The Gentle Respite of Instagram


Images by Andy Orin.

There is only one place on the internet that is nice. There is only one place that does not add to my anxiety and actually alleviates the low level dread that comes with the ubiquitous awareness of being online all of the time. That place is Instagram.

All other social networks are filled with good and bad things that range from sincerely precious (your friend’s newborn baby) to actively horrible (arguments with literal racists). Simply checking Facebook which, in its older and simpler forms, was little more than status updates and photos, is rarely a purely positive experience. Instagram calls back to that simpler form largely devoid of controversies and bad news about the world. It is, when used right, just images of nice things from people you like. It is a haven.

Your use may vary, but I only check Instagram at the end of the day when I do a deep scroll. I take it in all at once, seeing what my friends are up to, enjoying cute pictures of dogs and cats from a variety of novelty accounts, glancing at the daily lives of a few celebrities. I peruse the entire day as a sort of treat—rather than a piecemeal real-time perusal of things that are happening as they happen, it is, to me, a charming dossier for the end of the day. It is a gentle way to decelerate, a way to stop and click the roses.

I’ve designed it that way. On Facebook I accept most any friend request from people I’m familiar with in any capacity, populating it with familial obligations and vague acquaintances. Twitter is for news and silly jokes. LinkedIn? No thanks. On Instagram, I choose who I’d like to see. It is not a general overview of the world—it’s the world I’ve chosen.

My point is that there are still sanctuaries to be found on the internet, and the brief escape offered by such unsullied retreats can provide a much needed respite from the daily grind.

Moreover Instagram offers a variety of ephemera to supplement your feed. There’s the slime people. The weird CGI. The celebrity gossip. The famous pets, the parrots. I follow an owl or two. It’s all delightful. The explore tab is an algorithmic fever dream of weird suggestions you can follow or ignore. Whatever you like! Nice as heck!

The aggressive addition of features may eventually complicate the safe harbor provided by Instagram’s simplicity, but so far I don’t think that’s the case. Instagram Stories are charming in their own right; I’m happy to see the less formal snapshots of everyone’s lives, unconcerned with contributing to the permanent photographic record. Entire albums of images grouped together are fine.

Perhaps you may find similar havens from the world with other apps or networks or games. I have never been interested in Snapchat—to address the ghost in the room—though many of you likely find the same respite through that app. I’m an internet traditionalist; I like the feed and I like it to be chronological. (Instagram’s mildly controversial change to an algorithmically sorted feed has been effectively subtle, and you can still do a deep scroll at the end of the day to see every photo.) If Snapchat is your haven, my friend, I am happy for you.

Self-care is a trendy term that I try to avoid but is conceptually central to much of what I’ve been advocating these past few weeks. We should all find our safe harbors, our little havens that offer respite from the world and help us endure it all. With Instagram, I’ve found selfie-care.



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