by Marielle Nicol
When procrastinating, I’m my most productive. I’ll do laundry, clean my room, disinfect everything I’ve ever owned, pretty much complete any other task than the one at hand. However, whatever I do is tinged with the guilt that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing and the fear that I inevitably will have to.
In January I began the final term of my degree, so as you can imagine, I had a lot of things to procrastinate about. Sitting in front of my computer ready to work, my hand would slowly waver in the direction of my phone and open Instagram where I would remain for the next twenty minutes. Sometimes I would tell my hand, ‘Stop! You don’t even want to! You need to work!’ And yet, in a matter of split seconds, that voice was silenced by the sheer power of habit, or perhaps more accurately as Haley Nahman puts it, the power of the Instagram “algorithm designed to hold [my grasp] steady.”
I know from speaking with friends that I am not the only one who experiences this. The irresistible rapture of Instagram was increased tenfold by the addition of stories. When they first came out, I jokingly asked my manager, “Seen any good stories lately?” He, being extremely wise, responded that he had no intention of watching them. “That app has already ruined my attention span,” he said. “Now I see people tapping their screens two seconds into a ten-second clip because they’re bored and want to get to the next one.” Gulp.
It was around this time that it dawned on me how bad it would feel to graduate feeling like my final term had passed me by without having paid it the proper attention. I pictured myself being congratulated, being told how proud I must feel, but really feeling guilty that I hadn’t tried my hardest, and having a dirty little secret that I spent the majority of the term on Instagram. This, I realized, was a silly thing to worry about, because I could easily change the state of affairs. I deleted the app from my phone.
This shocked me in two ways: the first, how easy it was; the second, how much time it really must have been taking out of my day because I began to find an hour or two here and there in which I could check something off my to-do list. It is embarrassing, but not surprising that a number of times when preparing to work, my hand reached for my phone only for my brain to remember there was nothing to be seen. Sometimes I looked through my own photos to satisfy the craving for colourful pictures (?), which lasted about thirty seconds and then I got to work.
The improvement in my grades proves that this experiment was successful. However, this was not the only change deleting Instagram brought about. Alone on the bus or on break from work, I began to sit and think. I began to open my eyes and ears to the people around me and the conversations of strangers. I felt a shift in my very way of existing and interacting with the world: from cyborg to human.
Every once and a while, when I remembered having Instagram and spending so much time on my phone, it seemed to me in hindsight that I had been existing in one degree of separation from my real life. Instagram acted as a veil between myself and my existence. Not only was there the physical barrier of the screen between my eyes and the real world, but the way Instagram caused me to approach my life involved a distinction from it. It can cause life to be seen as a collection of potential posts, always to be thought of in which way it might be suitable for presentation to another person’s eye. In deleting the app, I was not only made free from the constant presentation of other people’s lives, which comes with its own bag of confusion (comparison, jealousy etc.), but I began to think about my own life way less, in its particularities, its pros and cons, its position relative to others’, its presentation value, and started living it.
I came to see how important periods of absolute silence with no stimuli was to me. Instagram can hide under the guise of a stress-free pastime, which it can be, but I often forgot that it is in fact extremely stimulating and does not provide the stillness necessary to taking a deep breath and checking in with oneself. In a world of constant noise, cars, lights and where one is expected to be reachable at all times, moments of true peace and quiet are practically non-existent. I had forgotten how important they are.
I’m reminded of a quote I read a few weeks ago: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” These are the words of Annie Dillard in her book The Writing Life, and they have stayed with me since I read them in the same Nahman article quoted above. They inspired in me a call for intentionality in one’s life. Deleting Instagram forced me to be present in my own life, to pay attention to it, and decide how I want to live it, without a veil.
Like many others, I need to use Instagram for work, and it was for this reason that I downloaded it again. The best result of this experiment is that I no longer feel the alarming disconnection between my mind, heart and hand. I am no longer a passive sponge with an arm controlled by a force seemingly beyond my power to control. When I open Instagram these days, I am in control of what I see, when I want to see it.
Instagram can be a place where creativity blooms and people connect, but what happens when we take the means as the end; if we take Instagram for the very things it celebrates: creativity, people, connections, beauty, even hardship, sadness and humans being there for one another? Real life and Instagram are both venues in which these things can take place; this experiment reminded me of which comes first.