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The Social Red Pill

Mar 26, 2024

I deactivated my Instagram account circa 2019. I remember at the time being concerned about my mind and behavior getting shaped by the platform, as the line between real life and social media started to blur.

Recently, though, some childhood memory urged me to reach someone that I couldn’t find elsewhere, and as a reflex, I installed the app and reactivated my account. Being back for a few moments made me realize I took a significant turn, socially, when I quit.

When logging in, I immediately felt this sensation that “things are happening here on Instagram”, and it felt very real and natural. It was like I’ve been isolated in an island for a long time and then dropped into a big party where I know almost everyone. Those people have been partying nonstop for years.

It’s funny to think that things are happening there, and not here. Presence might be a scarce asset, and that might explain the lack of it in some places in real life.

I was very careful not to scroll through anything and get sucked in, but I got a glimpse of a couple faces in the stories row and the messages list. I was confused. The faces looked familiar but I couldn’t remember who they were. That made me extremely curious so I visited their profiles, and eventually remembered who they were: acquaintances that I met somewhere in life who simply are not part of my life anymore. Seems like our brains naturally erase things that don’t matter, but the platform will keep them forever in your digital mind.

I reached my childhood memory person, and she promptly responded. It felt so easy and effortless, considering that I studied with her in primary school and don’t see or talk to her for more than 20 years.

My mind was all fired up and it felt like I smoked crack. I had my little interaction and then deactivated my account again. I found myself shocked with the brief revisit to that place. I then came up with this Red Pill (from The Matrix) analogy. For those not familiar:

The red pill and blue pill represent a choice between the willingness to learn a potentially unsettling or life-changing truth by taking the red pill or remaining in the contented experience of ordinary reality with the blue pill

Red pill and blue pill

Real (social) life can often be hard, ugly, lonely, slow, empty or boring. But quite rewarding if you put the effort.

Instagram is incredibly appealing. It allows quick and effortless connection in a controlled and safe, comfortable and stimulating environment. In fact, I felt good seeing those familiar faces, and some part of me wanted to be active on the platform again, as it definitely enables social connection. But I feel like it is all an illusion, and it has a toll on your mental health.

I have used other forms of social media, like Strava, and have consumed content in platforms like YouTube. But Instagram incorporated too much of the social engagements, at least for my generation and circles, and it seems like the human minds adapted very well to it to the point of changing how people see the world, their interactions and experiences, thus effectively transforming our reality.