What comes after FOMO?
The Instagram blackout changed my perspective—but didn't free me.
This might be the beginning of my official transition from Instagram user to Instagram lurker. Unless I change my mind next week, in which case, forget about this post. —Kate
If life were a horror movie or a superhero franchise, we would have all awoken from the social media blackout of October 4 with some kind of special power. While I can’t say I’m able to read anyone’s mind or lift cars just yet, that doesn’t mean I didn’t leave the blackout feeling changed in my own, less exciting way.
Taking a look at my archive, my Instagram Stories begin to significantly taper off the week following Facebook and Instagram’s six hours of inaccessibility. I get out the last few gasps of organic posts about going to the farmers market and a craft I’m working on, and then the only appearance I make on people’s feeds is via a TikTok I thought was funny or Adele’s post about her new single. For the past four days, I’ve posted nothing.
As I mentioned in a previous post, during the blackout, I was still opening Instagram only to realize (again) that there was nothing there. It made me realize: was I ever opening Instagram because of something I hoped to find there? Is there anyone whose content I actively felt I was missing out on during the blackout, or was it simply an itch totally unrelated to the actual content on the app that I was trying to scratch?
When Instagram came back, it was like my eyes had been opened. I no longer saw myself as “using Instagram” but instead as a lab rat going through the same series of machinations: check notifications, look at my own Story, look at my own feed posts, look at other people’s Instagram Stories, scroll the public feed, check notifications, look at my own story, look at my own—you get it. I couldn’t tell you what I was getting from one session of use that was different than the last.
I was curious if a switch had flipped for anyone else, so I asked ... on Instagram.
“I’m so bored,” one friend responded.
Two others said the blackout prompted them to change how they used the app—one moved all their social apps to a different spot on their phone so they “don’t click out of habit,” and another turned off Instagram notifications.
The blackout made another friend realize that their addiction was less based on habit and more on FOMO—and that the FOMO disappeared after the blackout.
“I felt a sense of relief knowing no one else was on there and I wasn’t ‘missing’ anything,” they told me.
You’d think this would all add up to a feeling of freedom—especially for someone who frequently talks about their desire to leave social media—but I don’t feel unburdened. Instead, I’m a little bummed that I accidentally saw behind the curtain and now can’t derive the same joy from this thing that I know, at one point, was a real source of entertainment and connection. In fact, that’s what my therapist recently warned me about: If I was going to leave social media, I’d need to make sure I found replacements for the things about it that do, in fact, bring me happiness.
It’s the connection with other people that’s most important, and the documenting of my life in a way older versions of myself can look back on. I just don’t know if there’s any social media out there that’s a place for those things anymore, without metrics or algorithms or a heavy-handed desire to make you turn all your thoughts and memories into Reels. I guess what I’m saying is, it might be time to bring back my (other) newsletter.