severance packages and safe bets

Nine days ago, I posted a final photo on Instagram with what I hoped was a not too dramatic-sounding explanation and farewell. I turned my phone face down so I wouldn't see any push notifications, and returned to what I'd been working on, determined to back up the decision to better use my time with immediate action.

That lasted about five minutes.

Then I picked up my phone, checking to see if any responses had come; a few had. I replied to them, and turned my phone back over. Twenty minutes later, I peeked again. I read goodbyes from IGers all over the world, some of whom had been following me for almost two years. Their kind words took the wind right out of my sails. I cried more than once, as messages continued to come. Yep. I cried when I quit Instagram. If you're thinking to yourself, Wow, this chick has problems, let me tell you - you don't know the half of it. Because quitting was easy compared to what came next.

Terence gamely suggested we go to happy hour to "celebrate" my Instafreedom. And I don't use scare quotes to mock his word choice, which was him just trying to make me feel better about my decision, and totally sweet and supportive. I use scare quotes because I spent the better part of that evening second-guessing myself and feeling variously depressed (Wow, I just destroyed a really nice emotional resource), scared (Was this the right call?), angry (WTF, so-and-so unfollowed me without even saying goodbye? I liked every one of his lame, boring pics for two damn years), guilty (I'm abandoning faithful readers who've been so supportive and encouraging), and this strange mixture of resignation and detachment, as if I'd just signed up for a deep space mission, and was saying goodbye to life as I knew it. Or as if I'd been sentenced to solitary confinement, albeit with access to a really good library.

Point being: I didn't feel celebratory, though I could feel the first, tiny shudderings of relief and unburdening. All sorts of questions were going through my mind, and that didn't stop Friday night or even that weekend. In fact, I've passed most of this past week thinking about the ramifications of my decision to quit, which - expected, right? What I didn't expect was the Pandora's box of much larger questions that quitting IG would open up, about things like the meaning of friendship, self esteem, and the definition of success. Thinking about those things raised other questions about my life and my priorities - re: myself, my relationships, and even this blog. I know it sounds dumb, but I don't feel like the same person I was nine days ago. Existential crisis: there's an app for that.

Some things I've been considering:

What could I look at, if I wasn't looking at my phone all the goddamn time? What could I think about instead? What sort of space, as my friend Jenny put it, would I have in my mind for other things, if Instagram wasn't there?

What am I communicating to my blog readers by quitting IG? Are they going to think that I don't want to interact with them? Would I blame them if they did? Why should anyone continue to give a shit about my life when I've essentially said, Welp, nice following your life for a while - peace out! 

Regarding social media, is more necessarily better? More followers, more Facebook friends? If I'm not actually interacting with most of those followers, what is the value in those relationships?

What about in real life? What would happen if we pared our relationships down to a core group, and truly invested ourselves in them? What would those relationships look like? How deep and strong could they become? Is there anything wrong with limiting our time and attention to a few trusted and loved people?

Who are these hundreds of lurkers who are otherwise active on IG but never like or comment on a single photo of mine? Why is that an acceptable concept to me, that my loved ones and I would be entertainment for them? How can I take the power back into my own hands, and stop submitting the treasured moments of my life for their daily perusal and (non)approval? What if I returned to my pre-Instagram way of posting what I want when I want, here on my blog, without auditioning for their "likes"? What if they had to work a little harder, to see what my life is all about? What if I at least had the satisfaction of making them come to me?

What was it about sharing photos on Instagram that I found gratifying? What were the drawbacks? How much of it was fun, and how much of it felt like obligation and upkeep?

Why do I feel compelled to share personal photos online at all, whether it's on IG or here on my blog? What are my motives for doing so? How much of it is sharing and how much of it is validation-seeking?

And finally: how much faster could I get to the life I want - to being the person I want to be - if I wasn't slowed down by the need for approval?

Like I said, reflection and introspection central around here. I'm still working out the answers, which aren't always obvious, despite my leading and loaded questions. One thing I have realized for certain: Instagram was not relaxing for me. Editing the photos, playing with color and filters and the overall look of my gallery - that I loved. But once a photo was actually posted? Then it was like a running ticker tape in my head. A constant distraction. How many likes? Hmm, not many. That's what I get for posting another pic of the man I'm wildly in love with and whose face *I* want to see reflected back in my gallery. Guess I better post more universally appealing stuff or I'll lose followers. Clever comment from so-and-so. Gotta reply to that, but too tired to respond right now. I'll do it tonight. Let me see what so-and-so's been up to...

Instagram is just too mentally stimulating for me, for it to be relaxing.

One awesome silver lining: I have been absolutely blown away by the amazing responses that have come in from readers and IG friends who reached out to say, Yo, I get it, and have shared their own struggles with social media and the internet in general - and those who've said, I guess you're not too horrible, Ellie - what say you we strike up a private correspondence, instead? In fact, I now have a handful of pen pals  (one of whom proposed snail mail, so we have legit mementos to keep and everything) and texting buddies whose friendship I can cultivate post-IG. Talk about a severance package.

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One of the best things about Instagram was being able to scroll back and see loved ones and fun times at a glance.* It was, among other things, the perfect scrapbook - but it was a public one, in the same way this blog is. I've thought a lot about privacy, about intention, and about being present when I'm with the people I care about. About when a quick snapshot is worth disrupting the moment to revisit it later - and when memory alone should be enough. I've thought about the differences between posting to IG vs. posting to my blog, and about context, frequency, and timing.

I'm probably going to keep thinking about all of this until my head explodes. But for now, I believe that doing things from a place of love is a safe bet - with the important caveat that what we're doing is in the best interests of those we love. And if were to die tomorrow, I hope I would be remembered as someone who loved the people in her life absolutely, and sometimes just couldn't get enough of their awesome, smiling faces.

To that end, here they are, in some of the moments that have made up life lately, along with some ungrams, because why throw the creative baby out with the creative bathwater? Captionless because I'm too damn tired and this post is too damn long already, and the best moments in life speak for themselves, anyway.





Answerless, confused-as-ever Ellie out.

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* This was the one big concern Terence had about my leaving IG. He said he'd be bummed not to be able to see those collected moments anymore. Solution: I'm not deleting the elliequent account, so the photos aren't going anywhere. I also made a new private account for just us that I can flood with personal pics day or night, without worrying about alienating/impressing/annoying anyone else.