The Easy Way to Quit Instagram

· 2 min read

On September 1st, 2020, I took the screenshot when I finally decided to quit Instagram. It was a surprisingly long journey.

I joined Instagram after the end of a long-term relationship. I felt lonely and disconnected, and it seemed that becoming active on social media was a way to engage with the world. It sucked me in pretty quickly. In just a few months, I posted multiple stories a day and spent hours mindlessly tapping through all the people I followed. Every social gathering gave me a knee-jerk reaction - reach for the phone and post a story. "Hey, it was nice meeting you. What's your IG?" — became a part of my social protocol.

This went on for two years. My Instagram feed was filled with people I barely knew. The people who shared every exciting aspect of their lives. It seemed like I didn't have as many friends as they did, as interesting a social life as they did, nor did I look as attractive as them. In an attempt to blend in, I posted my portrait from a professional photoshoot. The picture looked nothing like me, yet it received more attention than anything I've posted before. The real me was irrelevant. It was a wake-up call.

Inspiration came from "Digital minimalism" by Cal Newport. The book advocates for rediscovering how various technologies are used by taking a break from them for 30 days and then slowly reintroducing only the parts you believe are necessary. Easier said than done. I uninstalled the app dozens of times, only to install it again for "just a quick peek." I also learned that there's no "Delete my account NOW" button. You can only deactivate it and wait for a month.

Desmond Tutu once wisely said: "There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time." Since I couldn't quit cold turkey, I decided to gradually unfollow accounts until only what was relevant remained. Some accounts weren't active, and there was no reason to follow them. Some belonged to people I no longer had any personal interest in. I started with ~600 accounts and kept unfollowing at the rate of 5-10 a day. Oh, and I learned that there're limitations on how many accounts you can unfollow per day, hour. The system is designed to keep you in.

In just two months, I was down to double digits. The last people to unfollow were those I was close to. And because I already interacted with them regularly, it didn't matter if I followed their Instagram accounts. When I reached zero, there was no reason to use the service anymore, nothing to see. I deleted my profile picture and took the screenshot above.

It wasn't all smooth sailing. A few people took it personally and angrily unfollowed me back. I said I was happy to meet or video chat with them. Not one took me up on the offer. What surprised me in the months to follow was that out of 420 followers, only ~30 people unfollowed me back.

More changes happen in social interactions. Now when I meet someone new, and they ask for my Instagram. I tell them to get my phone number instead. This additional barrier weeds out those who didn't care in the first place. Meeting with friends became more pleasurable. They can tell me in person about all the things I would have otherwise learned by following their accounts.

Quitting Instagram was nearly as difficult as quitting cigarettes a year prior. Maybe you have a few accounts you don't need to follow? Maybe all of them?