the quiet

After I published my post yesterday, I felt weird, like I'd walked out of a party but had neglected to shut the door behind me. I could still hear laughter and music, and snippets of conversation that had ceased to include me.

So I picked up my phone and, before I had time to think, I deleted the Instagram app.

Then I felt really weird.

You know that feeling when the internet goes out? That strange sense of quiet and emptiness? That's what it was like. I wandered around the apartment for a few minutes, feeling actually shaken, and feeling shaken by the fact that I felt shaken. What the fuck. It's a phone app. It didn't even exist five years ago. For the first hour, I honestly didn't know what to do with myself. It was like, Okay Ellie, you did it. You cleared your desk. You tore off a clean sheet of parchment. What the hell are you going to put on it?

Then the sads got me. I thought in particular about five or six of my Insta friends who I joke with almost daily, and it bummed me out. I wondered if they'd read my post and if it had hurt their feelings. I re-read it about a dozen times, second guessing my wording and tone and wondering when and if I should write another, and what I would say.

Then Terence came home, and I told him. Wow, he said, genuinely wide-eyed. And he asked how I felt. And a stream of words starting pouring forth from me that didn't stop for about five minutes. Feels I didn't even know I felt kept bubbling out. And the more I heard myself speak, the more I felt I'd made the right decision.

And as I was talking, numerating both reasons I'd written in my post and others I hadn't, I received a text. The text was from a reader-turned-friend, whom I've only met once but with whom I've connected in a really nice way. She was texting to tell me that my post, and my decision to leave Instagram, had motivated her to do the same - for some of the same reasons and for some that are different. Terence was next to me when the text came.

Wow, he said again, reading alongside me.

And then he said some really nice but hyperbolic things about me inspiring people which, while they are so lovely of him to say, are not necessarily true, because he is my boyfriend and it is his job to look at me through rose-colored glasses. Still, it was a nice counterweight to some of the more negative feelings I was having.

We watched a movie and went to bed, and when I woke up, the lack of Instagram in my life was pressing on me more than Instagram itself had ever been. In other words, the weirdness had gotten even weirder. But I decided to just get on with my day and let the dust settle and not judge my feelings. And I can say that just laying in bed enjoying my boyfriend, being wholly present, knowing there were no push notifications waiting for my attention - that was a nice feeling.

After a little while, I got up and dressed and went to get us some croissants and coffee. Walking down my own, completely familiar street felt like a vacation in a foreign country. You know that feeling when you travel, when you don't have phone service and no one back home can reach you? That's what it felt like: a mixture of relief and sublimated disquiet. The thought occurred to me that my digital life was about to get a lot simpler, since I wouldn't have the additional piles and piles of Instagrammed photos to sift through. Do I want to keep this one? What about this one? It's a cool pic of a building, but does it really move me? Or was it just an excuse to post something? ...Yep. That's exactly what it was. This one too...

I've been thinking about this decision nonstop. That alone says a lot about Instagram's influence on my life, and I don't think it's saying anything good. The fact that I'm so worked up about it is a clear indication of how addicted I was.

I don't want to be addicted to anything.

I'm having lots of thinks and lots of feels about all of this, and I know it's going to be a while before that stops - and that's okay. But I think putting them down on paper might help me get some clarity on the situation, which still feels alarmingly dreamlike, and also move towards finding some closure on this particular chapter of my life. So here goes.

1. Instagram for non-bloggers (sometimes I jokingly call them "civilians") is a whole different beast than Instagram for bloggers. This is something I want to emphasize and explain particularly because I'm keen to minimize the hurt feelings of any of my IG friends who might be bewildered by my abrupt decision. And my god I know how grossly self-absorbed that sounds, and I don't mean that people will be sitting around crying buckets over my leaving, because LOL. I just know that I've been on the other side of this - I've had IG buddies up and quit out of the blue, and it was a disappointment to me.

Anyway, back to my point. Instagram for non-bloggers is pretty straightforward. Something cool happens, you share it. You see something beautiful, you share it. This is not to say that non-bloggers don't ever have ulterior motives (we are all human), but my observation has been that non-bloggers use Instagram in a fairly cut-and-dry manner.

Instagram for bloggers is like - well, it's like blogging on crack. Bloggers use their blogs as a way to present to the world some narrative, usually about ourselves. I am this. I am that. And every post we publish adheres to and supports that narrative - posts that we publish every few days, maybe less. With Instagram, each photo and caption is an opportunity to push that narrative, to hundreds if not thousands of people. If we want to, we can push that narrative several times a day. (See: Kelle Hampton.)

So think about from our perspective (the perspective of a blogger), how much pressure we feel with each of these posts. What do I want to say about myself today? About my life? About who I am and what I believe? How does this photo reflect who I want to be perceived as? Remember, x number of people are watching, Ellie!

It's exhausting and inescapable, and show me a blogger (that is, a blogger of any degree of popularity or notoriety, who blogs and IGs publicly) who says she doesn't think about those things and I'll show you a liar. She thinks about them, and she thinks about them a LOT.

2. Quitting Instagram feels like pulling a curtain shut, and one that should have been pulled shut a long fucking time ago. I already overshare plenty on my blog. Friends and strangers alike can stop by this space anytime and get a good idea of what my life is like - who my friends are, what my relationship is like, etc. The world does not need daily updates on the intimate workings of my personal life. The people who populate that personal life do not need to be trotted out like show ponies, which, if I am honest with myself, is what I have treated them like at times. I can't count the number of times I've demanded retakes of photos because, rather than keep them for my own personal use, I wanted to share them with the world.

Enough.

My boyfriend should be able to pick up the guitar and play me a song without me sticking a camera in his face. My friends shouldn't have to wait for me to finish taking a photo of our cocktails before they take a drink. And, above all, it's high time I focused more on becoming the person I want to be and cared less about how the outside world perceives me. Because Instagram is a great place to throw up some smoke and mirrors. Psst, world, if you could kindly ignore the fact that this particular area of my life is a mess and please direct your attention to my cute boyfriend and adorable dog and killer abs?? Thx. 

3. I am not creating art on Instagram. And I want to create art. Some people absolutely are creating art on Instagram, no question. Some people are innovating and doing some really exciting things on there. Me? Not so much. That is not my wheelhouse. That is a place I hide to avoid practicing my swing.

4. I am wasting way, way, way too much time on Instagram. I mourn the version of myself that died with the advent of the internet, I really do. Super dramatic, I know, but I mean it. I used to go through stacks of books a month. Stacks. When I was in my twenties, you couldn't stump me about popular fiction. There was no contemporary novel you could name that I hadn't read. To be momentarily, grossly arrogant, I didn't get to be the halfway decent writer I am from reading tweets and blogs. I was a serious and voracious consumer of literature until I was about 25.

And it makes me sick to think of where I'd be now, as a writer, if I'd kept that focus.

I understand that it's 2014. That social media is how much of the world connects, and that even the most popular authors have to utilize it if they want to keep up with the times. But for one thing, just because something is trendy doesn't mean it's inherently valuable. And for another, I'm NOT a popular author. I don't have anything so spectacular to share - and I certainly won't ever, if I keep pouring the irreplaceable hours of my life into a phone app.

5. I want the quiet back. At least, as much of it as I can get. Just over the past day, I've had a tiny taste of the quiet. The quiet that existed before we all strapped ourselves into the webbed wide world. The quiet that allowed the whispery pages of a book to be the loudest thing calling to me from across the room. The quiet that allowed for intense, prolonged creative output, because it wasn't interrupted by the glow of a goddamn push notification.

I don't know that I'll do anything significant with this quiet - with the time and mental energy I'm taking back. But I won't know until I try.