away or expensive for me to get to! Another event that my friends went to but didn’t invite me to because it was spontaneous/last minute, or I didn’t check my Instagram!” How many hikes, dinners, casual hang outs do I need to see my other people go on without me, where if I had known in advance I might have been able to go!
Those posts erode my self-esteem and make me question my friendships. They don’t make me want to text the friend and say, “Hey, I saw you went on a hike with our friends, I wish you had invited me. Let’s organize one together next time!”
Instead, I just start putting up boundaries and looking for new friends who actually invite me to shit. I don’t want to do that. I love you guys! I want to work through these issues instead of writing in my journal and crying alone in my bedroom.
This last point- about how busy and work oriented our culture is now - is a great point to transition to talking about why LA is especially challenging for relationships.
I won’t share those thoughts in this newsletter, in the next one though! Just know, that I’ve deleted the Instagram app off my phone and will only use it on my desktop computer, so if I don’t respond — direct message me!
I haven’t deleted the app entirely because it is a pretty good way to find out about events and resources, meet new people, and host people’s contact details.
Would love to hear your thoughts- the good, the bad, and the ugly about this newsletter. I know it’s not the nicest thing to read, but it’s my honest thoughts.
And (paraphrasing bell hooks) love without honesty is manipulation.