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Instagram, meet Screen Time

Updated June 19, 2024 • June 9, 2024

Last fall I installed a widget on my iPhone’s home screen that shows me which apps I’ve used and for how long.

I expected a ho-hum graph. Instead, horror:

…and ~90+ (ninety!) minutes of Instagram.


disembodied hands on a disembodied phone

Let’s talk about Instagram

I loved Instagram. Loved.

At launch, it was a one-dimensional stroll of what my friends were up to—it was like early Twitter, except with photos packaged in skeuomorphic quaintness.

Totally free. No ads. No algorithm. Felt personal.

It was great.

But then…

Facebook happened. And Snapchat. And TikTok. And the endless pursuit of more money.

Product managers optimizing for time-on-app and click-through-rates boiled this frog with multiple tap/swipe/discover experiences—Stories! Explore! Reels! Search! DMs! Ads! Ads! Ads!

Four weeks ago, as I felt I was about to croak, I broke out the back of my finest napkin and tally-ho:

In sum, time-on-Instagram comprises:

Therefore: for every hour on Instagram, only 9 minutes brought me the value I wanted—a casual, medium-effort photo feed to stay up-to-date on my friend’s whereabouts and what-have-yous.

Network TV plays 8 minutes of advertising for every 22 minutes of show.

We’ve been boiled alive.

And so…

Three weeks ago, I deleted Instagram. Cold turkey. I’m calling it a summer break, but maybe it’s forever.

Here’s what today (a lazy Sunday) looks like:

Sunday screen-time on phone three weeks after deleting Instagram

Surprisingly, I don’t miss Instagram. At all.

Ok, ok. So I do miss a few things:

What I miss more than anything is my digital home room.

What was once that space has been commercialized and invaded and, at least for now, I’m opting out.


Update 1: Days after my writing this, the U.S. Surgeon General released an Advisory, noting, “while social media may have some benefits … there are ample indicators that [it] can also have a profound risk of hard to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”

I suspect the same applies to adults.

Update 2: Instagram has been sending me e-mails once a week to let me know what I’ve missed. I have also started to see re-targeted ads directed at me in other mediums. They are playing the FOMO card hard.

Just how valuable of a “customer” am I?

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