I stopped using the app earlier this year, when I realised that I reliably felt worse after opening it than I did before I started. But my Instagram — a locked account, with just a couple of hundred followers and posts — is almost exclusively for keeping in touch with people I got to know in other ways. The closest I get to following influencers is the pop star Carly Rae Jepsen and an Instagram-famous husky.
Still, every time I open the app, I’m presented with an endless feed of my friends and family doing incredible things, having a wonderful time, without me.
There’s the friend whose wedding I wasn’t invited to; I found out about it through the app. There’s the friend who is looking fantastic after every workout and lets us all know. And there’s the friend who lives in New York, apparently over in London for the weekend without telling me.
Instagram provides only a veneer of engagement, while hovering on the precipice of impossibly perfect breakfasts eaten by impossibly perfect-looking people.
Meanwhile, I’m doing nothing of note — except sitting on Instagram.
When I tell friends about my dissatisfaction with the app, their responses are mixed. Some cite conventional wisdom, telling me to unfollow the influencers with a commercial imperative to sell me a perfect life and devote the app to keeping up with the friends I care about. Rob, for instance, follows “fewer than 100 people, all family and friends”.
But I don’t follow any influencers, and the friends I care about most are the ones most likely to create that familiar pang of Fomo.
Others offer exactly the opposite advice, arguing that my problem is not following enough influencers. I should focus less on using Instagram to find out what people I care about are doing and more on using it as a source of information and inspiration.
It’s true that there is a whole world of information best communicated in a visual medium. While some fitness-focused Instagrams leave you feeling like a fat blob of plasticine, others are sources of useful advice, laser-targeted at people in your situation.
But I’ve tried that version of Instagram, too, and I worry that it provides only a veneer of engagement, while forever hovering on the precipice of impossibly perfect breakfasts eaten by impossibly perfect people. Even Facebook, Instagram’s owner, warns against using its products in this way. “In general,” the company wrote on its corporate blog last year, “when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information — reading but not interacting with people — they report feeling worse afterward”.
Of course, Facebook’s answer was that everyone should post more. But it would say that, wouldn’t it? Another option is to follow the guidance of the RSPH. As part of “ scroll-free September” the charity is encouraging users to aim for anything between complete cold turkey and simply stopping (scrolling) at certain times, such as in the bedroom or during meals.