Back in the fall of 2020 I opened up the iPhone activity tracker and to my surprise I saw that I was spending an average of 3.5 hours a day on my phone. More specifically 2.5 hours of that was spent on Instagram. According to this TechJury article an average person spent 2 hours and 24 minutes per day on social media in 2020. That’s 15.7 hours per week, 815 hours a year, which translates to 34 full 24 hours days in a year. Think about it: the average person spent well over one month on Instagram in 2020!
I asked myself what Instagram was giving back to me in exchange for my most valuable asset — time. I came up with:
- Targeted ads every 4 posts.
- Stories of my friends boomerang cheersing (repeated at least 5 times because the whole group would re-post the same thing).
- A few funny memes and a couple of chuckles.
Were these really worth 17.5 hours a week of my time? What else could I be doing in those hours that would be more beneficial to me? I decided to delete Instagram off my phone and deactivate my account for one month to see what would happen.
It was the second best decision I made in the fall of 2020 (the first was accepting an offer on a new job).
Now that I had over 17 hours of free time in a week, I could focus that time on learning something new and reading a few books. The first thing I did was I turned my attention back to Duolingo. Duolingo is a language learning app that I had been using to study Spanish over the years, and I decided to give it dedicated time and focus now. I also started going through my book list and reading the books I had wanted to read for a while.
Before we move on, let’s take a step back and understand why people spend so much time on Instagram. It is a well known fact that the app (and social media in general) was designed to be addictive. It was designed to keep members coming back and staying on there as long as possible to see as many ads as possible. That’s how the app makes money. And the way to keep members on there is to reward them.
According to Steve Rose in “Why We Are Addicted To Social Media: The Psychology of Likes” here “Likes on social media are addictive because they affect your brain, similar to taking chemical substances. Likes symbolize a gain in reputation, causing you to constantly compare yourself to your peers.” The article “How removing ‘likes’ from Instagram could affect our mental health” dives a little deeper into the like button, why it has such a powerful effect on us and the possible side-effects of removing it. The author, Jamie Leventhal, explains “This social reward system activates the ventral striatum, a part of the brain that focuses on decision making and reward-related behavior. It’s the same area that’s fired up when people gamble, enjoy a slice of cake or have sex, and cognitive neurologist Ofir Turel thinks this is why checking social media is so enticing.”
I personally could see that after a while of not being on Instagram I was feeling lighter and more relaxed mentally. I started noticing two subtle but big changes.
1)My life was quiet all of a sudden. I no longer knew what people ate, where they went, and who they hung out with that day. I hadn’t realized how much extra noise was added to my life via Instagram until I silenced it. If I wanted to know what someone was up to, I would message them and ask. It made my communications more intentional, authentic and sincere. I connected with people that I genuinely missed and wanted to say hi to. Once the noise was gone, I was free to focus on thoughts and actions that were important to me instead of being constantly weighed down by what others were doing.
2) I noticed that I had stopped going about my day with potential Instagram posts and stories lurking in my mind. Whether we realize it or not, all of us who are active on there do that. We take photos of our food, of our walk, of our pets, of our workouts, of anything we can, just for the purpose of posting them on social media and getting that instant attention and gratification. Once that need was gone from my day to day life, I just lived in the moment. I only took photos when I was inspired by what I saw. I lived, not because I needed to show the world I’m living, but because I just was.
These two things alone had very subtle but powerful effects on me. Not only did I have all this free time now, but I also had a clear mind that wasn’t filled with unnecessary noise. My mind was solely focused on me and what I wanted to do and accomplish.
Looking back on the last three months, I’ve done so much I’m proud of. I found a new job, I repainted my whole apartment, read 7 books, won the Duolingo Diamond league (that’s a big deal if you know Duolingo), wrote three articles on Medium including this one, finished 3 online courses related to my new job, and fully immersed myself into ramping up at a new company remotely with all of the challenges that come with that. I also spent 4–5 hours a week ice skating for fun and exercise because I still have time and energy left over.
I am back on Instagram again, and the reason is simple. I’ve been passionate about photography since I can remember, and I like sharing my photos. That’s the only thing I’ll use Instagram for — sharing photos I enjoy with friends. I don’t browse or flip through stories. Now that I am fully aware of the negative effects of social media in my life and on my mental health, I’ll never get sucked in again.
Now I challenge you to check the activity tracker on your own phone and see how much time you spend on social media per day. Ask yourself what else you could be doing with that time, and tell me: What would you be doing?