The holidays are going to suck this year. Millions of Americans are still without jobs. Hundreds of thousands are grieving lost loved ones who were taken from us by this awful pandemic. New coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are surging at unprecedented and devastating rates all over the country. The Centers for Disease Control is recommending that we all stay home.
But the fact that traditional holiday gathers are potential super-spreader events surely will not stop people from having—and then posting about—them. Come Thanksgiving weekend, social media is going to be filled with images of your second cousin smooshing around the table with friends, and people you went to high school with standing shoulder to shoulder with their families. According to a survey from The Ohio State University, 38% of Americans would be willing to attend a holiday party of ten or more people. The survey did not say how many people plan to ‘gram those events, but I would guess the answer is: a lot of them. Much has already been said about how much happier we all would be if we stopped obsessing over Instagram. You know this already—I know this already, and yet, I am still in its clutches, comparing how my time in quarantine is going to how everyone else’s time in quarantine is going. There’s never been a better time than a COVID-19-laden holiday season to delete the app off of your phone.
Your own Thanksgiving celebration will most likely not be anybody’s #goals. If you’re being as safe as you can be, you’ll be carving the turkey with the same humans you’ve been eating dinner with for eight months now. You won’t have new people from outside your household to tag in your posts. Or maybe you’re following dozens of steps to reduce risk of visiting family across the country, planning on limited time indoors, and will generally stay masked up, distanced, and a little anxious. Personally, I’m going to be spending my pandemic Thanksgiving 2,685 miles away from my mom and sisters (but who’s counting?). While I’m looking forward to the downsized Thanksgiving meal I’ll enjoy with my roommates and girlfriend, it’s still not really what I’d prefer to be doing, especially during a very hard year. For the many, many people following the strictest COVID safety precautions, the Instagram posts will probably be a little sad. Disappointment and loneliness aren’t really all that photogenic.
There’s no reason to wallow in the particular combination of envy and dread that comes from seeing smiling faces of multiple generations all gathered around a dinner table (which probably isn’t even six feet across lengthwise)! Come December, don’t make yourself miserable by scrolling through picture after picture of big families swapping gifts as well as aerosols under the glow of the tree. Don’t refresh stories of your richest friend from college whose family figured out some glamorous and “safe” way to be together, à la the Kardashians.
It’s not just the recklessness that’ll be hard to watch. Some posts will feature safe celebrations that will probably still make you deeply jealous. We all know a happy pandemic pod who all work from home, and are just #blessed to be spending more time together than ever. There will be the artful photos of people Zooming with their grandparents, the cooking shots of people who have gotten more muscular and glowier during quarantine. I’m sure that the influencers will find a way to isolate adorably in Summersalt sweatpants, and make the whole weekend look like some kind of wellness retreat instead of a letdown. While it’s tempting to think your feed will just be filled with other friends throwing small, nontraditional holidays, and being visibly worn down on account of living through an apocalypse, there’s no way to know for sure. Your safest bet is to just delete the app.
Some among us are probably too deep in our Instagram addictions to commit to deleting the app for the duration of the holiday season. That’s okay! Follow a risk reduction method for this period of six weeks of unfollowing all humans, especially the ones you know personally. There’s actually plenty of great alternate accounts on the app which feature images of things that are not capable of spreading the virus: Might I suggest this gorgeous account chronicling the lives of rescue foxes, an opossum, and other furry friends? Or this one which captures images that emulate the aesthetics and color schemes of Wes Anderson’s films? How about some soothing clips of an artist mixing her paint? Just make sure to get your COVID-friendly follow list set up ahead of time, and avoid clicking on the “explore” page.
Do whatever makes sense to remove yourself from the clutches of compare and—despairing—and then stay strong. When we finally reach Boxing Day, you may think it’s safe to once again download Zuckerberg’s side project. It’s not! In fact, we’ll be barreling toward the worst of the pandemic posts. Each year on New Year’s Eve, it is customary for the app to flood with inane one-second-a-day videos and a reposted collage of an account’s “Top Nine” most-liked posts, with captions that offer reflections and insights from yet another fascinating year in their lives. In a more normal year, these posts usually feature snapshots from graduations, weddings, family trips to Disney World, and maybe some vodka tonic-fueled karaoke nights. Sure, scrolling through these is not the most scintillating experience, but it’s tolerable. This year, I fear the captions and images are bound to be horridly tone-deaf, even the ones that are just scenes from quarantine. No one wants to hear about how much you’ve “learned” and “grown” from these “unprecedented times,” especially if you have your health, your loved ones, and the $35 Farsáli moisturizer you stress-ordered during the election. This year’s been awful for the vast majority of us. I don’t need a filtered picture to tell me that.