Leaving Instagram: One Year Later 🧐
Your FAQs, answered!
It’s been a year since I stopped using Instagram with any regularity1, and almost a year since I told the general public about it and made it official. I’ve been asked with frequent regularity how it’s been sans Instagram, along with a few practical questions regarding the how-to of leaving the ‘gram, so I thought it time for a wee update.
Q: Do you miss Instagram?
A: Not a whit. I forget it exists. Really and truly, I don’t even think about it until someone brings it up. It probably helps that more and more IRL friends have deleted the app as well this past year.
Q: Has your “traffic” decreased?
A: It’s hard to quantify things like “traffic” online, so for this type of question, I’m thinking mostly about the things I care about—namely, cultivating a readership here at The Commonplace, podcast listeners, pilgrimage participants, and book buyers. I don’t care one iota about any social media numbers.
With the things I care about, my audience has increased, not decreased. I have more paying subscribers of The Commonplace (thank you, by the way!), more podcast episode downloads, this summer’s Ireland trip has sold out, my book sales are doing just dandy, and I was able to sign another book contract without any promise of being on the ‘gram. In short: Instagram had played zero role in my vocational work as a writer, at least in the way I cared about it, and certainly plays zero role now.
Q: Has your quality of life gotten better?
A: It’s hard to overstate how much better my mental health, time management, work ethic, and overall screen use have gotten since leaving Instagram. Every aspect of my life has been better, and while sure, these things may not be 100% only because of leaving it, that deliberate action led to and is comprised of other life choices I’ve made that are easier to implement because of not being on the app. A few examples:
• I text more frequently with faraway friends, which means we’re connecting one-on-one and getting real updates from each other instead of general IG-audience updates. (I want to get better at actually calling, but baby steps.)
• I get together more frequently with friends in person. If I want to know how someone is doing, I have to reach out to them. I’d say that, on average, this past year I’ve had coffee with a friend about once a week. Kyle and I have gotten together without fail every month for our Frinners (Fourth Friday Friend Dinners with two other couples we’re good friends with). Neighbor friends and I started an everyone’s-welcome neighborhood picnic on the first Friday of every month, when we all bring our family dinners from home and eat them together on the courthouse lawn in the middle of our town square. I participate in a neighborhood book club. We’ve attended our neighborhood parish every Sunday except for one sick weekend.
• I’m more present for moments without thinking about what photo I should take that’s ‘grammable. In fact, I forgot that was a thing until recently, when I suddenly remembered what it was like to constantly think about that when doing stuff offline (“How should I post about this?”). I travel, I read books, I garden, I go out and do things—I live my life, basically—and I don’t think at all about how I can turn it into content. This is HUGE for my mental health and sanity.
Because, you know, this is how we’re supposed to live.
I could name more, but these are the top benefits that come to mind.
Q: Have you lost touch with people?
A: Yes. And it stinks. I don’t want this. But …and I hate to say it, but… the trade-off is worth it. This has made me realize which relationships were mostly relationships of convenience in a digital sense, which is a bummer because I truly like many of these people. But the faraway ones I still keep in touch with, we do so over text, and we show up in this way because we consider each other true, actual friends, and not friends/acquaintances/work colleagues who are able to connect with each other simply by nature of being on the same platform. If that’s required to remain “friends,” perhaps our relationship isn’t as much of a friendship as I thought it was. It’s been a hard thing to reckon with.
This past year, I’ve had the experience of texting with friends who have ghosted me. Even though I did my darndest at first to keep up with them using other methods (text, Voxer, calling), they never reciprocated to reach out to see how I was doing. I get it—this takes effort and a simple remembering to do so.
The first few months after leaving Instagram and me reaching out to catch up, some of these people would literally say things like, “Hello! I’ve wondered how you’re doing since you’re not online anymore.” As though Instagram = being online. I’d reply by reminding them how I’m still very much online—I have this Substack newsletter I love doing, I still pop onto Twitter a few times a week to see what’s up, I publish a twice-monthly podcast, etc. etc. But for these folks, the internet apparently IS Instagram, and to not be on it is to not be online at all.
This genuinely saddened me at first, and Kyle heard an earful about it the first few months after I left, as well as a few close in-person friends. This ghosting never caused me to doubt my decision, but it legit disheartened me that these co-creators—these people I’ve thought of as friends—are this dependent (and dare I say, addicted? or blindly convinced it’s essential?) to Instagram. It still saddens me now, but no longer because I take their statements and actions personally—it saddens me for them. They’re missing out on so much of life, and even other lovely parts of the internet, that are truly beautiful.
Q: Do you still think Twitter is better than Instagram?
A: I do. In fact—and I know this is somewhat controversial to say—but I actually think it became better once Elon Musk bought it. Not perfect, by a long shot, and it’s still a social media platform with the proclivity and model to cause addiction and other vices, but I’ve figured out how to use it so it works for me. …For now.
I only read Twitter via my lists, all of which I’ve set to private—I haven’t looked at my main, default feed in ages. I also mostly look at it on my laptop, not my phone (I actually plan to only read it via my laptop by blocking it from my phone’s web browser this week—and well, switching to Wisephone, which is in the works).
I also don’t think of Twitter as a readership-building tool, I think of it as a work-cultivating tool. The people I’ve connected with there best are those whom I’ve found writing gigs, business partnerships, and like-minded writers willing to share each others’ work on our main platforms (such as our Substack newsletters). Framing Twitter as a work tool and not a platform-growing tool helps me use it strategically.
One more final thing about Twitter vs. IG: I believe one of social media’s many pitfalls is its ability to poke at our vices, and while we all struggle with them, we all specifically struggle with some particular vices more than others. I personally struggle with envy, and Instagram uniquely targets that vice. Twitter targets anger, and I don’t struggle with that vice as much. People’s mileages vary with various social media platforms, I believe in part because of each of our own unique foibles.2
Q: How do I get off Instagram? aka, How do I download my photos, phrase why I’m leaving so that I don’t sound judgey, etc.?
Here’s what some of you have been wanting me to get at—you’re already convinced Instagram isn’t worth it, so you just want help leaving it well. I get it. Here’s what I did:
1. Download all your photos if you’d like to keep them. Meta doesn’t like you leaving their platform, and they know downloading data is a common step to leaving, so they don’t make it easy. Here’s the latest how-to on downloading your data, and depending on how many posts you have, it may take a few days. This will download all your posts’ data, from what I understand, so it’s not just simple photo files. Meta will email this to you in a zip file, so make sure your email is updated with your account, and check it frequently, because the file might go to spam. Also, the link expires after a while, so don’t just assume you can leave it in your inbox.
2. If you feel the need to explain why you’re leaving (because you don’t have to; you can just quietly leave), write a final post sharing what you want. Do it however you like, but remember: you don’t owe anybody an explanation. You can just leave because you want to. If you’d like to share some of your convictions in hopes of convincing others, however, I’ve found in general it’s best to frame your thoughts as part of your personal experience, and not preach to others why they should do the same. Believe me, I’d love all my friends to leave the app, too, but I don’t have control over them. Modeling in my own life is the best way to convince someone of anything true, good, and beautiful, I’ve found. None of us like feeling judged or coddled.
3. Download your file from Meta and put it somewhere in your cloud storage. From there, do with it what you will—take the files and print them in a photo book, upload them to Flickr, create a photo blog or Micro.blog, whatever. I’ve just left mine zipped in storage for now.
4. Delete all your posts. Here’s the latest on how to do that en masse.
5. Update your bio to ensure it includes any links you want, especially how to best find you online from now on.
6. If you want, upload your last photo + post that explains why you’re leaving.
From here, you have two choices: Option 1 is to keep that last post up for a few weeks, then delete it and delete your account entirely (here’s the latest on how to do that). A wise choice.
Option 2… If you’re a person wanting to grow your online readership, listenership, or viewership, and you have a current Instagram following you’re reticent to leave—but you still want to leave the app because you’re convinced the goods outweigh the bads—I recommend still deleting all your content but not deleting your account all the way just yet. (My account still exists for now—but I plan to delete it fairly soon.3)
Use your profile bio to tell people how they can find you and leave links to what matters to you, including perhaps a link to where you’ve explained (your post, episode, video, etc.) why you’ve left Instagram. This way, for the time being, people can still tag you on their own photos when they bring up your work (in my case, when people post about one of my books), and new potential readers can click over and read said bio.
As an example, I found that a number of new readers who learned of me by reading At Home in the World would look up photos of our round-the-world trip as they read (which makes sense!). I took those Instagrams and uploaded them to Flickr, then added a link in my bio to that photo album, where readers could still browse those photos as they read. I was happy to provide that as an alternative.
Q: Any final words of wisdom?
A: Okay, none of you asked that, but I need to end this long essay somehow. So yes, here are some final thoughts.
The benefits have ENORMOUSLY outweighed the liabilities of not being on Instagram. It’s not even close. The app is no longer part of my life, and I truly don’t think about it anymore. I miss people there, yes, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay for sanity, better mental health, better time management, better work ethic, better alignment with my core values, better everything. I don’t regret leaving for one minute, and if the platform bothers you as much as it once did me, I highly recommend leaving and not looking back.
If you’re not convinced you won’t regret it, there’s no shame in doing a partial departure. Leave for the summer, and mark on the calendar a date when you give yourself total freedom to hop back on. Or delete the phone app, and check it only via your computer to see if you still like keeping up with accounts without it being a default time waster on your phone. There are partial solutions to this situation—it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
I plan to make this post public soon for free Commonplace readers, but for now, I’m keeping comments available only to you guys, my subscribers. Have any more questions about this topic? I’m happy to answer them as I can. (I’ve got work meetings later this week, so if it takes me a bit longer than I prefer to get back to you, I appreciate your grace).
All in all, it’s a good thing to remember what really matters, where real life truly resides, and why we’re divine creatures made to dwell on and participate in the cultivation of truth, goodness, and beauty. For me, leaving Instagram has made all of this more of a reality and less of simply a well-intentioned good idea.
Ora et Labora,
I stopped using it with any regularity for most of the ’21-22 school year, then stopped altogether in June 2022. I then had a brief return to use it while leading the Italy trip, only because the organization I partnered with signed me on while I was still on IG, and I didn’t feel like it was entirely fair to not post during the trip when they may have expected me to. They never asked, but I still wanted to honor that potential assumption.
Though they all target pride, the queen of all vices, which is why being on any social media platform is a roll of the dice, a gamble I’m willing to walk away from at any moment.
If you’re curious, once I have a published book out in the world that shows tangible proof to future publishers I don’t need to be active on Instagram to sell a book, I’m going to permanently delete my account.