The sun was going down over the Florida coast, our toes were buried in the sand, and I could hear the voices and giggles of my five favorite people around me. They’re people I rarely get to see, people who are usually scattered all over the country if not the world, and being with them felt like home.
And as we sat there, the sun lit up the sky with such brilliance and such color, it was almost like it knew how special that moment was. The sun knew how hard it was to get us all together, how much effort and intentionality had gone into making that trip happen, and how special and sacred time together is.
I’m super embarrassed to tell you what I’m about to say next.
Want to know what my most resounding thought was on that evening — the smell of salt in the air, my husband and best friends splashing in the surf right next to me?
I was thinking, “I need to get a great photo of this to share on Instagram so everyone can see my friends and how much fun we’re having.”
See more of Stephanie's work at stephaniemaywilson.com.
For the last year, if not much, much longer, Instagram has been at the top of my mind. If I’m in a special moment, my first thought is to capture it, share it, and then look to see who liked it. If I’m not in a special moment, I feel pressure to GET myself into a special moment so I can capture it, share it, and then look to see who liked it.
And I know I’m not the only one.
I love social media just as much as the next person — maybe even more. It is part of my job, after all. It's one of the ways new sweet readers find me and get to know me. It's a table we gather around to tell our stories and become friends.
But somewhere along the line, the tables turned. I had started focusing more on sharing those most sacred moments, and less on actually experiencing them. And I hadn’t truly noticed until that very moment until I missed the final moments of the sunset with my best friends because I was too busy writing a caption, and finding the perfect hashtag.
And for the first time, I realized I can’t share those moments with both my followers and my loved ones at the same time. Neither can you. And we know this is true.
Have you ever been at lunch with a friend when halfway through you telling a story they picked up their phone to look at it? They might tell you something reassuring like, “I’m still listening!” or “I just need to check one thing, keep talking!” but you don’t want to keep talking. Because with a simple act, they communicated that they’re not truly there anymore, not truly present or paying attention.
Or on the flip side: You’re at dinner with your family, when you pick up your phone and start scrolling. Before you know it, your heart and your mind aren’t at dinner anymore. You can’t hear the sounds of laughter, you aren’t clued into the conversation. You’ve zoomed out of the present and into a world where someone just got engaged, and someone else nailed a Crock Pot recipe for dinner, and someone else is on a trip to the Bahamas, and someone else just got a new shirt from an Etsy shop you’ve been wanting to check out.
I’m not advocating for a total boycott of social media (although that day I was so frustrated, I seriously considered chucking my phone into the Atlantic).
But I am advocating for taking another look at who we’re really sharing our lives with and how. Because I know that by sharing my most precious moments, I’ve actually stopped fully experiencing them.
So here’s what I’ve been doing lately to get Instagram back in its rightful place in my life:
1. Capture now, share later.
Honestly, this was something that hadn’t occurred to me. I didn’t realize that I could capture a moment and then share it later once the moment was over. But it’s genius! Right? We can snap a quick photo of a precious, beautiful moment, and set it aside until there’s a good time to plug into our phone for a second to write a caption and post.
Giving that buffer allows us to be fully present in the moment, and as a bonus, it gives us a few more minutes to decide whether we really want to share that photo, or to just keep it for our own memories!
2. Set boundaries.
I don’t know about you, but when my phone isn’t in my hand, it’s like a limb is missing. I reach for it to start scrolling without even thinking about it.
But I want to think about it! So I’ve started setting boundaries for when and how I use my phone.
I’ve turned off all social media notifications. I have to actually open the app to see what’s going on. And when it comes to opening the app, I’ve decided to stop checking my phone after 5:00. It goes in the category of emails — put away outside of work hours.
Not only that, but I’m learning to protect my weekends. For hours at a time, I’ll put my phone on silent and stash it somewhere far away from me.
Life is so endlessly beautiful, and I want to be present for it, notice it, savor it. And I’ve noticed that I simply can’t do this and scroll through my phone at the same time. So I’m setting aside more and more time without my phone, so I can be more and more present in my beautiful real life.
3. Be more selfish with your moments.
This is my favorite thing I’ve done lately. A few weeks after we returned from Florida our family went to the Dominican Republic for a week. If you follow me on Instagram though, you’d never know that, because I didn’t share a single photo from the trip. I took photos, absolutely. But I didn’t post a single one. It was glorious!
It felt like having a really great secret. I was experiencing something that was all my own, reserved for me and my husband and his sweet family. I didn’t have to worry about how my hair looked in photos, or about capturing the moments just right, or about who was seeing or liking my posts.
I just got to be there. I got to be selfish with those precious moments, and it was incredible.
Our lives are made up of these moments — of birthday parties, and date nights, and dinners made, and dinners botched. These are the moments that make up our story, that make up our lives!
Social media can be a great tool to capture these moments, to help us remember them, and to invite people we love into them.
But the problem comes when we feel the need to share them, when the sharing takes us out of the moment, and when we forget that we don’t actually have to share every moment of our lives.
And when we don’t share every moment of our lives, we get to more fully share them with the people who matter most.
Have you ever felt yourself being taken out of the moment by sharing on Social Media? How do you keep it in check? I’d love to hear! Pop your thoughts in the comments below!