A Millennial Who’s Never Been on Social Media Tries Instagram
A candid account of an Insta-newbie as she talks overcoming FOMO, self-control and offline relationships
Once a lowly photo social app, Instagram has now become larger than (online) life itself. “Photos or it didn’t happen,” as absurd an unspoken rule as it is, has further morphed into “post it on Instagram or it didn’t happen.” Petty variations include: “post it on Instagram or it isn’t important to you.”
If you’re part of the one billion monthly active users on what is now the world’s second most popular social media app, you must already be familiar with the underlying implications of getting with the program: There’s a lot more riding on those inconspicuous Instagram tiles than meets the eye. It faultlessly marries together the ability to broadcast just about any life update known to man, showcase work potentially useful to future collaborators, navigate romantic relationships in the digital age, disseminate entertaining tidbits to loved ones and let people know you’re still alive and not lying in a ditch somewhere.
“I want my gf to think i’m dead” LMFAOOOOOO instagram somethin else pic.twitter.com/FPfdyG02XX
— Hanna (@ayehanna) August 28, 2018
It comes as no surprise that Instagram has become practically indispensable. If not, it’s at least an invaluable tool for surviving modern trials and tribulations. This is all part of the platform’s thrust anyway to try and be just that for its users: the go-to social app and figurative trapdoor of the internet, the first thing people check when they wake up, the last thing they scroll through before bed and the source of amusement in between.
Big picture: it’s addicting, fun and inspiring but sometimes, also the bane of online existence. To wit, the social media platform is proven to trigger self-loathing and induce depression among Millennials and has been named the worst social media platform for mental health. Still, we scroll, double tap, explore, upload. Wired, hyper-connected, fingers at the pulse of the new, the now and the next is the new normal. On edge and restless is the new normal. Or is it? Furthermore, does perception equal reality? As audiences put more and more importance in aesthetic, imagery and crafting an online persona it sure seems like it with Instagram.
via @celebface on Instagram
To get a better grasp on the stark side effects of getting on Instagram, who better to call on for a raw, real, uninhibited account than a Millennial who has yet to sign up for it? Up for the challenge is 30-year-old Bea Bermundo (@bnbermundo for the 10-day experiment), who talks self-reflection, distraction, temptation to go online shopping and life before and after a brush with the double-edged sword that is Instagram.
Wonder: You know, seeing you around, we always found you to be peaceful, stress-free and focused. Now it makes sense; it’s because you’ve never had to deal with the toxic and distracting aspects of social media. [Laughs]
Bea: But hey, even without an Instagram account, I can get sucked into the Instagram blackhole, too! I still end up clicking away at tags in posts that lead to other accounts whose posts have tags that lead to other accounts and so on; it’s never-ending and I’ve experienced wasting time doing that. When I’m bored, it’s very easy to get lost in these blackholes just the same.
W: So browsing on Instagram, free of a personal account, is still a pastime.
B: Yes, I do have accounts that I check regularly, but I manually type the usernames into my browser. [Laughs] I have them bookmarked on my laptop, actually.
W: What accounts do you have bookmarked?
B: There are some vintage Etsy accounts that I check. I also follow Perea Street, but it’s hard to check stories without a phone, so all I get caught up on is their feed. I check the accounts of some climbing gyms that I go to and mostly online stores, but even then, I try not to check that so I don’t get tempted to shop. [Laughs]
W: How do you nip getting hooked on Instagram in the bud even without an account?
B: What I do is I clean out my history every few months, so I have no choice but to manually type the account names of those I remember, actively follow or are important to me. I don’t want to be too distracted. That’s basically the whole reason for everything. I want to keep all the things that I take in streamlined and try to stick only to the things that I find important. I can easily also be distracted by all this stuff, which is why I try to intentionally clean up. It’s like mentally cleaning up the feed in my head.
W: How is your dynamic with friends and family who are active on social media?
B: In my barkada, I have one friend who’s just like me: We both never had Facebook or Instagram. That’s just something our group knows about us, so our other friends know to contact us through Viber; they have to screen grab things and then they send them to us. I used to make my friends attach things they want to share with me through email. [Laughs]
W: In terms of picking up news and learning about the goings-on in the world and in your circles, how is the experience like?
B: The people in my barkada are Facebook friends with the people we went to college with, so they learn about things right away like: who got married, who just had a baby. When you’re not on that, people don’t know anything about you anymore: not your hobbies, not where you’ve been, not what you’re up to.
W: Not being on social media is the equivalent of the cloak of invisibility in this day and age.
B: Yeah, and I had an acquaintance from college who emailed me once and he was like, “Bea, where are you? We are so worried about you. We haven’t heard form you in so long.” In my head, I was just like: “Huh? I see my friends every week, so I don’t know who exactly the ‘we’ you’re talking about is.”
W: What in your experience are some downsides to the lack of a social media presence?
B: Well, people basically think I’m dead. [Laughs] But in all seriousness, one of the many downsides also is: people cannot reconnect with you even if they badly wanted to. They’d have to go through more tedious methods like relying on email.
When my mom passed away, I had to manually email my three or four good friends in the US. I thought though that it was nice that I had several friends from the States that I didn’t email about it, but reached out expressing their condolences. I appreciate that because I know it requires more effort than, say, posting on someone’s wall or replying in a thread. I found that touching.
W: Do you feel like you’re missing out?
B: I probably am…and I know that. But it’s my choice not to be on social media, so it’s fine. I have a lot of friends who take screen grabs of things they feel I should know about; they send me links to stories they think will spark my interest. That’s how I stay updated.
I guess the only thing is I’m usually the last to find out about things. If you personally want to be super updated on things, then ditching social media may not be the best idea. If you don’t mind not learning about things first, then scaling back is okay.
W: And the thought of getting Instagram or any other social media account never crossed your mind?
B: No. Never. Here’s a question: what do you really want to spend your time doing? For me, that’s the principle behind everything. I didn’t want to keep looking at other people’s stuff and I didn’t want to keep up with my friends by relying on digital. I wanted to be able to see them, hear stories straight from them, have longer discussions.
I think that if there’s anything that triggers my fear of missing out, it’s the Instagram stories because you can’t access it without an account and I do enjoy watching those, so I can’t cheat it. [Laughs]
W: And now? How often do you check your phone now that you have Instagram?
B: I was already checking my phone between tasks to chat with friends on Telegram as it was. This includes sending photos of my desk, food or little videos of my day and sharing memes or tweets I think are funny also. That was sometimes enough of an information overload for me, though, because I feel the need to participate in every chat.
With the introduction of Instagram: this is just another app to check as well, but I do like how it’s more passive than Telegram; I can just scroll along and view. I now check it on my walks to the bathroom, on my walk to the pantry, at the end of each work day for sure and while waiting for a Grab. On the commute, I used to only listen to podcasts, but now I get to spend more time watching stories or back reading old posts by people I follow.
Basically, it’s another thing I have to stop myself from looking at when I know I should be working. It helps to keep the app in a separate homepage slide on my phone so I don’t see it immediately.
W: How did getting Instagram change your routine?
B: In general, I try not to look at my phone until I get to the car because I rush every morning. I was more tempted to open the app during traffic. When I park, I would open the app to see if there was anything new. When I would get to work early, I would watch stories and check accounts before starting my day. And I scroll through the stories before bedtime now, too. I find it pretty relaxing, like watching bite-sized updates on people’s lives.
W: What was the experience like baptizing your account with your first post?
B: I learned that I am very particular about what I want to put out there and that I am not a good writer of captions. [Laughs] I would post things then delete! I would also edit captions. Inherently, I know people are going to see it so I felt a bit like making each post “good enough” somehow. It wasn’t coming off as very authentic to me though. I could feel myself writing for others.
W: What type of accounts are you following now?
B: Pretty much things I already check but now aggregated into one app instead of me manually typing on my desktop. In general, the accounts I feel attached to are the ones who write captions as long as blog posts. Or people who I am already personally invested in. I tried following a bunch of new accounts but nothing stuck and I ended up unfollowing them because I felt like there was too much noise. I’m happy with the small amount of people I followed. It feels very neat and streamlined.
W: Did you learn anything new about yourself during the experiment?
B: I purposely had to unfollow or avoid looking at online stores so I don’t feel the need to buy or want new things. [Laughs] I’m usually more content if I don’t know something exists. When I know something I want exists, it’s right there and at the tip of my fingertips, I end up getting a bit obsessed. Then when I get it, it just gets replaced by a new want, so I’m trying to get a hold on that impulse.
I had a hard time posting content. Having something interesting to post [is hard] and I ended up throwing back to vacations and trips or things that didn’t actually happen in my day. To be honest, I felt my day wasn’t that visually captivating. I ended up deleting a few posts because I suddenly realized it wasn’t interesting. I guess I’d rather read about people’s stuff than share about myself.
My captions always felt lame to me. I really respect people who write long and sincere captions for the photos they post.
W: Let’s talk about the sudden jolt of being exposed, having that lack of privacy somehow (all of which comes with signing up for a public account). Can you tell us about sharing certain things with people you don’t know online?
B: When people started trying to follow me, I found myself rejecting their requests. I wasn’t comfortable updating people about myself this way…especially people I don’t see often anyway.
W: Did you at any point catch yourself comparing yourself/your life to the folks you came across on Instagram?
B: A major thing for me is that I didn’t follow anyone I knew personally. I know I tend to compare myself to my peers, so I just avoided putting myself in that situation. That’s a personal measure I take to avoid that feeling. It also keeps too much information and noise from entering my brain. I can only take in so much before I feel overwhelmed.
Overall, Instagram made me want new things more and like all the time. Constant bombardment of more stuff we can buy, have, wear, read and do.
W: What feature on Instagram got you hooked?
B: I loved IG stories. I loved seeing daily updates of people who I follow already via YouTube or their blogs. It was a more casual extension, which I really appreciated. I thought I hated ‘Ask Me A Question’ but when it’s an online personality you’re curious about it can be really interesting!
The Explore Page, meanwhile, is a blackhole and it is easy to get lost if you’re bored and are fully updated but want to see more. I had to actively stay away from it.
W: What are some valuable lessons you learned having taken this on?
B: Make sure what you consume adds value to your life. We only have so many hours in the day so make sure everything you do is important to you and you’re not just filling time.
Just like on any other thing I consume (series, podcasts, books, movies), I really prefer to keep things to a minimum. I keep it relevant to things I want to learn more about. Generally, I’m the kind of person who likes to go deep into things that make me curious and repeat podcasts or albums over and over rather than look for new things. It helps me understand lessons or messages better and really focus on the subject matter. I just don’t like excess noise. It messes with clarity of mind. This Instagram experiment just brought these points home for me.
W: Will you be keeping your account?
B: No, I honestly plan to keep checking accounts I care about on my desktop. (I’ve even e-mailed private accounts before to request they make their account public so I can keep viewing) and I can use my dad or my boyfriend’s account to view stories of people I am curious about if I so need.
Art Alexandra Lara