As a typical millennial who likes to show off the good parts of my life to the world, it took serious amounts of restraint and self control to not post anything on social media for a month.
But it had to be done. I came to realise that by only posting the highlights of my life, I was putting more thought into what my posts said about me, rather than how it might make my followers feel.
The truth is that sometimes our feeds can have a negative impact on others.
Whether its a single person being constantly reminded that all their other friends are loved up, or someone who is desperately trying to get pregnant dealing with new-mum spam, or someone who feels like an ordinary ‘average Joe’ struggling with the thought that everyone else appears to be enjoying an extraordinary life filled with wonder at every turn – scrolling social media can be a surprisingly depressing experience for some.
Having become aware of this, I decided to stop posting, and started reflecting. Here’s what I learned through the experience…
1. Instagram doesn’t portray the full truth about my life, but others might think it does
I know more about some people in my church from what they post on social media, than I do from conversations I've had with them in person. And the same will be the other way round.
I was talking to a friend at church the other day about this. The person in question knows me really well, but I was processing out loud with her the thought that if others in the church only went by my Instagram - they might think I’m not like them. They might think I’m someone who cares most about my career and the glamorous events I occasionally get to attend, when the truth is nothing means more to me than my faith, family and friends.
The problem is, many of my posts don't communicate my love for God or for those closest to me. This is something I'm now keen to change. I’m still planning on posting photos of my work perks, but I’m also going to make more of an effort to share other areas of my life that may not get so many likes but are more representative of who I am and what I care about. If people are going to learn about who I am from Instagram, then I want it to be a more accurate representation.
2. My iPhone Photo Album is a lot less full
I love taking photos. This was a habit that goes back to the days when Facebook and Instagram didn’t exist. I love capturing memories and cherishing them. I love looking back at photos and remembering the special moments. But what’s happened lately is that I will go somewhere or see something and instead of just capturing memories, I’m snapping away to make sure I get the very best photo for Instagram (I know, typical millennial!).
So, when I knew I wasn’t posting this month, I took less photos. My husband and I saw an amazing sunset near our home in south London, and I said to him, "I really want to get a good photo of it". But it was so freeing to know - I didn’t need a good photo. I wasn’t going to put it anywhere. So why did I need to capture it? Funnily enough, I remember that sunset more than others I have taken photos of, because I saw it through my eyes and not a lens.
3. I care more about my life than others do
If you don’t post on social media for a month, no one notices! No one has realised I’ve been away a month. No one has been missing my Insta-Stories showing my baking, or brunching, or just being silly with my loved ones. No one is missing my fancy travel shots or selfies.
The truth is, I care more about my life than others do. That’s not to say my followers don’t want to see any posts, they just don’t want to see every shot I think is worthy of some likes.
One month away from posting on Instagram has made me reflect on why I post photos in the first place. Why do I feel the need to share every decent photo of myself? Why do I feel the need to celebrate big milestones with a post? Why do I need to subtly (or not so subtly) brag? Going forward, I may still upload such posts, but I’m just going to take a moment to stop before I do and check why I feel the world needs to see that particular image.
4. It’s not a sin to want to post on social media
There’s nothing inherently wrong with what I post, or what I write. I’m not crossing any moral lines, and social media is just as much a place of positivity as it is of conflict. I love that when I post, my friends from around the world can stay up to date with my life. I love that when I post a memory it creates an instant time stamp that won’t go away. I love to share my experiences and my travels, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
I’m not an advocate of switching everything off forever or deleting your Facebook account. But taking a month off has reminded me to make sure my heart is right before I post. I want to think about my followers and how the post might make them feel. We’re used to checking ourselves before making a comment to someone in real life. But perhaps we aren’t so used to pausing before posting?
5. It’s more fun to upload posts that encourage people rather than raise your own profile
During the last month the thing that pained me most was not being able to share a post about my husband running a marathon. I wanted to tell the world I was proud of him, and publicly acknowledge his great achievement. I didn’t miss the selfies (in fact I barely took any) or regret not posting a picture of my pancakes (I just enjoyed them rather than photographing them), but I did miss using my social media channels to share others accomplishments and lift them up.
6. I need more willpower to not look at posts that upset me
While I do think we each have a responsibility for what we publish, I also believe we have a responsibility for what we choose to look at. And so, last but not least, I need the will power to not look at accounts that upset me.
If I’m following someone whose posts constantly bring my down, or make me feel unsatisfied with my life (for whatever reason) why do I follow them at all? You can mute Insta Stories and Instagram posts, or hide people on Facebook, without unfollowing or de-friending them.
In the middle of this social media fast, a friend at work pointed out, "Isn’t it up to each individual to post what they want because it’s their account. People can always unfollow". And there is certainly an element of truth in this. But for me, if I don’t go out of my way to upset my friends in person, why would I do it online?
When I reach the end of my days, I wont be regretting the posts that didn’t make it onto Instagram. But I might regret causing others pain by posting before thinking. Jesus taught us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Surely this should apply as much to our online postings as much as our offline conversations?
Leanne Halls is a journalist who lives in London
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