It used to be that before I clipped Josie’s leash to her collar and walked out the front door, I made sure to slip my phone into the back pocket of my jeans. I took my phone with me on our afternoon walks, not so I could be reached in the case of an emergency, but so I could snap pictures along the way. I didn’t want to risk missing the perfect Instagram shot.
These days I leave my phone at home when I walk Josie. The habit began back in February, when I gave up all social media for Lent, and has continued long after the fast ended on Easter morning. Now, instead of fishing my phone out of my pocket when something catches my eye, I simply take note of it.
A painted lady butterfly balances on a swaying blossom, its proboscis nuzzling into delicate petals.
The way the evening light warms the greening landscape golden.
The Scotch pine bark that fits together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
It’s refreshing, liberating even, to appreciate beauty for its own sake, rather than as the means to an outcome.
My Lenten social media hiatus was transformative, not only because it helped me break my addiction, but also because the time and space revealed the deeper reasons I gravitate toward social media in the first place.
The truth is, while my intentions to use social media to share beauty and encouragement are genuine, underneath those good intentions also lurks a quiet but persistent vying – a vying to be visible, heard and relevant. A vying for approval and affirmation.
As psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman explains, stepping away from social media is a way to “quiet the ego” – and my ego is in constant need of quieting.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately not only about what compells me to post on social media but also about how I use it for entertainment and to quell boredom. Since reading Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism earlier this spring, I uninstalled Facebook and Twitter from my phone. But those are low-hanging fruit. Instagram, my biggest social media distraction, still tempts me daily, sometimes hourly.
Instagram is where I’m most likely to scroll mindlessly. It’s where I go when I’m bored or to kill time. It’s where I spend the largest portion of my social media time each day. When I finished my Lenten social media fast and had every good intention to keep my digital habits in check, Instagram is what derailed me.
The key to living successfully as a digital minimalist, according to Newport, is to “optimize” what brings you value while minimizing mindless scrolling. In other words, he says, “Take steps to extract the good from these technologies while sidestepping what is bad.” Aim for long-term meaning over short-term satisfaction, and “focus online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support the things you value.”
Instagram does offer some value to me, namely images of beauty and nature when I don’t have access to it in real life and a place to connect with people I know and like but from whom I am physically distant. With Newport’s advice in mind, I recently curated my Instagram feed so that it better reflects what I value. I unfollowed hundreds of people, keeping only those accounts in my feed that align with these values:
— Friends and people I know in real life but don’t see as often as I would like
— People who live in Nebraska
— People whose pictures appeal to me visually (namely, they share images of nature that I consider beautiful)
— People I might not know in person but who I can count on to share meaningful content that resonates with me.
Now, because I’ve curated my feed to optimize what I consider valuable and don’t waste as much time scrolling through content that doesn’t interest me, I actually spend less time each day on Instagram. And the time I do spend there is more fulfilling and meaningful because I am seeing more of the content I value.
It’s not a perfect solution. I still spend far too much time on Instagram, though I’m not quite ready to abandon it entirely. And if I’m honest with myself, I still also post content to social media at least in part as a means to be seen and feel relevant. Slowly, though, I am inching my way toward a more digitally minimal lifestyle that is both quieting to my ego and less consuming of my time and energy.