Q&A: How do you balance social media presence and creative life?
I don't just willy-nilly Instagram.
In this newsletter, I respond to a reader-submitted question about surviving the hell-scape that is Instagram.
I get questions about my relationship to Instagram a lot. Unlike most people I talk with, I don’t actually think Instagram is a hell-scape despite its predatory nature, and that’s part of what I get into today. I share what my thoughts and expectations around Instagram are, and how they inform my attitude and user experience.
I also share the only and very foolproof formula I use for my engagement, and the one thing I try to remember before I post anything. You don’t want to miss this! Or maybe you just want your attention back like everybody else. I talk about that too.
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Thank you for reading and listening. Continued below…
Q: How do you find balance with social media as an artist? Sometimes I find it inspiring! And other times it’s a major depressive drain.
I think Instagram is a great creative tool, meaning it is a tool that I, as a creator, can use for free. I don’t think it nurtures creativity, nor do I expect it to be a source of inspiration. When I log on, I’m not like “Mmm, what kind of interesting thing might I be inspired by today!?” I know that I’m not going to get a megadose of inspiration to the point of like, putting my phone down and racing to my desk to be creative. In fact, the opposite generally happens, where the more I use it, the less creative freedom I feel I am able to tap into.
Just because Instagram isn’t where I find deep inspiration for my practice doesn’t mean that what I’m doing or what my friends or the people I follow are doing isn’t inspirational - it’s so wonderful to be able to take in these bitesized moments of it all. I just try to keep in mind that Instagram is a mere stepping-stone to really appreciating what people are doing — it is not the final step of how I want to engage with other people’s activities. To me, supporting other people’s work looks like purchasing artwork, paying for newsletters, buying a class or a book, and showing up at art shows or markets when I can.
But we’re not talking about showing up in real life right now, we’re talking about showing up on Instagram. I use Instagram to tell stories, to promote myself, to connect with others, and to direct people to the places they can support my artwork and writing if they want to.
I consider my time on there as part of running my business and I look at it like an investment — into myself and into my friends. I consider that each of my friend’s accounts is like their own personal stock. Logging on means: it’s time to invest, swiftly and wisely. I think of it as a short and calculated window of time to give, to put back in the energy that I so often receive from other people. I do want to know what people are doing, but I also feel that taking time to “see” people this way really does make a difference now that Instagram functions as a means to social and literal currency.
Other people supporting my work though likes and shares and comments has been life-changing for me. I want to provide the same for the people whose work I recognize or think is special, and for the people in my life who I care deeply for — whether or not what they’re doing resonates with me, honestly. So I look at it like I am taking my time to invest in other people, and then I log off.
I think that Instagram hijacks our minds and programs us into hosts — but not just hosts of the information or advertisements that appear — I think it renders us overly accommodating and welcoming hosts to a comparative narrative in the brain, to the point where experiencing “comparisonitis” is normalized.
Because of the way the media is consumed, I feel like we are now so trained to compare ourselves to one an other that we don’t even notice when we’re doing it or how much it might be contributing to feelings of malaise or anxiety. The call is coming from inside the fucking house! It’s normal to compare oneself to others, but I think Instagram takes it to another level, perhaps because it is the perfect marketing tool: the combination of “real” highlights of other people’s experiences paired with shiny things to buy.
Instagram preys on our sense of “not enough” so that we seek to alleviate our lacking through buying things. I find quite it all quite paralyzing and naughty which I think speaks to my not feeling any creative juice or inspiration after using it most of the time. It really has a way of making me feel like my very abundant life is not enough, like I am late to the party (or missed it altogether), like I need to buy things, like my room is ugly, like I don’t have enough friends, or like I don’t travel enough.
It is not beneficial for Instagram to make me feel ok about wearing the same winter coat for five years, or with living an ordinary and rural life where I don’t buy a lot of stuff, or with the moments like when I’m at RiteAid getting Draino for the clogged sink and haven’t washed my hair in a week. Don’t even get me started on body image and aging. The images and advertisements want to remind me that there is an alternative — a better one — to basically everything I already have or am experiencing right now, and I need to buy my way to it yesterday.
I really don’t think we can just willy-nilly Instagram, despite how willy-nilly it feels to access it with a single tap. I don’t think there should be any sloppy thinking around it. I think that sloppy thinking and treating it rather casually is why many people have such an awful go with it (that and the psychological warfare of “not enough” that I just covered).
I’ve seen public displays of resistance to using it, I’ve read essays about how it’s ruining our lives, and I’m like: Yes! It has the capacity to ruin our lives if we treat it like a benign, run-of-the-mill activity. It is not! It is rather insidious, and purposefully so. I try to not lose sight of that and to remember that it is a deeply powerful tool, one that wants to use me and not the other way around.
The kicker is, I have found a way to use it and make it work for me. More often than not, the way I engage with it is quite redeeming and enjoyable, perhaps because I don’t expect it to be anything more than it is. Having low expectations has made the countless connections I’ve made on the app truly feel like one of the best curveballs of modern life and technology ever. Maybe it’s because I am somewhat of a recluse, maybe it’s because I am disconnected from most of my family, but I fucking love the small and mighty community I feel I have access to on there.
I treat my account like it is my own front porch which helps me remember that I can sit on it when I want to and keep the door closed when I don’t want to. I remember that I do not owe anybody anything with my Instagram. I can ask people to leave. I don’t follow people who don’t ignite positive conversations in my head, and I don’t worry about unfollowing people, no matter the circumstance or connection we may share. When I’m on Instagram, I trust I have the interpersonal skills to deal with the consequences of my choices, confrontations, and possible hurt feelings. Lastly, I do not worry about trying to appeal to the algorithm because I know that it is elusive, again by design!
Funneling my business through Instagram and maintaining my sanity at the same time requires thoughtfulness, slowness, and no sloppy thinking! During extra sensitive or activated times in my mind or heart-space, it’s wise for me to avoid it entirely, just like I would avoid something with a similar energy if I was in a low vibration. I pay attention to how much time I spend on it because how I spend my time is how I spend my life.
When I’m on Instagram, I remember that fun, love, belonging, and solidarity are all highly sought after states of being. I remember that they are also contagious when felt, even digitally. This leads me to the only formula I use religiously on Instagram: I imbue my transmissions with love. I don’t look to it to bring me love, I don’t focus on being loved — I focus on the part of myself that does the loving. If I feel resistance or frustration or depletion — if I am not having fun — I log off.
Dear reader, if Instagram isn’t fun for you, please consider what continuing to use it is doing for your spirit and overall wellbeing during this one and only life that you have. Have the courage to abandon it. Have the courage to admit that it doesn’t work for you, even if it seemingly works for other people. We can’t hold our needs or sensitivities up against other people, and we can never really know what is or isn’t working for someone.
If you hate it, have mercy on yourself! It is a form of self-harm to continue showing up for something that makes you feel wretched inside. Be responsible for the feelings the app creates inside of you, and get off if you need to. You do not have to wait around for it to start feeling better, you do not have to get through it or get over it. Perhaps it’s only temporary and maybe someday you'll enjoy using it again. Alternatively, perhaps in this lifetime this tool is just not meant for you. I know dozens of people who do not have Instagram and never will and they are totally, absolutely fine. They are still alive and they have rich lives. In fact I would argue that their lives are honestly richer.
I really believe that there is only and always magic on the other side of taking care of yourself, but sometimes taking care of yourself requires you to be brave if it means that you’re going to be an outlier, that you’re going to do something other people are mostly not doing.
Logging off when it isn’t fun is important not only because it means you're looking out for yourself, but also because I think the whole thing only works if you’re genuinely enjoying it. Nobody wants to see someone phoning it in or showing up and not enjoying themselves, for anything. That energy is also contagious, but depressingly so. It comes through in your posts and stories — even digitally, people can tell. Instead of imbuing the transmissions with love, they become embedded with negativity, complaining, and frustration, and nobody needs to see more of that. Most people will want to change the channel.
This brings me to the one thing I try never to forget, which is that every time I post something, I steal someones attention. I rob someone of a moment of their life.
When I put it that way, really nothing I share feels worthy of that. I just want everyone to have all the time in the world to pursue their dreams or rest unbothered by information and images. I don’t want to be the thing that stands in the way of that peace, even if it’s just for fifteen seconds. So before I post, I try to ask myself, “Is this worth stealing someones attention for?”
It’s a really hard standard to live up to — the answer is often a resounding NO! — but having hard standards is important for not defaulting to the willy-nilly attitude. Using Instagram responsibly requires having hard standards (and boundaries). It’s also all relative. I might post something that could be life-changing for one person and totally boring or an annoying waste of time for the other 34,000 followers I have. Is impacting one person or follower enough? I’d argue yes, although Instagram would like you to believe otherwise.
Whatever the case, I remember: I am about to hijack someone’s attention. I try to make it count, make it worth both mine and someone else’s while, make it feel good for me, feel good for others, and then I log off.
I log the fuck off and I get back to life, back to my projects. I set it and forget it.
It’s hard. It’s super hard.
This is my blueprint for what helps me, and I hope it helps you. Thanks.
A big thank you to @skull_swap whose memes on Instagram sucked me in for a solid hour and made me laugh from the core of my belly.