Seventeen minutes ago, Ben zoomed into his cigarette burning outside the Bad Day Issue 19 launch party. Twelve minutes ago, Hannah took a selfie in her Liberty Village bedroom. A red bicycle is filtered blue on Dovercourt. A woman is wearing a black face masque in a mirror. Charlotte makes a silly face somewhere in Los Angeles.
Scrolling, I think about it. I open it automatically now. I don’t have self-control. I never did anyway. Three years with a public Instagram profile, and I’ve uploaded an identity. A traveller. An introspective tom boy. A sarcastic observer. A reader. A painter. A creative type who doesn’t wash her hair on the weekdays. I delete old photos. Crop. Edit. Again. Once more. Back to Newsfeed.
Instagram made me feel like shit.
Reading half-naked in bed, I’d think about taking a (sexy) photo, one that would guarantee a few more likes than my last. The lighting is too dark. What filter should I use? VSCO Cam? How does it look with my other photos? This is a stupid photo. Should I caption it with a cigarette emoji? Do I tag myself? I need be funny. I should be cultured. Educated. Silly. Stupid. Low brow. High brow. I don’t know. I’ll quote the book. I’ll tag my friend. I’ll find a photo from two years ago and post it now. Is it #tbt? #fbf? Fuck. Forget about it. It’s Monday.
I call up my brother Greg in Vancouver. He answers. I blab. He offers advice: “I don’t want people to read me like that,” he says.
I don’t want that either. I want people to read my writing. I don’t want people to read me through my Instagram photos. Strangers are following me. It’s flattering, I guess. Am I really that interesting? Maybe. Greg told me, stirring soup over his broken stove, that it’s bullshit. I tell him about the silly questions I ask myself before posting a photo. About the time I saw Daniel with a mega-babe at an art gallery on the west end. The girl he’s standing with has really nice hair, takes a lot of selfies, and poses with handsome people at parties I’ve never been invited to. I feel jealous. Stupid. Why did I find that photo? Or did that photo find me? I scroll. More food photos. More hands on books. More little kids. More naked legs. Belly buttons. I know people I’ve never met in Toronto. I know about their routines, their friends, and their weekend plans. I’m in somebody else’s life and they don’t know I’m there. I need to get out. I’m a creep.
Instagram is what Facebook used to be three or four years ago. Reason for leaving Facebook? Waste of time. On Instagram, I see the world filtered, cropped and ironic. I stare at beaches I’ve never been to. Cafes I don’t recognize. Bicycles I’ll never ride. People I would surely never meet in the real world.
I follow other things, too. Magazines. Complex. Vice. Dogs. Chefs. Bars. Fuck Jerry. I laugh. Then I accidentally hit the discovery tab and end up on the other side of the world. I see similarities. Differences. I compare. I write a story in my mind. I don’t stop. It’s in my head now and I can’t get it out.
Twenty minutes later.
Unlike Facebook, Instagram will permanently delete my profile. Account settings. Are you sure? Are you really sure? It reminds me that I can’t come back. It tells me I can’t ever use drakecereal again. It’s my last chance. What am I so afraid of anyway? I might regret it, but fuck, I’m sure about this right now. I hit “deactivate.” It’s done. All 352 photos are gone. All 340 followers are lost. I don’t exist anymore. I’m turned into oblivion. I’m back in the login screen. I stare at it for a while. It’s a little overwhelming. I spiral. Calm down. I leave to meet Kaitlin for a drink at Unlovable down the street. I tell my friends on this rainy Monday night that I’ve deleted my Instagram account, and it’s a very 2015 thing to say. They laugh. I laugh. We drink our Mexican beers and forget about it all together.
Instagram made me feel like shit, but it didn’t always; I liked being distracted by other people. Waiting for the streetcar, waiting in line, waiting for the time to pass, I scrolled. It reminded me who I was. Places I had seen. People I had met. I looked at my own profile like I was an acquaintance of myself. I tried to remember who I was when I took a picture of the purple sky on Brodie’s deck last summer. The restless state of mind I embraced when I stood in a humid thrift store somewhere in Brooklyn circa 2013. The salon I missed walking to in the morning. I remember taking the photo of the sunset over the Ohio Buckeye tree in my parents’ backyard.
I imagine the photos I’ll take in the future. What people I’ll capture in the square crop of my existence. What landscapes I’ll tag on vacation. Or what captions I’ll add to describe what I’m doing, painting or reading. The app is the gatekeeper to my edited memory. Private memories still exist, somewhere messy, less photogenic and raw. I forget about them. I have a photo album now to grandstand from. A controlled space of images I propose value to. And for what? Likes? Followers?
As a woman, both naive and driven, it’s important for me to recognize what’s healthy and what’s destructive. Instagram, while remedial to my early twenties boredom, changed the way I saw the world (at that time). As of last week, it was like living through my future 30th birthday, over and over again. Asking the same questions that glued together my self-consciousness: Where am I in this picture? Do I own that purse? Am I friends with that person? Is she funnier than me? Why haven’t I travelled there yet? Was I not invited to that dinner? The answers streamlined into a familiar feeling of micro-heartbreak. A quick, but heavy burden that painted a picture of dullness, compared to the vibrancy of my heavily filtered network of strangers. I didn’t want to feel like that anymore.
For all it’s worth, privacy is power. I don’t need others to validate my experiences anymore. I don’t want to share what I’m doing, where I’m going, who I’m with or how I’m feeling. I don’t need to look at other people’s lives and their memories, relationships, paintings, houses, dogs, kids, books, and friends. It’s TMI. And it makes me feel like shit. I’m tired of overthinking my experiences. I don’t want to document it anymore. I don’t want to waste my time scrolling in the past. I’m living in the now and I’m comfortable driving through my experiences without taking a picture to capture it.
Are you sure you want to delete Instagram? Yes. I am.
RIP drakecereal (May 2012 – June 2015).