In HuffPostUK’s 28-day scroll-free challenge, we’ll be trying to find a better balance with social media. Coinciding with the Royal Society For Public Health’s Scroll Free September campaign, we’ll be publishing experiences, tips and motivation. Sign up for our daily email featuring tips and motivation – you can start the challenge at any point in the month.
When my editor asked me to take part in the HuffPost Scroll Free challenge I was super excited. But the excitement was short-lived when I discovered she wanted me to give up Instagram for a week. Weirdly, I felt offended that I’d be singled out as the person to give it up.
You won’t see any avocado toast on my ’gram but I document my personal brand: my outfits, my journalism, and of course a sprinkling of Bollywood-inspired fashion memes. Admittedly, I post more than most - on average three to four times a week - but I have never felt addicted.
Instead I’ve found social media to be positive place to find my online community who ‘get it’ and to follow people I admire. And the truth is, I know I’m the type to upload and log out (not falling prey to the endless scroll). But maybe the rest of the world doesn’t see me that way?
Determined not to be put off by my initial scepticism, I settled in for seven days without Instagram.
Although my challenge started on Monday, the Sunday evening before I couldn’t shake this feeling of panic, was I going to miss out? I posted three photos in the space of two days, which I rarely do, and then sent the app to the delete folder.
I woke up and switched off my alarm and like a digital reflex, my right thumb automatically went to where the Instagram app usually is. In all honesty I wasn’t pleased when I remembered I needed to start my week without a source of clothing inspiration.
As I went about my day, I noticed my behaviour fitted the addicted cliches more than I predicted it would. As I waited for the bus, my hand reached for my phone. As I changed a song, a quick timeline check was thwarted.
As the day went on I already noticed I was paying less attention to my phone, and it happened quickly. By bedtime, I felt more relaxed, which was probably helped by reading a book rather than diving into YouTube.
When talking to a friend about what I was doing this week we discussed how when we are on holiday, we forget about our phones for hours and hours at a time. But in our everyday lives we feel the need to always be ‘on’. Why is that?
Of course as a freelancer there is this idea that quitting Instagram would be cutting off opportunities to network. Or when I’m writing a piece and looking for interview subjects it’s always good to have a pool of creatives at my finger tips.
Yet what this made me wonder about all the people I follow: how many of them do I know by their full names? How many would I remember if I were to quit Instagram all together? The feeling felt similar to quitting Facebook and noticing who your real friends are because you celebrate their birthday without a digital reminder.
It’s the middle of the week and I’m catching up with a friend who’d been away in Helsinki for work. When I asked more questions about the trip her response was surprising: “I thought you would’ve seen it on my Instagram story?”.
I felt a pang of disconnect from my world, and what my close friends got up to, and although it was the only time it happened in the week, it felt strange.
Being part of the millennial generation there’s rarely any detail we miss out - even our tagged photographs illustrate the candid version we might want to edit out. On reflection, not being in the loop while talking to my friend about her time away, felt odd, but rather refreshing.
As the week went on I was thinking more about how Instagram blurs the lines between online and offline. You may never have met someone in real life, but you feel you know them, even though we’re all more and more aware that people only show their highlights reel online.
Several comments throughout the week made me think that perhaps people thought they knew a lot about me (and my relationship with Instagram). When I told a friend what I was doing - admittedly someone I’ve only spoken to online - she was taken aback, “How are you doing that?”. Although I reassured her I was fine, the comment stayed with me.
A colleague expressed similar pity. “It’s a shame you’re doing the challenge this week as this could’ve been a really good outfit photo”. Do people close to me really think Instagram is such an important feature in my life? How much do they think my personality relies on it? I wasn’t sure whether to be offended or not.
After yesterday’s self-reflection I thought more about how I see my relationship with Instagram versus how others see it. Am I in denial about my habit?
The answer came to me at dinner (while wearing a neon green sweater). I was all ready to take a snap on my phone and I realised I’d barely taken any pictures all week. For a girl with a camera roll of 11,824 pictures that’s saying something.
But it’s not like I’d been at home all week: I’d been out twice for drinks, to a festival and a family dinner but had only taken 35 pictures. That’s compared to a grand 291 the week before. Surely I hadn’t subconsciously stopped taking photos just because I knew I couldn’t share them? I started wondering if perhaps Instagram had made me a total narcissist without even realising.
After my revelation last night I was ready for a spontaneous day out at a festival with my friends. The lineup was full of famous faces and great music, but I couldn’t help but notice everyone was more focused on recording it.
I’m clearly not a scrooge when it comes to social media but it was interesting watching everyone record bitesize seconds of content, all in the name of capturing a moment. And without this challenge, I would have probably been doing the same.
The last day felt bitter-sweet. I know it is my choice to use Instagram but thinking about going back, I already knew the amount of effort I’d need to put in to keep up the brand I’ve built. It felt like the first day back at school.
Although I know this week won’t make me give up Instagram, the biggest lesson I learned is to not waste time on Instagram and before I take a random photo, I’m going to ask myself why I’m doing it.
Instagram can be beautiful but I’ve found most of the time, it was filling up time where I wasn’t being present; and that’s really what I’d rather be doing.