Opinion: Tom Holland has given up social media, but should you?

Giving up social media | Soho House

Like the ‘Spiderman’ star, Jethro Turner gave up Instagram in favour of an unplugged life. Here, he downloads the positives and the negatives

Tuesday 16 August 2022    By Jethro Turner

‘Overstimulating’, ‘overwhelming’ and ‘spiral’ are just three of the words Spiderman actor Tom Holland used in his (ironic?) post explaining why he’s taking a break from social media. They’re feelings and experiences we’re all used to. Popping briefly back online to post some laudable support for teenage mental health charity stem4, Holland didn’t dwell too long on why he had to press pause. And, to be honest, he didn’t need to. I think we’ve all hovered over the ‘delete’ button one time or another, whether on the app icon or the account itself.

As someone who took the plunge, deleting Instagram in 2018, here’s a view from my (and Holland’s new) side of the fence. First up, the positives. 

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that there’s a gap between the things we post that we love the most, and the likes they get. And that discord can be jarring. It was for me. When I shared the things I was most proud of – a simple photograph of something I found beautiful, or an interview with a reclusive artist – those posts would receive a smattering of likes. The odd selfie I’d take, on the other hand, would be smothered in an avalanche (waist-deep, tbf) of hearts. It felt odd and empty. When I gave up Instagram, that feeling of emptiness went away.

Then there’s the green-eyed monster. ‘Jealousy’ is not a word Holland used in his post, and it’s probably not something he feels – I’m not an A-lister so I’ve no idea. But for me Instagram operated as a highlights reel for other people’s lives, and I’d often find myself thinking that those highlights looked considerably better than my own. 

It ran both ways, of course. ‘You’re always on the road’ the odd person would say in comments or DM responses to ‘old me’ pictures of plane wings, openings and exotically marbled trattorias. And I’d think: ‘well, I don’t post photos of all the times I spend staring at an inbox in a white-walled office, waiting for an appropriate gap in meetings to go and silently scream at the men’s pubes scattered over the toilet seat in the mixed-gender bathroom’.

Pre-social media, unless you were having your wedding pictures published in Hello! or Tatler (or both?), no one who wasn’t there had any idea what your cake, dress or family-style feast looked like. Now we’re subjected to a play-by-play breakdown of every minute detail. Is it pleasant for the people who perhaps expected an invite (they invited you to theirs, after all) to have to wade through the digital flotsam and jetsam of it? Maybe you don’t care – but the point is we’re beset by questions of manners and mores every time we’re online. Not being there to witness any of the awkwardness made me feel freer, if not more clued up about the comings and goings of my friends’ and colleagues’ respective lives. 

Then there’s the fact that by leaving Instagram, I managed to swerve all the awkwardly conspicuous displays of emotion. Do parents who write a nice card to their kids on their birthdays love their children any less than those who scribe extensive Insta essays alongside a series of candid family pics? Obviously not. Do I think it’s strange to build a whole commercially driven digital brand around your kids? Well, yeah, actually I do.

The negatives of leaving social media are, you’ll probably be unsurprised to learn, considerably fewer than the positives.

The main drawback for me, a participant in an industry which measures success by the number of already overstimulated eyeballs that fall on each piece of content, was that taking myself offline quite literally made my work less visible and less valuable.

At a talk, I heard a major figure from the London art world explain: ‘If you’re not using Instagram as your primary gallerist, PR and fanbase, then you’re asleep.’ People in the audience nodded earnestly, but the point seemed a touch too reductive to me. Much of the work I love does not fit the format, whether through its immersive nature (how many words does anyone ever actually read of a poem on Insta Stories?), or because of its subversive content, where male-presenting nipples are OK all day, but women’s areolas are an absolute no-no. 

Sure, my stance might mean that I miss out on all those sweet spon-con cheques, but I find succour from the fact that my personal heroes make brash, bold, defining work, and then disappear back into the shadows of real life without a digital trace. Has Rachel Cusk ever gone live from her kitchen? Would Daniel Day-Lewis be caught dead doing an Abe Lincoln fit check on reels? I like to think not. 

Today my anti-Insta fire has cooled somewhat. I’m a bad social media hermit, one who has been flitting across the ‘gram the whole time I’ve been writing this, and as such, I don’t and can’t judge the people who keep my feed refreshed with new updates, whether they’re tied into it for their career and livelihood, or because they just plain love it. And I won’t and can’t lie about all the extra books I’ve read, screenplays I’ve written, or shows I’ve curated because I wasn’t online gawping at things or worrying about how many likes my posts have had.  

But I can say that if you feel you’ve had enough of trying to feel good enough online, then like Tom Holland, you might find out that a pause is as good as an (offline) holiday.  

Although, Hollywood, if you’re listening, my DMs are open. 

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