By Elana Luban
Well, right off the bat, I gotta be honest. I didn’t delete my Instagram. Whew – that feels good to say! But I did delete the app, and did go AWOL beginning six months ago. Does that count?
My intentions weren’t completely pure; I didn’t do it solely for the sake of “ridding myself of superficiality and distractions.” I had Instagram before I had Facebook (in a trend which I later found out is pretty common among post-Bais Yaakov girls) and when I was finally forced to get Facebook because of a wonderful convenient group some of you might have heard of, called “Stern College in the Know,” the need for Instagram suddenly melted away. I couldn’t understand why I had ever used it in the first place.
But there had been obvious reasons for initially choosing Instagram over Facebook. I got Instagram about a week after buying my first smartphone, around two weeks after I got home from my year in seminary.
It was right around then that, before I knew it, I suddenly found myself transformed into the textbook example of a girl who comes home from Israel and fails miserably at retaining any bit of spirituality. I hadn’t had a smartphone or any form of social media during high school (just like 99% of the classmates and friends with which I grew up in the insulated yeshivish town I hail from) and, since it seemed to me that the minute I got Facebook, random community members would discover me and my family would find out and be disappointed, Instagram had to suffice. And it did — it seemed like the perfect alternative. Only young people, lots of young people, all the fun. Facebook seemed unnecessarily complicated in comparison. I even remember loving the simplicity and thinking, “a picture, a caption. Who needs more?”
The problem was, the “all the fun” part wasn’t true. More like “all the stress.” For some reason, I felt that I needed at least 200 followers, otherwise my Instagram would be “weird.” Then I needed 300, then 600. And if you would’ve asked me why, I wouldn’t have been able to answer.
This whole thing happened at a time in my life when I was between worlds. Israel and all its excitement was behind me — why had I learned Hebrew? Why had I made all those Israeli friends? Would I ever see them again? — but New York had not yet become a part of my life. I was stuck in the middle (coincidentally, in the Midwest), back in my boring hometown, living with the same people and surroundings I had grown up with and enrolled in a boring local state college. Cliché as it might seem, the shiny screen of my smartphone, the shiny pictures I could post, and the shiny, polished profiles of everyone I followed, were a welcome escape.
Luckily, in the middle of my first semester at Boring State College, one of my seminary friends — now at Stern — told me all about how college life in the city was going for her. Right then, I knew that was what I needed. I hastily applied, and, come January, my luggage and I were in the middle of Manhattan. That was only eight months ago, but as they always say, it feels like a lifetime has passed. My life got whirlwind-ier and whirlwind-ier until I couldn’t remember how I had time to post on Instagram, let alone why I would want to. Does anyone else have this weird hangup where the more they eat, the less motivated they are to exercise? Happens to me all the time. Anyway, this was kind of like that, but in a good way: the more I did, the less I wanted or needed to post.
Suddenly, I had school and friends and clubs and job interviews and dating and board meetings and flights and — deep breath — thrift-store shopping sprees and applications and tests and guitar jam-sessions in the park and trips and Shabbatons. The shiny, polished pictures didn’t feel real anymore, compared to life. Oh, I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t stop posting the minute I got to New York — the last picture was from May. But I posted only as an afterthought, when I’d had a special event, or once when a high school friend came to visit me in New York. Nothing is black and white; it never just stopped. But I cared less and less, and, one day, when I noticed my phone was running out of storage space, I deleted the app… and forgot about it.
You could say I’d gotten a little more mature, or a little busier. I don’t know exactly what the cause was, but I know the effect was that I became a lot happier. One less stressful thing to worry about, one less number to calculate (“640 followers? Last week I had 645!”). Oh, and since everybody loves embarrassing stories, I’ll end with one: a few weeks ago a friend of mine who’d never seen my Instagram said he bet all my pictures were of Starbucks lattes. To prove him wrong, I downloaded the app and logged in (that annoying moment when you have to remember a password you haven’t used in half a year) and nearly died. My pictures, my captions, everything was just… juvenile. Embarrassing. Since the account was private but technically still viewable by whoever was following me, I spent about an hour deleting some of the dumbest captions and hashtags. And when I was done, I wanted to beat myself up over what a baby I had been, but instead I reminded myself what had really happened: I had grown up, just a little bit, in the best way possible.
My little flirtation with Instagram, and its end, was a sign of something much bigger happening inside of me. With New York, and college life, at its most fulfilling, I no longer needed to fill the gap that this form of social media had at one point filled.