Mindfulness versus Instagram. The modern day David & Goliath

Two giants are battling for our attention, but who’s winning?

5 minute read

One common goal we share as human beings is to enjoy our time here as much as possible. To achieve this we must create as many peak experiences as we can along this short journey we call life. To enjoy these experiences fully we need to be right here in the present moment. Just like you are enjoying this moment right now. It’s me, you and this article...fantastic.

In today’s world there's a whole host of things pulling our attention away from the present moment, some we choose and some we don’t. Today I’m going focus on one many of us do choose (we think)...Instagram. In 2018 Instagram and mindfulness are going toe to toe, but what I find interesting is that as popular as they both are, they couldn’t be more different. 

Let the battle begin...

Round 1

Mindfulness tells us we should practice non judgment. By removing judgment from ourselves and others, we free ourselves from the shackles that good and bad place on us. In comparison, the metric for success on Instagram is likes and followers. We get the chance to decide whether we like a post or not and then to express that by double tapping the screen. The more likes a post gets, the better it is perceived, changing the perceptions of those who see it next. Humans see safety in numbers and because of this valuing a post by the number of likes it has or looking for the number of followers an account has is now the go to heuristic for deciding what is worth our valuable time and attention. It's only natural, we are only human. But a like is also a judgment. What would Instagram look like without likes? How would you feel about the posts you saw if you didn't know how many likes they had or how many followers the account was at? Likes have become a metric for success and that carries with it a whole host of implications. While removing judgment improves our well-being, the masses have always played the game of follow the followers. In light of this, the first round in the battle for our attention goes to Insta.

Round 2 

Mindfulness reminds us to practice compassion for others, it’s through compassion and suffering that we find connection with others. There are a lot of amazing people on Instagram sharing inspiring posts that highlight the compassion we see in the world. This is one of the best assets of social media in general, the opportunity to connect us. On the other hand an abundance of today’s content is designed to quickly grab our attention and to do so that means hitting the bottom of the brain stem, often any way possible. While many posts inspire us, there are thousands of posts that surprise us, fuel up feelings of revenge and also anger us (the opposite of compassion). We’ve seen this for years on the front page of the papers, but it’s now happening at turbo speed online. Considering we all have the power to decide which accounts we like and who we follow, I’ll call this one a win for mindfulness. That makes it 1-1. 

Round 3 - The decider.

Mindfulness trains our mind for focus, while Instagrams’ notifications and random reward algorithms rewire us for distraction. By practicing meditation we can strengthen the pathways of focus in our brain, raising our consciousness and reducing our attachment to thought. However, the designers that make the apps we use everyday know our brains far better than we know ourselves. The addictive nature of Instagram's design features strengthen the reward pathways in our brain making us act automatically, with little thought. When we use the app we will always be vulnerable to the architects that sculpt the landscape we play in. Therefore it’s hard to stay present when our thumb is already opening the app, without us knowing. Instagram's addictive anchors trump mindfulness's quest for present moment awareness. However, there's a twist in the tail of this battle. Many people are waking up and taking back control...

"We will always be vulnerable to the architects that sculpt the landscape we play in."

Right now Instagram captures the attention of millions of people. It remains a fact that what’s good for us long term isn’t always what we choose in the moment. There's some fantastic content on the platform and plenty of opportunity for connection, but the addictive nature of its design and the metrics designed for success can leave us distracted and confused. Could it be that the very platforms we use to bring us together are now pulling us apart?

With the rise of 'dumb phones' the tides are turning and people are moving back to what’s worked for thousands of years, enjoying the present moment. Instagram (Goliath) may have a current strong hold on our attention, but mindfulness (David) will always have the power to win this battle with only one small movement...click...delete.