Mary Baines

A month ago today, I quit Instagram cold turkey.

Standing outside one of the most iconic buildings in the world – the Louvre in Paris – I got lost in a throng of iPhone-wielding Instagrammers vying for the perfect shot. A rabid pack of publicity-hungry narcissists.

A group of friends bickered over which photo to post. A man candidly kissed his girlfriend for the camera before being admonished for failing to capture her best angle. A woman was more interested in how her face looked with a Valencia filter than what was around her.

It got me thinking: Why do we use Instagram? Confronted by the answer, I decided to give it up.

Instagram is a digital pissing contest; a show-off medium. Sun-kissed holiday snaps and smug couple selfies are little brags that say “Look at me! My life is not as mundane as yours is! Look at how pretty and cute and kooky and healthy and effortlessly cool I am! I’m on holiday staring wistfully into the distance #Wanderlust! With the gals #SquadGoals! Gym sesh #Fitspo! Boyfriend spoils me #BoyDoneGood! #Fashion #Flowers #Fun #Friendship!!!” Like. Follow. Like. Follow. Repeat.

As the old adage goes: If something isn’t posted on Instagram, did it ever really happen?

It’s no wonder that Instagram is a breeding ground for insecurity – it’s an unending stream of perfect strangers seemingly hotter, healthier and happier than you are. Bikini-clad bodies of beautiful women. Ex-boyfriends and girlfriends holidaying with new lovers. Acquaintances having babies and buying houses and getting married.

A gentle reminder: Instagram is a fake reality. Smoke and mirrors and filters. The considered cultivation of a flawless e-version of oneself.

Numerous studies have found social media can be incredibly harmful to one’s mental health, exacerbating feelings of anxiety, depression and poor body image. Yes – I am aware this is desperately millennial snowflake, but FOMO is real. Instagram’s “I am always having a good time” propaganda is damaging.

So why do we gram?

Sometimes we cruise for attention in the form of likes, addicted to social-media’s micro-validations. 100 affirmations and “Slay girl! Eyebrows on fleek” comments are vital to up our fragile self-esteem. Instant gratification.

At other times, in this celebrity-obsessed world, we want to feel famous. Instagram is our very own platform to promote ourselves. We can be whoevWer we want to be! I’m special! I’m unique! I’m important! Maybe if I comment on Kim K’s vid she’ll see it … we’re friends, right? Maybe I’ll make videos like she does! Maybe then they’ll make me a Skinny Tea #ad ambassador!

We’re also driven by digital escapism. So bored with the chore of domestic life, we crawl into the Instagram rabbit hole. 158 weeks deep into an ex-colleague’s boyfriend’s profile in a bid to distract ourselves from our own problems we should be confronting IRL.

Then there’s those of us with a Pavlovian response to the ping of the notification. Ingrained in our thumb’s muscle memory, we scroll and switch between social media apps until the cute wee red heart alert appears again. Trained monkeys with phones. Mindless.

And of course, for many, Instagram is a place to feel more connected, like an important member of a boundaryless online community. Sharing ideas and niche interests and lols. It’s a tool to keep in touch with loved ones around the world. Memes.

But there’s something deeply troubling about how narcissistic we’ve become as a society. It’s tragic, in fact. This Insta world is not real.

Am I too cynical? Am I reaaaallllyyy overthinking this? Am I just bitter because I have <400 followers? Maybe. But what I can say with certainty is that since I shunned the app, I’ve had far more time to pursue other things (two hours a day, to be precise). I’ve even slept better.

While some days my grieving thumb automatically drifts and hovers over where the app once lay, I think I’ve kicked my Insta habit for good. If you’re thinking about a detox, I implore you – do. I guarantee life will suddenly become a lot more simple.

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