12 things I learnt taking 12 months off the ‘gram

Reproduced from an original article published on Medium, Dec 30th, 2020.

12 months ago I posted my last in-feed photo on Instagram.

It was, like so many others around that time, a ‘Top Nine’; the nine MOST-LIKED photos from my feed throughout that year.

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Instagram, #TopNine2019 — @whatleydude

8/9 family. 1/9 work. That’s a good balance, I’d say.

A few days after that I posted – and pinned – an ‘end of year review’ to my stories and then after that… promptly uninstalled the app.

One month or so prior my other half, (pictured top left, 319 likes), shared with me a quote from Matt Haig’s Notes from a Nervous Planet:

“An online profile of your best friend is not your best friend. A status update about a day in the park is not a day in the park. And the desire to tell the world about how happy you are, is not how happy you are”

It stuck with me.

And so at the end of 2019, I thought I’d take the damn thing off my phone and just see. Could I do a year without Instagram?

Spoiler: I did. And you can too.

So here, as promised, are:



I didn’t miss it that much.

This is interesting to me. I thought I would. Like I really would. I thought removing the app from my phone would be one of those things that I’d try for a bit and then eventually crumble again for, I don’t know, work reasons or something. Truth be told, I did have to visit the platform a couple of times to preview some builds for work but nothing further than that — and virtually all of that through the web interface.

Point being: it was easy.

Much easier than I thought it’d be.


Seriously, I didn’t miss it at all.

I remember when I first signed up for Instagram (August 2011 — a photo of a Green Goblin action figure, 5 likes), I think I was convincing myself that it was a great place for photographic creative expression.

And I guess for a while I think it was. But then you find yourself in the early hours, trapped in the endless scrolling of the never-ending feed, either looking at what other people are doing, or seeing if that latest exquisite framing of a great sandwich has got… just… one… more… like… than the last one, or just checking your activity page to see if you have any new followers.

This is not healthy.

And for why?

In Cal Newport’s excellent book, Deep Work, he asks the question (admittedly of a journalist’s Twitter usage):

“Why are [they] urged to regularly interrupt their deep work to provide, for free, shallow content to a service run by an unrelated media company based out of silicon valley?”

It’s an adjacent point but one I am drawn to from time to time. You see what I mean? Why are you doing this? Why is anyone doing this?

I enjoy the creative expression. But if I’m pouring it into Instagram then where isn’t it going instead?


You don’t actually MISS much.

For transparency, I re-downloaded the app earlier today (I’d forgotten the password — of course) to see exactly what I had missed.

Turns out I had nine unread notifications. Of those notifications, three were posts that people had shared with me directly, one actual Direct Message (we’ll come back to this) and five ‘X has mentioned you in their story’ — an entirely useless notification anything later than 24hrs after it happened.

Why? Because I click on them and I literally see… this:

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Useful Content™

Like. What?

So while I may have missed the occasional engagement announcement from that person I once met at an after-meeting drinks thing, or a Stories Mention (what even do those two words together mean) from someone that I’m hanging out with telling me that they’re hanging out with me… I think I’ve done alright here? Yes my life doesn’t revolve around instagram and it turns out when you remove it from your life, life goes on!

Both on Instagram and off.

And if people want you — you specifically — to know stuff, they’ll tell you.


The platform kinda sucks now?

I installed the app this afternoon to take a proper look at what I had missed. The new dark mode looks L U S H on my phone’s OLED screen, that’s nice. But the muscle memory instantly went click on the ‘Activity’ on the bottom nav and, oh look, Facebook has switched it with ‘Shop’.

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Hmm. Crispy blacks.

I understand that this is a dark pattern of some kind and I also understand I am VERY LATE to this party. But still. It sucks! And no matter how Facebook paints the decision, it is clear to everyone why it was done and what the ambition was. It’s all just so transparent.

Speaking of things that suck.


My God the ads get worse.

You saw that one above right? So far today in feed-ads I’ve seen: crap for extendable desks, crap for bikes, crap for… WhatsApp? And just more crap. It’s a photography platform. Create ads that look like gorgeous photography maybe? Can it be that hard? Apparently: yes.

Actually, no. It’s not about making things hard it’s about what Facebook makes easy. Facebook makes it easy to run the same ad across all of Facebook’s platforms with just one click. So why bother making something platform-specific when platform-agnostic (and screw the user experience!) is so much quicker?

And don’t even get me started on Stories.

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I used to run a Tumblr aaaaages ago, called ‘Instagram ads are awful’ — I don’t think much has changed. I’m sure there are some great ones but aye carumba they are drowned out by the dross.

Dross that appears after every fourth post.

I know this is veering into old man shouts at cloud territory but I work in this stuff and man alive I wish people would just. stop. with. the. bad.


None of it matters.

This too shall pass. And people will remember you for the things you did, not the photos you posted or that amazing Stories compilation you nailed.


It changes the way you look at social apps.

For background, I think I took Facebook off my phone shortly after the ‘Sorry, didn’t we mention we use your 2FA for targeting advertising?’ debacle (but then again it might’ve been sooner. Given how much I’ve written about how they simply cannot be trusted, like, with anything). So when’s that? 2018?

Possibly even earlier.

Don’t get me wrong, I still use the platform; exclusively on web and almost exclusively for groups (work, gaming, and smart people — w_w). Those conversations are valuable, yes, but the app actually being on my phone is too high a cost for that, thanks.

For Twitter, I have an on/off love affair with how I have it installed or not. And that changes from time to time. I’m relatively self-aware of how much time I spend on these things so if I catch myself spending too much time on it, I’ll take it off.

If idiocy levels get too high, if strat-gash gets too much, or if a firetruck load of muppetry gets delivered to my feed… then Twitter gets uninstalled.https://cdn.embedly.com/widgets/media.html?type=text%2Fhtml&key=a19fcc184b9711e1b4764040d3dc5c07&schema=twitter&url=https%3A//twitter.com/Whatleydude/status/1338771315185115136&image=Twitter is not currently installed on my phone.

TikTok was on for a short while but OH MY GOD WHAT A TIME SUCK so I had to that off as well. My children (combined TopNine score: 435 likes) need my time, not TikTok. I get it, I understand it, I read about it — I just don’t need it in my life right now.

So my point is, until earlier today when I installed Instagram back on my phone, I didn’t have any social apps installed at all.

And I didn’t realise how good that felt until I did.

By moving all social apps to web-only experiences, you’re removing some data-syphons, some terrible features (looking at you, Fleets), huge memory sponges on your device, and — perhaps most importantly of all, no notifications whatsoever. You decide when to look (or not).

No one else. Just you.

Freeing. Utterly freeing. I simply cannot recommend it enough.

And I think that’s what I might aim to do for 2021: try and spend the year with no social apps installed at all (almost impossible, given my job — but still, a healthy ambition nonetheless).


Life is better without it.

Tim Urban, the amazing author of the Wait But Why website has written about this at length. This image (one of many) encapsulates a lot about why people feel the way they feel. Look.

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You can read the whole article right here.

And you should.

Theodore Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy”. My own version of that is simply ‘Never measure yourself with someone else’s yardstick’. Either way, by removing the platform from your life, you stop being Lucy and you can start being you again.


Practical one this: If you’re going to leave a platform, and really mean it — then you should definitely tell people.

Now don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand those people that flounce off platforms at the drop of a hat (only to return <12hrs later). And there’s that tired old trope of ‘If you leave a platform and tell anybody about it, have you even left?’ BUT BUT BUT… hear me out!

I had to send a handful of messages this afternoon each saying ‘Hey, I’ve only just seen this! Sorry!’ and actually mean it — which is as hilarious as it is ridiculous:

‘Hi friend, this DM you sent me in July, what was the context? Can I help at all now… six months later?’ (this is a real thing that happened).

I guess if my last post on Instagram had said ‘Hi, I’m taking 2020 OFF this platform — if you need, send me a WhatsApp, thanks!’ then maybe that would’ve been helpful? Shame you can’t set an auto-responder or an out of office for these things.

I think I’m going to add one more post to my gram, in the short term — saying just that. Yes, that might be useful.

Point is: if you’re leaving, tell people.

Even if it is subject to tiresome mocking.


2020 was a stellar year to not be doing the gram.

In these uNpReCeDeNtEd TiMeS, going on Insta and talking about how great your life is and how well you’re doing is… kinda gross?

Amanda Hess wrote in March about how ‘Celebrity Culture is Burning’, highlighting just how brilliant/disgusting it was to see/read/hear about what the ‘slebs were doing to help people STAY SAFE.

“Staying home is my superpower,” the “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot reported from her walk-in closet. Ryan Reynolds urged his fans to “work together to flatten the curve” from within his rustic loft…

…Ellen DeGeneres is going “stir-crazy” from having to stay inside her enormous home; Katy Perry has lost track of the days she’s spent inside her enormous home…

Madonna, performing for the public and holding fans in her thrall is yet “another luxury gone, for now,” she says in one video. In its place is the disturbing sensation of normalcy. “The audience in my house is not amused by me,” she says. Later, from the bath, she concludes that Covid-19 is “the great equalizer.”

Sublime. Incredible. And distasteful AF.

The lack of self-awareness is sublime.


You should probably print more photos.

When I were a lad, you’d take photos on your camera and then take the film to Boots to get developed and then a few days later (or an hour if you paid extra) you’d get your pack of photos back, pick out the best ones for your wall/album, then chuck the rest (either in the bin or in the drawer with all the others).

Not being on Instagram didn’t stop me from taking photos (or sharing them, tbh — I’m still quite active on Twitter) but what it did do was make me start cherry picking what photos I have on our digital displays at home. And also think about how we might start bringing real-world photos back into the house somehow. We’ve already started — calendars have been made and there’s a cork board in the kitchen — but by not being on t’gram, I think I’ve come to appreciate photoGRAPHS more.

These things are important.


Your mileage may vary.

I don’t know what I’ve truly missed out on because… well… I’ve missed it. But given the year we have had (yes, I said it again) I’ve probably spent more time figuring out what’s most important to me over above that of ‘things I might be missing on social media’. Yes, I am painfully aware that that point of view comes from an enormous position of privilege: I am a white man. I have a young family. We have our health. We have our jobs. We have each other.

And while we have struggled with mental health this year (all of us have)…

We are not struggling with the disease.

We are not struggling to make ends meet.

We are not struggling with loneliness.

For some, Instagram might be a window into the lives of friends that they’ve been missing all year round. For others, Stories might be the replacement for the person to person connection that they’ve each craved during isolation. My point is: the platform is what YOU make it.

And that is both its core benefit and ultimately, for me at least, the source of its downfall.

Scientifically proven to be bad for your mental health, Instagram is not something I want or need in my life. I thought I’d try removing it — for a year — and it worked out OK.

More than OK, in fact. I didn’t miss it.

And I doubt very much that it missed me.

One more post this year and then I’m out for good.

Your mileage may vary.


Haven’t written a newsletter for maybe a couple of months and I’ve got a .txt file of links longer than my left leg to go through but instead of doing that, I thought it was high time to boot up the back end of my dusty weblog, blow off a few cobwebs, and see what comes out. Because of course.

It was my 41st birthday a fortnight or so ago.

Turning 40 was a huge deal for me. It is my firm belief that I spent a good part of those 40 years properly messing things up. Yes, I achieved so much – so so so so so much. And it was great – but it was also at great expense. To myself and to many others. I felt like 40 – and to be fairer to myself – the year leading up to turning 40, was a genuine full stop. End of page. New chapter. The second half of the book… And… Here. We. Go.

We spoiled ourselves last year. I’m glad we did. We owed to each other. Amazing gigs, several holidays, family trips – just saying ‘fuck it, we’ve earned this’ – because we had. ‘And in 2020,’ we said, ‘we won’t go on holiday. Instead, we’ll get the garden done, sort ourselves out financially, and focus on turning our house into a home’. Couldn’t have picked a better year for it.

This year, almost gone in the blink of a thousand video calls, is nearing its end. Christmas decorations are up. Tentative plans are being made. And yet I look around and think ‘Hey, wait a minute – it was March, like, yesterday? Where did it all go?’ Now don’t get me wrong, this year has been A yEaR uNLiKe AnY oThEr. But still.

I remember when I first became a parent someone said to me ‘The years are fine, it’s the decades you wanna watch out for’. And they were right. My children grow (my god they grow), life turns onwards. I find myself reflecting often on what I might leave behind (good therapy does that to you). Someone asked me recently, what would people write in your obituary?

“One of the best pieces of advice my therapist ever gave me was this: “spend your life helping your children write the obituary you will never hear. Make it easy for them.” It doesn’t matter what I think, feel – it matters what I do. I hope that what I do is enough.”

And I do. I wonder about it a lot.

Everything from ensuring my kids don’t feel pressured to conforming to false societal norms (I’m not the only one that does this, right?) to just making sure I use my platform to elevate voices that may not have the chance to be heard (Get DICE). Micro and macro – how can I not be a fuck up (anymore)? How can I give more back? How can I make sure I’m leading by example?

How can I ensure that what I do helps me live a life of meaning.

It was my 41st birthday last month.

That, for me at least, marks a full year of not being a fuck up.

And I’m alright with that.


Hello, and welcome to My Happy Place.

I’ve been writing here, on and off, since May 2006. A long time.

These days, however, the time I would normally spend writing my blog is now spent writing for my newsletter project, Five things on Friday.

What started out as a weekly exercise in writing has grown and matured into a (semi-)weekly publication that features most of what I’m passionate about and interested in.

So, if you’re looking for the very latest on what I’m noodling on, your best bet is to start looking over the past issues of Five things on Friday – all being well, that stuff will be bang up to date*.

So yes, thanks for visiting. If you’re looking to speak to me quickly, then you can nearly always find me on Twitter (DMs are open).

If not, then maybe I’ll see you on the subscriber list of the newsletter sometime.



*The posts below this one are examples of FToF but I doubt very much that they’ll be reflective of the latest work. 

Five things on Friday #265

Things of note for the week ending Friday, July 27th, 2018.

Things of note for the week ending July 27th, 2018 (I’m taking August off so this is the last edition until September).

Did you know, if you SUBSCRIBE to the Five things on Friday newsletter, you are 100% guaranteed to get MORE STUFF (eg: a proper intro and probably some more gifs) than reading it here on whatleydude.com.





THE DARK KNIGHT is inarguably one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. It is ten years old this month and it still holds up.

And this Village Voice article is a great look at its themes and why it still resonates so strongly today.



Here in the UK we have a music album compilation/tradition known as ‘NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC‘ – you can date someone within the nearest year or so by what their very first edition was and this month, NTWICM hit #100.

To celebrate, the AMAZING Popjustice put together the DEFINITIVE NTWICM Spotify playlist – and it is effing phenomenal.

Go listen to some bangers RIGHT NOW.



National Public Radio in the US dropped its latest Smart Audio Report and it has some really interesting stats on the what and why people use smart home assistants – aka smart speakers.

A few nuggets of interest include:

  • Ownership skews female and slightly older
  • For early adopters, smart speakers are now the number one way they consume audio
  • Nearly 40% of people purchase smart speakers to help them reduce screen time.

The whole report is super interesting and definitely worth 15mins of your time to consume and consider.



This week I learned about the documentary about THE NATIONAL called ‘Mistaken for Strangers‘ – up until I went to put this into the newsletter, I thought it was new. I was going to show you the trailer and then tell you how excited I was to see it.

Turns out it isn’t new at all and that you could probably find it online quite easily.

So I intend to do that this weekend.

You should do the same.



This week, Sega released a free update to the PS4 game ‘Sega Classics’. The update brings PSVR support to the game and the actual VR experience is that of sitting in an old bedroom from the 1990s and playing the classic games you grew up playing.

Like this:

Which, while funny, is a bit weird (you can see a video of it in action here).

So there’s a general trend here.

Here’s Netflix VR:

And here’s the BBC doing the World Cup.

You can see it, right?

I really like that VR can take you away to different places and immerse you in new and fantastic experiences. Sitting on a sofa and playing a game or watching a movie in a different environment to the one you’re in is not my idea of an amazing VR experience.

I’m not sure I like it that much. So hurrah for free PSVR updates but boo to tacking on a room build to what is simply the standard app/game experience.

What do you think?



This week. 



Until next time…

Five things on Friday #264

Things of note for the week ending July 22nd, 2018.

Did you know, if you SUBSCRIBE to the Five things on Friday newsletter, you are 100% guaranteed to get MORE STUFF (eg: a proper intro and probably some more gifs) than reading it here on whatleydude.com.






The AIRBUS Beluga XL is a thing of beauty (and you’re an idiot if you think otherwise) – it shouldn’t even fly, but it does!




Stay with me, this isn’t completely gaming related. Honest.

This piece appeared in my newsfeed last week and I opened it to read later as I thought it’d be dead interesting. It’s gamer related and I was intrigued as to what kind of ‘press kits’ could be so secret.

I used to work in this world – a little bit – when I was at my previous agency (we made all sorts of magical kits/boxes/experiences for influencers so I can appreciate the effort that goes into them).

Imagine my surprise when I went to re-open the link to read it and it 404’d on me. ‘Damn’, I thought ‘Those secrets must’ve been pretty secret!’

Thankfully, the internet rarely forgets. The Wayback Machine managed to get a snapshot of said post and you can read the original post here.

So what happened?

Having read the article, it turns out it’s basically an interview between Push Square and one of PlayStation Europe’s agencies. Not only does said agency reveal pretty much the entire working process as to how long they take to make these things, they ALSO casually mention a few of the others that they’re working on in the future.

*shocked face*

Can you imagine the angry email from Sony screaming at their agency to GET THAT ARTICLE DOWN RIGHT NOW? I can.


If you’re in ‘the industry’ give it a read.

And smile and be thankful that you weren’t on the receiving end of that email.



Between the World Cup and Wimbledon, the BBC had its hands full with a ton of sport to choose from. On top of that, it decided to use these two massive sporting event to stress-test its UHD capabilities, something that it has been playing with since the UHD trial went live on iPlayer last year.

James O Malley at Gizmodo was invited into the Beeb to find out how it all worked (this is a great read, btw – super interesting).

4. HOW TOY STORY 2 GOT DELETED. TWICE. If, like me, you’ve Stephen Johnson’s book ‘Where good ideas come from‘, then you’ll know the second part of this story. The second part of the story is reasonably well known. The first part, however, that was new to me. The day that someone accidentally deleted 90% of the movie with a command error.

As ever with these kinds of stories, it’s not the disaster that makes for brilliant reading – it’s what they did next that makes it happen. Ed Catmull’s response to it all is distinctly wow-inducing.

Go read.


Antony Ribot has been running his design agency for 11yrs. For its 11th anniversary, Ribot wrote a few things on what he’s learnt over the years and you can learn from it too.


This week. 

Sidenote: this came up in conversation this weekend: ‘Johnny Depp, John Lasseter, and James Gunn walk into a Disney Studio – which one should get fired?’


Bonus bonus section of new movie trailers. 

On a related note to the intro of this week’s newsletter, The Fantastic Beasts VR experience on the Google Play store – the full experience, not the demo that rolled out with Daydream, has had an incredible 500 downloads.

Cray cray. 

Five things on Friday #263

Things of note for the week ending July 14th, 2018.

Did you know, if you SUBSCRIBE to the Five things on Friday newsletter, you are 100% guaranteed to get MORE STUFF (eg: a proper intro and probably some more gifs) than reading it here on whatleydude.com.





This essay, ‘The Beautiful, Ugly, and Possessive Hearts of Star Wars‘, is phenomenally good. Compulsory reading for both anyone that considers themselves a fan of Star Wars and anyone that even partly curious as to why there was [seemingly] so much hate for THE LAST JEDI.

Spoilers, obviously, for all movies within.


Know that name? No? He directed the excellent KONG: SKULL ISLAND and is also slated to direct the movie adaptation of METAL GEAR SOLID. I saw KONG, loved it, and then I think within days of walking out of the cinema, I saw this image from Tom Hiddleston – and I was like, I need to know who this guy is. So like any normal person living in the 21st century, I followed him on Twitter.


And then last week, out of nowhere, he drops this (and yet another fantastic GQ profile piece).

Read it.


Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene are the authors of SLAY IN YOUR LANE, a new book that talks about and gives insight to the challenges that black women face throughout every facet of their lives.

VOGUE interviewed Adegoke and Ubviebinene – and it’s great. Read that then order your own copy of the book.

Off you go.

EDIT: the Guardian interview is pretty good too.


Three things.

1. I love this photo.

2. Next time you’re looking for a picture for a deck that says ‘People use mobile phones now’ – try this one.

3. The Verge’s take is simultaneously provocative and reductive.


I won’t reveal what this link is about because if you haven’t seen READY PLAYER ONE then it completely spoils the surprise, not-from-the-book, and film’s best set piece by a while.

If you have seen RPO, then, by all means, click away (and hey, if you don’t care for spoilers, click also). It’s a great overview and, if you know you director history, not at all that surprising


Two. OF NOTE. 


Five things on Friday #262

Things of note for the week ending July 6th, 2018.

Did you know, if you SUBSCRIBE to the Five things on Friday newsletter, you are 100% guaranteed to get MORE STUFF (eg: a proper intro and probably some more gifs) than reading it here on whatleydude.com.





It’s funny how one thing leads to another.

One reply to a Tweet about standing up for women in adland and the next thing I know I’m being asked to be a mentor for this fantastic programme.

This is how I found myself last week, listening intently to other mentors who were a lot smarter than me, in a room full of amazing women, offering mentorship and guidance with some of the issues that face this increasingly empowered workforce in our industry today.

Humbling, and utterly brilliant.

But like I said, it’s funny how one thing leads to another. When I made my intro to the room I, out of public-speaking-force-habit, began with ‘Good morning, ladies and gentlemen’ – which I caught as I finished, then self-corrected to ‘Er… sorry – good morning, ladies’ – cue: much laughter and general hilarity. It was all taken in good spirit too.

I tweeted the faux pas later that day and ended up in a brilliant rabbit hole of ‘how to use more inclusive language at events‘ as well as a robust discussion whether arguing gender pronouns matter at all (see full discussion thread).

The post linked above about more inclusive language is definitely worth a read. Especially if you speak at or host/organise events.


I picked up this brilliant profile of the above-named singer/songwriter from Jed Hallam’s equally brilliant newsletter ‘Love Will Save The Day‘.

Read both (and subscribe to the latter).


First thing is to read this piece over at The Drum that talks about how the UK advertising industry has allegedly lost touch with the public (the full whitepaper that supports this article can be found here).

The article makes a strong case that advertising has no idea what it’s doing, is obsessed with unproven channels, and basically has a major unconscious bias problem that prevents it from maximising effectiveness with any of the work it produces.

All of these points have a grain of truth to them (with a healthy dose of ‘it depends’ appended to each).

There are two main problems I have with the findings.

  1. Nowhere in the conclusions talk about the role of planners when it comes to insight-led creative work.
  2. The research only interviewed media agencies but goes onto making conclusions on the entirety of adland (no creative agencies were spoken to).

There is a meaner point you could make about how a research paper about bias is biased towards the channels the media owner behind it specialises in – but as I said, that’d be mean.

Current status: discussion time with the authors.

4. IT’S COMING HOMEBig love to the team at work who pulled this out of nowhere over the past 48hrs and managed to get it into press today.

Whatever happens today, this is great.


Watch it all.


Three this week: