Instagram & creativity unplugged
Since the algorithm took over, Instagram has been very unpredictable, with some of my images getting a lot of likes and comments, and some others of similar quality not getting the same attention.
There are lots of opinions and theories about why that is, and how it’s possible to “trick” the algorithm or at least making it behave like it should, but the fact is that people’s feeds are no longer chronological, and when I check Instagram a computerised set of instructions a.k.a. algorithm, decides what images I see in my feed.
I use Instagram to show my work and keep in touch with my community, but that’s become much harder, more time consuming, and, to be honest, much less fun.
At some point I made the mistake of focusing all my creative energy on Instagram, neglecting my blog. Seeing all the likes and comments pouring through and getting lots of positive feedback was certainly amazing, and gave me the confidence to keep creating and sharing my work.
But what happens when the likes and comments slow down?
Normally I tend to remind myself not to get caught in the numbers and to be grateful for the lovely comments and interactions – after all, thanks to Instagram I have made friends, online and in real life, and connected with many beautiful, creative souls.
I’ve been dealing with anxiety and cyclical depression since I was in my early twenties, and creativity has been my anchor and my saviour for many years.
When I create my floral images, I feel calmer and more grounded. When I’m absorbed in my creative work, I’m no longer in the future or in the past. I’m fully present, anxiety and negative thoughts leave me alone, and I feel better.
I wish I could create every day, but I have a house to clean, meals to cook, a business to run, a body to look after, loved ones to cherish, friends to meet.. and so sometimes creativity takes a step back, and that’s when I’m usually more vulnerable.
A couple of weeks ago I was having one of those days when I feel quite fragile, and I need to coach myself to keep a positive attitude.
My latest images had performed better than usual on Instagram, and I felt that maybe the algorithm was liking me again. But then I posted a photograph, a photograph I quite liked, and it didn’t perform well at all – the likes and comments were slow to come, and I knew that it would not do well.
At first I dismissed it as another algorithm quirk, and got on with my to do list.
As the hours passed though, I started to feel a bit off. My mood got worse and worse, and I even had one of those “what’s the point of all this” moments that I’m sure happen to every creative person.
I trudged through most of my day, feeling overwhelmed, miserable, demotivated..until I finally asked myself – what triggered this low mood?
And I realised that it was the poor engagement of my photograph.
Oh yes, as shallow and trivial as it might sound, that was my trigger.
I know very well that getting likes and comments is not a measure of my work’s value, but subconsciously I started to question, and doubt, my creativity, and eventually my self-worth, just because one of my photographs hadn’t performed well.
Once I realised the reason behind my low mood, it suddenly improved. My rational mind took over, I shook my head and laughed a bit at myself for falling into the social media trap, and then took a few days off Instagram to gather my thoughts on the nature of the App, and how I want to use it from now on.
It turns out that I have a lot of thoughts and opinions about this, so many that there’s more than enough for two blog posts. But let’s start with the most important points I want to make today :)
First of all, we need to remember that social media is a global broadcasting platform, and algorithms are designed to push us to use their Apps more and more, because that’s where they can make money – more use, more content, more opportunities for advertisers, more money for the platform. This is true for all social media – Instagram too.
Algorithms are not human beings. They cannot determine the quality of an image posted. Instead, they measure engagement (likes and comments) and make images with high engagement visible to more users, so that those images can get even more likes and comments.
So Instagram is pushing us to be more and more on the platform, to consume content, and to produce more and more of it to stay in the game. It’s pushing us to always be there, otherwise the algorithm will forget us.
In the past few months I’ve forced myself to be on Instagram, share and engage, with the pressure of having to always create something special, aiming for likes and visibility…sharing more out of fear than out of pleasure.
And I don’t like it.
Not a little bit.
I don’t want to become a slave to likes and comments.
I want to create, explore, play, and have fun. If some of my work doesn’t get as much positive feedback as it used to when everyone’s feed was chronological, that’s fine. The important thing is that I like it, and I enjoy creating it.
In the same way that I don’t watch TV because I want to be in control of what I consume, I also want to limit the time I spend on social media, because it eats up my day, and drains my energy.
I don’t want to leave Instagram, because there is so much inspiration, so many creatives and like-minded people, and so much beauty being shared. But there’s also a lot of noise, so many people wanting attention, and too much interaction online overwhelms me just like too much interaction in real life…so I want to change how I use Instagram.
I still haven’t figured out all the details, but I jotted down a few points on my journal to find clarity and help me figure out how to share my work and run my business in a way that not only inspires and serves others, but also inspires and nourishes me.
I’m going to review the list of people I follow and probably unfollow a few of them, post only two or maximum three times a week, and not beat myself up if I can’t answer every single comment.
I want to check out hashtags more, comment and connect with meaning and intentions, and share more of who I am and what I believe in and stand for, with kindness and no drama, just showing up as I am and allowing myself – and others – to be who they are.
At the beginning of my Instagram journey, sharing and creating images on a daily basis made sense. It kindled my creativity and allowed me to grow and fine tune my passions, however, I now have so many projects going on, and so many ideas, that creating and sharing an image a day is no longer my priority.
I want to keep creating and playing with flowers as much as possible, because I adore flowers and because creativity keeps me sane and heals my anxious mind, but I don’t want nor need to share every day.
In fact I haven’t been sharing every day for a while now, but I was feeling guilty about it and so I’d become erratic – not posting on those days when I can’t face the world, and then sharing in bursts for fear of not doing enough.
My introvert and highly sensitive nature requires time alone, and unplugged.
I can inspire and be inspired only when I create from the heart. That means turning off the noise, looking within, and finding the stillness, the quiet place where I can hear the whispers of my heart.
So from now on I’m going to post on Instagram a bit less, forgetting about the likes, grateful for the connections and support, and without the guilt of time spent offline, nourishing myself and creating.
Another topic that’s close to my heart is the relationship between Instagram, creativity, and popularity, and you can read my thoughts here.
Tags: creativity, Inspiration, Instagram
Some readers might do well to read Jaron Lanier’s books, such as You Are Not a Gadget, and Who Owns the Future? I like Instagram too, but a lot less since the algorithm changed. These social media treadmills are not healthy. They may stimulate creative work, but there is a toxic side that is perhaps more destructive than the benefits. I’m hoping we’ll look back at this time and marvel at how we all wasted our valuable hours on these apps until we saw the light. I am convinced much of this is not good for our mental health.
I also want to say that I do support many fine IG feeds – I’ve so enjoyed the inspiration, I’ve learned so much, and for free, too. But, there are many whom I support but who then do not do likewise, or even respond to comments. I don’t believe it’s possible to respond to everyone, nor do I think all this expected interchange is always good use of our time; however, I have noticed those who practice reciprocity and those who decidedly do not. Those who don’t, no matter how creative and professional their work – well, my enthusiasm for their work can’t help but cool.