Instagram was just six months old when I opened my account in April 2011. At the time, I was living in New York and had a fancy executive job with a remit to be “up on the latest digital thing.”  I downloaded the app, refused access to my contacts, and painstakingly typed in the “handles” of my early adopter friends. No one was using real names, a holdover from the early days of the internet (oh, how I miss that anonymity).
I shared my first Instagram post later that night. Walking through a neon-saturated Times Square, I looked up at the LED screens, stretching almost 10 stories above me. A giant yellow M & M smiled down at the crowd. I was tired, it was late, and it was amused me. I figured that's what this new photo-sharing site was about-random wry moments-and took the shot.
Not yet hooked on the ritual of “checking my likes,” I posted and instantly forgot about it. Days later, I clicked the icon again and scrolled through my newly populated feed. People I used to see just a couple of times a year at tech conferences had liked my M & M post. I returned the compliment on their #geeklife snapshots and paused to craft some comments.
Most apps I could confidently discuss them with the brass and let them know how it might affect the business. But Instagram remained. The jury was still out on what was standing for or its business model. When Facebook bought it for $ 1 billion a year later, I assumed it was a buy-and-bury deal intended to squash a competitor, but it kept ticking.
For me, Instagram coalesced into a community. We talked about (a lot) amongst ourselves in the comments and resisted Facebook-imposed changes. Cut to today and nobody appears to care anymore. The mindless scroll has subsumed any passion for the arresting visual image. And in the mess of auto-bot-land.
Over the years I got bored of Instagram and ignored it for a while. Then, I have seen each of the following in the past: my earlier shots from a stay in Malibu (flattery is a seductive drug) and, under the pretense of seeing “what everyone is up to,” I logged in again.
made Instagram so tantalizing. Unlike other social media sites, with their explicit and textual “here's what I'm thinking / doing / avoiding / planning,” Instagram's focus on the visual form. We saw people get promotions, fall in love, break up, produce offspring, relocate (with Instagram friends waiting for them), realize their dreams, and mourn losses-all through a few well-chosen images.
For seven years, I used it as a research assistant to source tech stories. It also became an excellent travel tool. I've been carved out a precious three hours before catching a flight, tag a bunch of well-traveled contacts, and ask them for suggestions on where to go.
Through Instagram, I built some great shared long distance, multinational friendships, which spilled over into long-running conversations with IG-ers in Korea, South Africa, Japan, and the Middle East. Some IG encounters evolved into real-life suppers in Berlin, breakfasts in Madrid, and one memorable walk around Dublin's city center in the rain.
When I moved from Manhattan to Los Angeles in 2013, I was kept in touch with friends and former colleagues back East, primarily through the app, sustaining connections that would have otherwise fallen away.
The Dark Side
But by late 2017, Instagram descended into a free-for-all of marketers, “influencers,” vacuous bots , and lazy curation. Facebook has not invested in any serious upgrade to the UX or the servers. It seems to be dated, performance is patchy, and the outages are more frequent than ever.
I also. , I gave up. It's clear there's no management or oversight. It's a mess. The algorithm that supposedly favors shots you “might like” is broken or willfully manipulated for commercial gain. I received so much spam from the third-party scraping tools that I wanted to block comments, but that felt weird and against what I was most about Instagram at the start.
So last week, I decided to quit.
Facebook / Instagram does not make it easy (but you knew that already). Before I hit the disable account. It took 24 hours for the link to arrive and consisted of six zipped files. I sat at my Chromebook for a while, overwhelmed.
In seven years, I'd uploaded 11,000 posts. Even I was shocked-Instagram founder Kevin Systrom has only posted 1,605 to date. I gave myself 60 minutes to do a quick browse through the images folders, which were helpfully organized by months. I've been picked up at random and prepared to go down memory lane.
I smiled (at first) as the years rolled back. I miss the geek tchotchkes-yoda, C-3PO, and Asterix the Gaul-from my NY office, and hope they still have a room with a view.
I did not miss the New York executive hours, although it was ameriorated by the robot stickers from Hong Kong I was illegally placed on the windows and my bubble-blowing kit-all transgressively shared with my IG buddies as I sat working late at my desk.
There's nothing quite as strange as seeing your life pass by your eyes. After an hour, I was relieved. The thought of doing this random trawl through memories over a 10- or 20-year span was depressing, and I knew I would feel really sad.
(One geek point: I could definitely tell when I switched from a $ 700 Samsung Galaxy Note 5 to a “smart-enough” $ 35 ZTE slab; you get what you pay for.)
Pictures browsed and deleted, I then turned to the folder marked “followers, “a JSON file which is opened in my text editor.
Some names I remembered from 2011-a few I still know, others dropped away when I left Manhattan. There were the followers who came in from the academic labs for PCMag. Not the sunsets.
Click Delete? Y / N
Then I deleted it ALL.
It's now gone. Not from the massive Facebook-owned Instagram servers, of course, but no longer out there on the internet. I can not dwell on my digital past.
A week later, how do I feel?
Well, my hands are happier and joints less creaky (no obsessive posting, mindless scrolling or-I'm embarrassed to admit-constantly checking like counts. Then I bumped into a friend IRL who saw my account was gone.
“You okay?” he said.
“Yeah, I feel calmer having” the left of the rabbit hole of ritualistic sharing, “I replied.
” Well, “he grinned,” are eating today. “
We both laughed, but as I walked away and turned around, I saw he was already on his phone, capturing some cool LA #streetart. I admired the mural, but my phone stayed in my pocket. I took it in for a moment, and continued on my way.