I keep failing at "mindful" social media

For several years now, I've fought an inner battle with myself. Over this whole social media thing.

I'm not alone. Questioning our use of social media is a growing trend, among regular people and celebrities alike. Heck, even corporations are jumping ship.

It's trendy to do digital detoxes, and the internet is swimming with "I quit Instagram for 30 days and this is what happened" personal experiments.

Most of these stories follow the same template:

The writer struggles with withdrawal symptoms for a few days. They can't concentrate, they constantly reach for their phone. But then the clouds part, the angels sing, and they feel more focused and productive than ever before. They're able to think whole thoughts. And their friends don't abandon them, who would've thought!

And by the end of the article? The writer usually ends up going back to the apps. They admit it almost apologetically. How they will still HAVE to use Instagram, but only in a professional capacity. Or how they will check it only once a day instead of once every hour. How they will be "more mindful" of it.

The obvious solution - not being on social media at all, continuing to enjoy all those benefits of increased focus, productivity and happiness - is of course out of the question.

Especially as a freelancer or entrepreneur. No one even remembers how we got clients before the advent of social media. How to find readers without Facebook. How to network without Twitter. How to build a personal brand without Instagram.

Social media is such a given, few entrepreneurs dare to question it. Even though it makes many of us feel icky. Even though we have to work harder for less results.

So how do we reconcile these two facts? How do we stay sane while handling the pressure to be "on social"?

We tell ourselves we will use social media "more mindfully", more consciously, more deliberately. *cue zen meditation gong music* And that by doing so, we can get the benefits (more readers/followers) without the downsides (depression, anxiety, stress, inability to concentrate, addictive behavior...)

I've convinced myself of this several times. And that's despite having read very convincing books like Deep Work by Cal Newport and Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier.

I suck at mindful social media use. I've failed every time. Still, I keep entertaining the thought that mayyyyybe I just didn't use it mindfully enough.

Instagram is the only social platform I can't keep my hands off. The other ones, I happily left behind years ago.

Twitter was the first one I ditched, and I did so after several years of ignoring it. Deleting the account was just a formality.

I've always hated Facebook and left as soon as I realized I could do so while still keeping my Messenger chats.

I even deleted my LinkedIn account with 300+ contacts.

But Instagram... It's a perfectly crafted addictive experience.

I've deactivated and reactivated my account probably five times over the last few years. I deleted my original account, only to start a new one recently. That I've barely touched.

I have brief stints where I comment on stuff and send DMs. Only to disappear for months. My friends never know what to think. "Are you here or not?" And I'm like "I DON'T KNOW! 😬"

My Instagram relapses usually go something like this:

After a long period of being happily off Instagram, I get restless. I don't miss it, per se. I'm just casually curious about what my friends and acquaintances are up to. And I figure a tiny little revisit won't hurt me. I could do it really carefully this time. Mindfully.

So I resuscitate my account - on my desktop only - and unfollow everyone but close friends and family. And some other people who's feeds I really like. And maybe some of my favorite bird accounts. A small enough following that it won't overwhelm me to keep up with.

Now I can scroll the feed for a few minutes each evening, from the safety of my computer. Nice and controlled.

There. That's not so bad. Up yours, Instagram! I use you as I like and you can't reach me with your algorithms.

As the days go by, I get greedy. I still have room for some more accounts to follow. And hey, Instagram is recommending me similar people to the ones I already follow.

Fine. I follow some more.

And some more.

And some more.

Before I know it, I follow over 150 people. The feed takes me an hour to get through instead of ten minutes. Better start checking it twice a day instead of once.


Or I could download the app. And use all those in-between moments throughout my day to stay on top of the feed. I don't do anything important those times anyways, can't hurt that much. I'll hide the app in a folder on the third home screen so that it's not in my face.

And oh! I'll put a time lock on the app, so I don't get sucked in.

There! Still under control.

Except... with the app on my phone, I am now helplessly exposed to the full Instagram experience. With its incessant notifications, DMs and never-ending 20+ page Stories that take 15 minutes to tap through. A flood wave of dogs, cats, babies, selfies, memes, inspirational quotes and lifestyle porn that my mind can't possibly filter through.

The morning and evening zombie scrolling in bed begins. "You've reached your usage limit for this app today." Ignore. *scroll, scroll, scroll*

And then, after a week or two, the ads come.

All. The. Ads.

They don't show them to you right away. No, they wait until you're sufficiently hooked and they've gathered enough intel on you. Then they blast you. The Instagram algorithm knows me better than I know myself. And the stuff it shows me are irresistibly interesting. It speaks to my most anxious and superficial self. I hate myself when I click "read more" on an ad for a hair tie that miraculously gives you thicker hair.

Do I need to tell you that everything I've ever bought from an Instagram ad has been bullshit? And has just left me feeling weak, stupid and easily manipulated.

And it's usually around this time that I pull the plug on my "mindful" Instagram practice. Again.

And the relief is orgasmic. I've forgotten how quiet and free life is without Instagram. How much more tolerant I am towards myself. I much I can get done in a day, without even trying.

Maybe it's worth relapsing just so I can experience this bliss again? Like how I need to eat candy every once in a while to remember that it makes me feel sick. So I can pour the rest of it in the trash and feel like I've escaped a dangerous enemy.

I can't use Instagram without Instagram using me. It's impossible. I'm their product.

We can't expect to use a service that's engineered to consistently vampirize our time and attention, and still stay in control. We are not in control. Not of our behavior, not of the content we produce on the platform, and not of the relationships we build there.

And there's no such thing as "mindful" social media use. Not for me, and probably not for most people. Because social media is not designed to be used mindfully. It's optimized to be used compulsively and excessively. That's the whole business model.

So maybe the only really mindful social media use is no social media use at all.

I hope I get there some day.