“Life is what happens while you are staring at your smartphone.” – anonymous
A few people have asked me variations on the same question. How do I live slowly when I clearly do so much? How do I stay connected with my children, family and friends, when I’m also very connected to social media, in particular Instagram? I can’t answer all at once, but I thought I would start by sharing how I use Instagram and remain connected and present for my family. I will explain below, but first…
Last night I arrived home a little early from work and from picking up the kids, so rather than jump straight into dinner preparations I sat on the couch to read for a few minutes. Sen was already on the floor building with his blocks and Ro was on the couch knitting. I pulled a magazine from the shelf and opened it to a random page. Leaving things to the universe, I like to think that the page I land on will have information or inspiration that I need in that moment. I landed on an article about Japanese Tea Ceremony relating it to the concepts of presence, mindfulness and ichi-go ichi-e. I usually have a strict policy of not putting forward my own understanding of another culture’s practices, of simplifying something very rich by laying it over my life. But I was struck in the moment that this concept applied so well to me and how it’s easy for me to prioritize my family and children over social media. According to the article, ichi-go ichi-e is a concept suggesting that each encounter is unique and will never be recreated. With this view we can bring greater presence, intention and gratitude to each encounter we have. Not having much of something is often an easy way to appreciate it. Not having much time with my children, I appreciate the time I have. Knowing that this moment with Sen quietly humming and building with blocks, Ro knitting and humming her own tune, me reading and Matt playing with a new musical instrument my sister gave us – this perfect moment will never happen again. I’m breathing it in, not breaking the hum by starting a conversation, and just appreciating these few minutes before dinner begins. This is life.
Before I tell you how I keep my social media use in check, a little more about me might help you understand…
My academic background is in the social history and art historical understanding of photography. In this sense I came to parenthood with a very keen and deep sense of the role of photography in history and in human self-development (sense of identity). Matt and I have always taken a cautious and reserved approach to documenting our lives and the children. We didn’t photograph many major events in our life because of this. Sometimes, admittedly, with regret.
As a parent I have been inspired and deeply influenced by the book Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. Among other things, Payne advocates limited exposure of children to media and screens. I took this approach to heart and have tried my best to maintain a home and dynamic with my children that minimizes time with screens. That being said, my children do watch shows on an iPad, they see me use my iPhone (which is my phone, camera and computer all in one), because screens are a reality of life, like the newspaper at the front door once was. I try my best to limit it, without at the same time raising my children in a bubble that will inevitably burst.
So…my use of Instagram and social media is heavily influence by my academic studies of photography and particularly its impact on human personality and development and by my alignment with simplicity parenting and the importance of minimizing screens and electronic media for children’s healthy development.
Preamble over –> on to Instagram now.
Instagram is the predominant social network in my life. I also have a Twitter account, which is almost exclusively auto-fed information from my Instagram account and my blog. I have yet to learn how to use Twitter effectively. Probably never will. Don’t really care to. I also have a Facebook account, which I’ve used more in the last year to connect with people I know in real life, since my Instagram account grew too large beyond my circle of friends and family to keep up with.
So, a few details about my life and my Instagram account are important to share and set the stage for how I use social media:
+ I work full time outside of the home
+ My Instagram following is too large to keep track of notifications and new content (a blessing in disguise)
What do these two things mean?
First, working full time outside of the home, a minimum of 40 hours a week, plus my commuting time (by bicycle) to get to and from work, means that I have a lot of time away from my children. My time with the children during the work week is very limited, about an hour in the morning, and about 2 hours at night, during which time I have to do all the parenting duties that come with having children, feed, clothe, bath, homework, which leaves usually about 15-20 minutes of unstructured free time. This means my time with them is precious and I have no interest in wasting it away on Instagram or other social media. But working outside the home means I have plenty of time during the work week on my break time to engage in social media.
Second, my Instagram account has grown to such a size that I cannot keep up with the notifications that come in. I could be slightly off on the exact number, but basically Instagram will only provide you with the last 100 notifications related to you (notifications are the likes and comments others have left on your photos or in response to comments you left on other photos). I used to be able to open Instagram once or twice a day and not miss any news in my notifications, I could easily see when someone replied to a comment I left them and then go back to continue the conversation. This was because when I signed in I would have 20-40 notifications. Now that my account is much larger I easily have 100 notifications every hour. If I’ve just posted something new I will have 100 notifications in 5 or 6 minutes. In order to stay on top of the notifications I would have to open Instagram many times an hour not to miss anything. (Perhaps there’s an app out there that tracks expired notifications but I haven’t bothered to look and wouldn’t want it anyway).
My Instagram account grew fairly steadily (except for the two times that Instagram added my name to the Suggested User List). I was able to manage the notifications at first; I would check in three times a day, then four times a day as my following size grew. But after a certain point it was impossible to keep on top of the notifications. For example, when I woke up in the morning there would always be 100 new notifications in my feed, which meant I necessarily missed some news. At first I was little stressed, thinking I could have missed an important message from a friend or that possibly I was rude for not answering someone. But when I stepped back for a moment, I realized there was no reasonable way to control any of this and that my real friends wouldn’t drop out of my life if I missed an Instagram comment. I certainly wasn’t about to wake up during the night to make sure I didn’t miss anything! So, I conceded that I couldn’t stay on top of the news. And then realized that this was actually a freedom.
Freedom to check in on Instagram only when I felt like it. Freedom from the tyranny of notifications (overstatement, I know) and from keeping up with all the new content.
Since this time, I’ve had a much less engaged relationship with Instagram. There are trade-offs for not being on Instagram and constantly liking and commenting on others photos, or replying to comments: I don’t get as many likes on my photos, I lose followers and I don’t get new ones as quickly. But this doesn’t bother me, because the gains are far greater: lack of stress related to keeping up and greater presence during family time. And, my enjoyment, experience, engagement and connection to the Instagram community has not been adversely affected.
So, here is how I use Instagram:
Because I work full time outside the home, I have many hours away from the children each day. I use my break times at work to post to Instagram, to check in on others accounts or to reply to questions. This way I’m not using Instagram when my children are around. When I’m with them I’m either doing parent and household tasks or playing with them. I save Instagramming for breaks at work. I post on the weekends when they are asleep or playing with friends. It’s that simple.
A few other things:
- I do not have the notifications turned on. Never have.
- I do not worry about missing a post from a friend.
- I do not worry about seeing, liking and commenting on all of my friends and others photos coming through my Instagram feed.
- I do not scroll through the Instagram feed each day, usually only once a week. Sometimes less often, really.
- When I sign into Instagram, I will choose a few friends or accounts to visit and I will catch up on their photos that way.
- I do not use my time to reply to and thank people for every comment made on my photos. I try my best to answer questions and particularly thoughtful comments, but I know that I definitely miss some. C’est la vie! That’s life!
Photography is a big part of Instagramming, so I thought I’d share how I incorporate photography into my children’s life. First, I use an iPhone for photography, which is great for it being small and much less conspicuous than a conventional DSLR camera – you can take photos in a way children often don’t take notice of.
Clearly, however, even with an iPhone camera, my children are aware of the device and its presence in their lives. I do not photograph my children as much as it may seem. In the late fall and winter I very rarely take photos. If I look at my camera roll now, until very recently I had only taken photos of them 3 times since December. I do a lot of recycling. I pull old photos that I never shared or repost favourites with new captions. During the more temperate seasons in late spring, summer, and early fall I do photograph the children more often, but only when they are unaware or okay with it. My style of photography and the photos I like are un-posed, organic and capture something authentic, in this sense my photography excels when the children aren’t aware that I’m taking pictures. I also make a clear decision not to photograph them every day or to capture all their moments in digital form. I can write more on this in a subsequent post if there is interest.
There you have it: a little social media minimalism for you. You really don’t need to be on social media all the time to stay connected and engaged in a community, you won’t lose real friends or real community. Maybe some fickle people will leave you behind. You don’t need them! As I have experienced, I can still find lots of inspiration by way of images, captions and conversation on Instagram without having to digest it all. I haven’t lost any real friends for it or my sense of being supported by a virtual tribe of like-minded people. You can design your relationship with social media to be what you need and what adds to your life, rather than letting it suck away the time in your life.
What can you do if you are a stay at home parent?
If you are a parent who is home with children many hours a day and would like to scale back the amount of time you spend on social media, try adapting my approach to your situation. Pretend you can only use Instagram during your break time (when the children nap?). Resist the urge to photograph every milestone and day of their life. Just be in the moment and use your grey matter to remember things. Old school style! Or, try to be okay with letting the memory fade. If I’m an example of sorts, you can definitely capture enough photos of your child’s life by taking photos once or twice a week (or less), you don’t need to take photos every single day just because you can.
On the topic of living slowly while also having a busy life, I talked about this in a guest post for Ruth & Ragnar. In the post I talk about slow living and how I incorporate a slow focus into my busy, hustled days, in particular where and when I choose to be busy or choose to be slow and present. Read it here.
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