How I Saved My Instagram
This isn’t a how-to piece, it’s really a love story. A story as old as time, between an aesthete and a hardcover book. Because although I’ve deleted most of my social media, I didn’t want to leave Instagram in the dust. I thought I did, but that was because I was allowing the overwhelming surge of advertisements to corrupt the pleasure I got out of using it.
But that was also because I was scrolling too much instead of working on the curation of my own account. If I wasn’t aesthetically moved by my own account, how could I really complain about the deluge of misplaced ads that came my way every 5th post? Answer: I couldn’t.
I was using Instagram as a photo book and not an art piece. And with a background in curation, I should have known better. I was losing the vision for my own account. The thing is, when I started heavily curating my own account again and spending more time thinking about what photos I wanted to shoot and add, everything changed.
This is a story about how I saved my Instagram. Because from one book came great adjustments. And the book was Hashtag Authentic: Finding creativity and building a community on Instagram and beyond by Sara Tasker.
I don’t like things out of order. I straighten things everywhere. I am a visual minimalist. I like to appreciate things on their own, with no eye-line distractions. As an Instagram scroller, I look for a visceral reaction to make me like something. That usually comes in the form of nature photography. Aerials. Interior design. Houses. Architecture. But always, always a curated photo. One that someone took their time on.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy keeping up with my friends and their kids’ sports games and weddings and birthdays, but that’s why I left Facebook. Because I was bored out of my mind with the content there. And I fell down the same rabbit hole on Instagram. I followed my friends because they followed me. I liked a photo to be nice, but the photo wasn’t even that good. It was just nice.
But that’s not how I want my Instagram to be going forward. Because that behavior is what breeds the rabbit hole philosophy. Time spent down that hole is time wasted. But time spent viewing photographs that hit me, inside, is like visiting an art exhibition from the comfort of my bed. And that’s what I need more of. Not a parade of influencers peddling their Hello Fresh and modern lifestyle boxes.
“In a digital age the place for pictures in our lives has changed, but that doesn’t mean they have lost their significance.” — Sara Tasker, Hashtag Authentic
I don’t remember how I stumbled upon Sara Tasker and her podcast, Hashtag Authentic, but when I did I was enthralled. The title, in and of itself, describes everything she is about. At the time, I didn’t even know she was a burgeoning Instagram expert. I was just there to listen to episodes about thoughtful branding and creative business building.
Soon I was buried under an avalanche of past episodes. And truthfully, not every episode was for me, but it was the continuing audible reminder that it’s okay to be authentic online that kept ringing in my ear. I visited her Instagram and many others she talked about and what I saw was patience, curatorial discretion, and a page vision. All unique and distinct, but beautiful.
She echoed a lot of thoughts that were constantly spinning in my head. She also had grown tired of people not thinking that what she was doing could be a career. There I was, done with real estate and pursuing writing and creativity full-time. And there she was, saying it was okay and that it was going to be okay.
One day I was scrolling and I went back to my Instagram profile. It looked like a mess. A happy one, with photos of my kids, of my dog, and happy birthday messages, but if I judged it by its visceral appeal to someone who didn’t know me, it was a 0. And maybe that’s fine, but it didn’t feel fine to me.
I wasn’t on Instagram to keep my friends updated with what I was doing, but over the years that’s what it became. Hey look, my son and I are having fun in Austin. Hey, look at us at Christmas. It was nice and all, but it wasn’t pretty. And the only accounts I was truly enjoying on Instagram were pretty.
Today, when I look at social media and how I want to use it, the only use case for me is one that makes me happy. Photos of my kids can make me happy by scrolling my Photos app or by going into my archive on the computer. But the juxtaposition of them inside my Instagram feed just wasn’t the kind of visual display I was looking for.
This is what it used to look like (and still does in parts while I go through a rigorous deletion process):
There’s nothing wrong with these photos. I love my kids. I love seeing my dad in there. My old friends. My dog. But they don’t tell a story. They don’t engender any type of reaction if you don’t know me, other than why is this 48-year-old man posting a selfie. I hear you.
And I’m not saying posting random photos of whatever you are doing is wrong. It’s just not what I like to look at and if my profile is not what I like to look at, what’s the point? And it’s also a fair question to ask yourself — what do you want to get out of your Instagram account?
For me, it’s not about followers. Lately, when I scroll to my own page it makes me feel something. It feels more like art. It makes me feel like I am trying instead of just capturing a moment on the fly. That’s what Stories is for in my opinion.
I saved my Instagram. I didn’t know if I wanted to, but now that I have, I’m pretty happy about it. When I couple this with my process of updating who I follow every month, it’s made Instagram enjoyable for me again. And even though they are still owned by the devil, my joy outweighs whatever data they are stealing from me.
When I heard Sara Tasker was coming out with a book, titled the same as her podcast, I knew I would buy it. At first, I thought I might just be buying it to support her. Because her podcast was a calm respite from another murder podcast I had to binge. But once I got it, I knew that was all false.
The book is visually beautiful. The pages are curated as her Instagram account is. It’s pristine. But it’s also an effective uncovering of the best practices on Instagram if you truly want to enjoy it. And the surprise was that if you truly want to enjoy it, you have to do a little work. Sometimes a lot of work to get the shot that you want. The one that will make you that happy. The one that will hold meaning when you look at it in three weeks.
“Photographing our everyday lives allows us to zoom in on the details and think about the small things that hold big meaning for us.” — Sara Tasker, Hashtag Authentic
So I started to adjust my goals. And put into practice some of the things I was reading about. I left the house with an express goal of taking photos. And it became fun again. A random street sign. Trees. Nature. I started experimenting with angles. With light. And with movement.
Not all the photos were winners, but isn’t that the point in this digital age? We can easily take ten photos to get one and the only burden to bear is hitting select, grabbing the nine sucky ones, and putting them in your phone’s little trash can. Eight seconds of “editing.”
Compare the difference:
Maybe it doesn’t matter to you, but it does to me. This feels like a better representation of me. And not an overt one. Not a photo of me with my kids. Or of my dog. And these aren’t just photos of what they are. An air plant. My house. Trees. They are so much more than that. They are what make me feel something. They come from inside of me. They aren’t just a passing click with an awkward salutation. This is how I feel. This is what moves me. And even if no one sees it, when I go to my own page, I feel really, really good.
It’s quite possible that my creativity just wants to run roughshod through my life. And I’m fine with that. It’s why I embrace minimalism. I want fewer obstructions, both physical, visual, and personal in my life. And that includes social media and how it looks. I want my life to tell a story without me having to say anything.
But I also want someone to have to think about it. I don’t want a picture to tell a thousand words. I want a picture of my life to give a feeling, one which can be interpreted differently by each person. But when all the pictures are placed together I want them to be harmonic. Because that’s what I want my life to be like.