Like my announcement last year, hearing this “news” will probably make several people reading this think, “Wait… She’s still on Instagram? I thought she left already.” And you’d basically be right. I’ve barely posted in the past year, and when I have it’s been mostly out of obligation. This is me making my decision official, drawing a line in the sand, and reminding my future self when I doubt this decision why it’s plainly clear in the present moment that it’s the right choice.
I’m sharing a few of my reasons here not because I feel like anyone is owed an explanation — I’m perfectly allowed to just not be on IG, no explanation necessary. I’m also not sharing persuasively, as though I think you should follow in my footsteps and share my convictions. In fact, this decision comes following a state of contrition regarding my lack of charity for others who love Instagram. My sharing is simply to:
Remind my future self, when it’s needed (as stated above),
To provide clarity about my choice should someone want it, either out of curiosity or concern, and
To provide a behind-the-scenes look at how I made my decision, should it be helpful to anyone else stuck in a similar conundrum.
My decision is not taken lightly. In fact, if you spent more than half an hour with me in the past 12+ months, you’ll most likely have heard me share my feelings about the app and how I was torn on what I should do. I’m not exaggerating when I say I finally found peace, true peace, about the steps I should take only last week during prayer. This is the first time, truly, I’ve felt completely sure that this is the right decision for me.
I first started by journaling, using good old-fashioned pen and paper. I asked myself the simple, innocuous question, “What are good reasons to be on Instagram?” I didn’t want to assume there weren’t any, and I wanted to be honest. If there were enough solid reasons to stay on the app, then case closed; there wasn’t any conundrum here.
I thought about it for a few minutes, then picked up my pen and began a list:
To grow my readership, especially this newsletter.
To promote my work, especially my books.
To keep in touch with people I like, especially those far away.
To discover visual artists and their work.
…This was where my list ended.
I genuinely couldn’t think of any other reasons. I tried. I don’t actually enjoy scrolling or posting on the app, so I don’t gain any personal pleasure by being in the space. My four reasons were all utilitarian: to grow my work and to stay in the loop. Two professional reasons; two personal. (Side note: my list of reasons would have been longer several years ago when both the app and I were in different stages.)
I next asked myself, “Is Instagram the only or best way to fulfill these reasons?” Honesty was a necessity here because my gut reaction was to say, “Of course not!”, light a match on the whole thing, and walk away in slow-motion, action movie-style. So I parked on this question for a while.
Eventually, I came to these conclusions regarding these four reasons:
No — I can grow my readership via other avenues.
No — I can promote my books elsewhere (and other Instagram users who read my books can share any of my future work out of their own volition, if they want).
No — I can text, email, send letters, call, read people’s newsletters, and even travel to see them in person… because this is what people who’ve genuinely wanted to stay in touch have done for centuries (well, not text or call, but you get what I mean).
Yes — as a visual app, Instagram seems to be the best way online to enjoy the work of visual artists.
I then asked, “Is there anything I would miss by leaving Instagram?”
My only answer came quickly and was short and straightforward: The ordinary photos of friends and family and the delightful art from artists. My last two reasons listed above. I’d genuinely miss seeing pics of friends’ babies, vacations, dogs, home improvement projects, and the like. And I’d miss admiring the art from artists whose work I enjoy (painters, graphic designers, gardeners, true photographers, and the like).
My next question was the important one. “Are these reasons worth it?”
After all, I’ve just named my only reasons for staying on. If this answer is ‘yes’, then I’m saying ALL my reasons for not being on IG aren’t as heavily weighted as these two reasons for being there. If these two reasons are truly important, then I should make them important. It would mean unfollowing anyone who doesn’t fit these categories, scheduling time in my day to enjoy these two reasons, and probably inevitably setting up necessary guardrails so that I keep IG clear of anything else and don’t spend an inordinate amount of time scrolling.
I put my pen down and read all my answers. I then went on a walk. And I came back with some clarity.
If I’m honest, I just don’t think IG deserves this much time and energy required to make it a net positive in my life. Not only would it take a lot of time to tweak who I’m following on IG, the effort actually wouldn’t ultimately work very well — I’ve tried finagling it in the past, and it keeps not-unfollowing people for me (it’ll have me still follow people I’ve unfollowed, in other words), I’d still be bombarded with ads from things I never asked to see (making it genuinely hard to see the stuff I do want to see), and since the very framework of the app is to keep a user on — to keep us addictively scrolling — I’m swimming upstream by trying to keep it from taking too much time. A necessary endeavor for some, I suppose, but it didn’t seem so for me. Not enough for my reasons to stay, anyway.
If I left Instagram, I’d need to make the effort to stay in touch with friends via other avenues, and I’d need to figure out a way to still enjoy art. The first one I already do and have done with much better effectiveness than I thought possible when I left Facebook six years ago. Plus, I don’t feel the guilt of not keeping in touch with people I “should” — if I don’t remember who they are once I close out the app, then perhaps I simply don’t have the bandwidth for them (enter Dunbar’s number here). As for enjoying art… Well, I’ll just need to find a way. I still need to figure that one out.
(Side note: At this point, I was fascinated by my clarity more than anything. I’ve been weighing this decision for so long, yet I’ve honestly kept it all in my head. Writing this stuff down, systematically, provided the awareness I’d been looking for and with such simplicity. All along, it’d been right there in my brain; I just wasn’t aware of it due to all the other mental clutter. Writing was the medium I used to find the answer.)
So by this point, I’d named my reasons for staying on Instagram, I’d answered whether Instagram was the only avenue for fulfilling those reasons, I named what I’d miss by leaving, and I answered whether the cost-benefit was worth it.
Final answer? No. For me, it’s not.
All this time, I’d been focusing only on my reasons for quitting Instagram, and there are many (more on these in just a moment). But I hadn’t bothered to ask whether I had good reasons to stay. Sure, I knew the “correct” answers — as a writer, it’s good to be on Instagram to promote your work. That’s what They™ say, anyway. It’s what’s held me on for a very, very long time, admittedly… Because I felt like I was supposed to be on Instagram. That was pretty much it. Those who do the sort of work I do are on Instagram; therefore, I should be on Instagram. (Side note: Not all who do the work I do are, in fact, on the app.)
What brought me the clarity I needed was searching for and naming the positive, not scowling at the negative. By recognizing that there were, indeed, good reasons to be on the app, I got honest. I named the good. And I realized that for me, the good wasn’t good enough.
A weight was near-instantly taken off my shoulders. After journaling, I spent the next morning at Adoration in prayer about this decision, and God’s voice was pretty dang clear: Instagram isn’t meant for me. I had the freedom as a writer to leave.
Some of you might find all this silly or over the top — after all, it’s an app we’re talking about here. An online thing. Just make the decision and be done with it! I’m with you. For multiple reasons, I was not torn about leaving Facebook in 2016 like I was about Instagram — silly or not, I really have been wringing my hands about the place Instagram should have in my work. The main reason is simply that there are plenty of people whose work I admire who are on Instagram, and they use it well. They don’t seem to wield it like a weapon or a manipulative tool, and it doesn’t seem to rob them of their precious work time. For them, Instagram works, and I’ve long felt like there was something wrong with how I worked, that if I wasn’t siphoning value out of the uber-popular app, I must not care enough about doing the 21st-century hard work of cultivating a readership. I must think I’m too good for it. I must be a Luddite. I must be a Chicken Little, making a mountain out of a molehill about its dangerous place in our culture.
These are all things I’ve thought ad nauseam over the years, and I’m honestly tired of all the rent-free space Instagram has taken in my brain. It was time to make a decision.
That decision is this: For me, the cons of Instagram outweigh the pros. There you go.
As for the cons, I have so many I could probably write a book on the topic, but I won’t bore you with that, because honestly, that sounds like a beast of a boring curmudgeonly book. Instead, to give you a fuller picture of my tipped scales, here’s a sampling of my reasons not to be on Instagram.
It honestly takes a lot of time and energy to use it well — precious, limited resources of mine better spent elsewhere, on work that matters more to me (like writing books and this newsletter).
It genuinely doesn’t line up with the kind of work I want to do. There are plenty of novelists who aren’t on Instagram (or any social media at all, for that matter), and I admire their work probably more than I admire the work of writers who are on IG.
It’s not necessary for my work, even though Instagram tries to tell me it is. In fact, recent anecdotal research has shown that very few people actually buy books directly from IG. Sure, they may hear about a book from there, and that’s not a bad thing — but keeping up with the ever-changing algorithm, continually staying in the self-promotion headspace, and always fighting its addictive, noisy framework sure makes it an expensive price tag for ultimately not that many book sales anyway. This newsletter moves WAY more many books.
We “train” people (for lack of a better word) online to find us where we are, and I don’t enjoy the style of interaction with readers that take place on IG compared to other places. I’d rather readers find and interact with me another way (such as via this newsletter!). If I’m on Instagram, I’m more or less telling readers they can find me there, and I don’t want to inadvertently confuse readers or make them think I’m ignoring them. I’m glad #bookstagram exists for readers who are into that! They’re welcome to talk about my books with each other there if they want.
I don’t want to “train” those in the book publishing industry to expect me to be on IG or to assume I’m willing to do promotion work there. Until I make it official, this expectation is always on the negotiation table in every book contract.
I believe Instagram is genuinely bad for our culture at large, particularly in our rhetoric and discourse but also with our mental health, and I personally don’t want to give it more fuel to run its machine.
I believe it’s bad for young people specifically (especially girls), and for the past five years, I’ve been teaching young people. I’m convicted that I’d be sending a contradictory message to these adolescents if I espouse these beliefs, state solid reasons to them why IG is unhealthy, yet still use the app myself as though I’m immune. (This is also why I’ll never be on TikTok.)
I believe Instagram is bad for my own generation as well (especially women) — it shortens our attention spans, it’s taught us to reach for the phone instead of enjoying the merits of boredom, and it often cultivates vices like envy, sloth, and pride. I don’t want to be complicit in aiding this endeavor.
It’s owned by Meta, which is just a bad, bad, bad company in about 85,329 ways.
It honestly makes me feel bad. I never close the app and think, “I’m glad I spent my time in that way.” I become envious of other peoples’ homes and vacations, I get FOMO when I see other people hanging out or attending events, I get angry at peoples’ political or cultural views, I start to criticize and judge how others work online, I’m tempted to buy things I’d otherwise never know existed, and it leaves me feeling like I’m never doing enough, either personally or in my work. Overall, it makes me feel like crap. I like myself too much to bully myself in that way.
Ultimately, I just don’t enjoy the space that much. There are other online avenues where I’d rather spend my time, and there are other offline activities to which I’d rather dedicate my time.
I could go on, truly, but you get the point. The cons genuinely outweigh the pros for me.
Now, are some of these reasons true about other online spaces as well, such as Twitter? For sure, no doubt. And I very well may leave Twitter as well one day. But as of now, I’m able to make Twitter work for me so that it doesn’t give me all the awful side effects that Instagram gives, and I do gain a professional net positive from the space. It’s also not as addictive for me (though I do have guardrails up for that potential concern, such as not having it on my phone and staying away on the weekends, on holidays, and for one month every year). I almost exclusively use the Lists feature (all private), which is the only way I can stay sane on Twitter — that way I don’t see ads and I can compartmentalize which topics I read about and when. It’s also a space where I enjoy the conversation with readers a bit more than on IG (though I do still prefer it via this newsletter), and it’s connected me with more work and writing opportunities that I’d otherwise miss were I not there. IG simply doesn’t provide those for me.
Again… This explanation is about me and my decision. I’m not here in the slightest to make you feel bad about your decision to use Instagram, should you have peace about being there (hopefully you do, if you’re there). But if you’re wavering about the decision — or about any similar decision, really — perhaps my outward explanation here will help you in your own process of discernment.
For now, I’m keeping my Instagram account up, which I know may sound like a cop-out. But I’m doing so mostly because I do have another small book project contract already signed, and should the publishers want to use my IG account for book promotion, I’m willing to hand over the keys to let them buy ad space there. I don’t think it’s fair to pull that rug out from under them in case they were counting on it in their part of the contract.
I’m also keeping it up for a bit so that those who search for me there can find me, then read my bio which explains where they can actually find me online. Plus, if anyone wants to tag me when they post about one of my books, well, there’s no need for me to stop them.
Eventually, I may very well delete my account (as well as my Facebook account, which is still up but basically in a six-plus year hibernation). I’ll post photos that strike my fancy here, just because (honestly, I do miss the early purity of Instagram, when it really was just about photo sharing). I’ve already downloaded and stored all my past IG posts, and I’ve posted there a final time to simply tell followers that I’ll no longer be there and to read this very letter for more info if they’d like.
Thanks, all, for reading this way-too-long memorandum about an app I don’t care about. 😂 As always, I’m so, so grateful for each of you here, and I’m so thankful for the internet’s many treasures, such as allowing me to find a readership such as yours.
Ora et Labora,
Thanks for sharing this, Tsh. So many of the same thoughts here.
Thank you for sharing your decision framework.