To find digital happiness, mute almost everyone on Instagram

Let Instagram be for best friends and hobbies. Mute everything else.
Let Instagram be for best friends and hobbies. Mute everything else.
Image: Quartz/ Dave Gershgorn
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Instagram, for all its cute dog photos, makes people feel bad about themselves. The Facebook-owned app was even rated by teens as the social platform most detrimental to mental health, which, considering all social media platforms are terrible for mental health, is quite an achievement.

What makes Instagram particularly harmful is that, like reality television and Fast and the Furious movies, it’s not real life. Instagram is where people showcase their “best” selves, filtered and curated digital facsimiles of what they want their lives to be, minus all the boring bits.

My friends and acquaintances’ best selves used to haunt me. Opening up Instagram meant subjecting myself to a constant barrage of my peers’ accomplishments, which I monitored from behind my glowing 5″ smartphone screen. Sure, sometimes it was nice to see a friend’s new girlfriend or exotic trip abroad, but other times it reminded me I was alone, and overdue for a vacation.

At the same time, Instagram is where visual culture congregates. There’s no better place to mainline the work of photojournalistschefs and even New York’s street artists. I wanted the good parts of Instagram without the bad, but unfollowing everyone seemed like a social faux pas.

So I deleted my account.

But then, a year or so later, I got into cooking. I wanted to see new recipes, and noticed a lot of cooks promoting their Instagram handles. Then I started dating a woman who used Instagram to post pictures of us, which I wanted to see. So I made a private account and only followed cooks, food publications, and my partner. It was good.

This week, Instagram announced a new feature that would have kept me from deleting my account in the first place: mute. While some people (even at Quartz!) advise using mute sparingly, I dare you to do the opposite. Mute with abandon; mute every single person that posts something that makes you doubt yourself or feel sad. Let Instagram be a place where you can look at the things that make you happy. Facebook is the de facto Rolodex of the internet, so you can keep up on graduations, weddings, and happy hours there. Instagram is where you do you.

For a perfect Instagram experience, here’s a recipe for who not to mute:

  • Family: Duh, you have to follow your mom’s organic, vegan cafe.
  • Significant other: if applicable. (Also duh).
  • Hobbies: Pick your favorite thing to look at and follow five accounts about it. Do you like cats? Follow cat Instas. Into cooking? Instagram is amazing for new recipes from food publications and bloggers.
  • Friends: Open your text-messaging app and scroll through it. Find the friends you wish you texted more (a sufficiently high bar) and follow them on Instagram.

And that’s it. Contrary to what Instagram will try to foist upon you, there’s no need to follow everyone you know. Think of it as the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Your Instagram. Only follow the accounts that bring you joy.