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February 03, 2015
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I posted a picture of an inflatable sex doll and my Instagram account got deleted. I thought that was funny. Then I thought it wasn't funny. Then I thought that the very fact that it wasn't funny to me really, REALLY wasn't funny.

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The moment my heart broke in half: “User not found.”

I’m an adult.

Like, for real. Less than a week ago, I turned 28 which means I’m now in my late-twenties. Also, according to people I know, I was definitely wrong when I spent last year claiming that 27 was part of your mid-twenties, so that means I’ve actually already been in my late-twenties for a while. And, as an adult who’s been in his late-twenties for a week (or a year and a week), there are some things that are supposed to be true about me.

I should have had at least a few serious relationships. (Check.)
I should know how to take care of myself. (Check.)
I should have a steady source of income. (Kind of check. If you’re reading this article, that means I was able to afford food this week so that’s good)
And, I should’t give a shit about stupid social media nonsense.

If you had asked me a few days ago, I would have given a fairly confident “Check” to that last point. I mean, social media networks are fun, but I’m a grown man. They shouldn’t be a serious part of my life, right? That’s what I thought until Instagram deleted my account and I began to question my own existence. So…

What the hell happened?

The day started like any other. My alarm went off with just the amount of time I needed to get ready, eat food, and get to work. Before I got ready, I spent about 30 minutes checking various apps and games on my phone which meant that I was way late and had to skip eating food. Again, a day like any other.

It was a Thursday so, one of the last things I did before leaving the apartment was post a “Throwback Thursday” picture on Instagram. If you aren’t familiar with the term, Throwback Thursday is when people share embarrassing (but only embarrassing in a way that’s cute) pictures from their youth every Thursday with the hashtag “#tbt."At least 200 Thursdays have passed since people first started using the hashtag shortly after Instagram’s creation in 2011, so, by this point, my remaining supply of good pictures was dwindling. Fortunately, on this Thursday, I’d found one that I was at least 65% sure I hadn’t already posted which is a pretty good stat.

It was a photo of myself and a few friends at a party shortly after our Junior year of high school. Here it is:

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Sorry. I will not be answering any questions about this photo. Not “What’s the deal with the sex doll?” Not “Who’s Juan?” And certainly not “Why were you still wearing long jean shorts in 2004?”

About an hour or so later, while at work, I decided to check how many likes the photo now had. However, when I turned on my Instagram app, it wouldn’t sign in automatically like normal. Instead, it wanted me to type in my password. I tried and it said the “username or password entered” was “incorrect.”

This didn’t seem too unusual. Like many people, I have about a thousand apps and a thousand passwords, so I forget and have to reset one pretty much weekly. However, when I went to reset it, Instagram told me this:

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As a special bonus, readers of this article will get to find out what cell phone service provider I use. AT&T, please forward your endorsement money in cash.

I tried a few times and nothing. That was strange. Even stranger was what happened when I asked a friend to look up my account through his. Here’s what he got:

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You never judge your own profile picture more than when you prepare to share it in a public online article.

It was clear something wrong had happened. I started going through Instagram’s woefully sparse help guide which informed me that a person’s account could be “disabled without warning” if that person wasn’t following the Community Guidelines.

The Guidelines, are a little vague, intentionally I assume. One says users can’t “glorify self-harm.” Another big rule says “Don’t be rude.” Even under such loose definitions, I couldn’t find a single rule I possibly could have broken. The only thing I could imagine was that someone had decided that, by posting an 11-year-old picture of a sex doll, I had broken the rule banning “nudity or mature content.”

That couldn’t have been it though, right? I mean, that doll was an inanimate object. It was clearly an inanimate object. Could some devoted Instagram do-gooder scanning the Throwback Thursday photos really have seen the doll’s digit-less hands and feet, stretched two dimensional face, and exposed, yellow throat and, confusing it for a real human being, reported my account? And, even if they did mistake that doll for human, could they really have missed that it was WEARING FUCKING CLOTHING?

I had no idea. I appeared to have been banned because of that or, potentially worse, some completely random glitch. And, since Instagram’s site featured absolutely zero ways to contact them, I was stuck. And thus began my descent into madness.

In which I go crazy because I can’t post stupid square pictures online…

At first, I began making jokes about losing my Instagram account. Ha ha. Who cares, right? However, I found myself more and more unable to get back to my work. All I could focus on was my account refusing to come back. I rushed to the Internet, not to do anything important, but to try to find some way, any way, to contact Instagram. There was no phone number. No email address.

A faceless entity had stolen a part of me and there was no way to complain. “This is Kafka-esque!” was something I thought to myself and felt very serious about despite having only read one Kafka story about 12 years ago.

I lost it. If you need any proof of that, all you need to do is check my Twitter account for the day. (I’m not exactly proud of this and you really don’t have to read them all.)

Yeah, all those tweets were sent over the course of an hour. I kept going and even persuaded friends to tweet at Instagram. And the crazy thing is, I wasn’t alone! Other Twitter users who had also had their Instagram accounts deleted without warning contacted me. One was a young woman from Florida. The other was a young man from South Africa. I retweeted their complaints but didn’t want to get too involved with them for fear I’d later find out their Instagram feeds were nothing but child porn featuring naked 12-year-olds being “rude."Whatever the case, it was clear that this was a thing that happened to people and that they then reacted way more seriously than you’d expect.

Finally I found, what I believe, is the only way to contact Instagram. It’s a form on their official Facebook account. I sent in my complaint and waited. And couldn’t think about anything else.

Suddenly, everything around me looked like perfect Instagram fodder. A dog. My dinner. A screencap of a text message about getting my dinner. Everything. I was like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind only instead of seeing math equations everywhere, I saw likes and filters choices. And I also didn’t go around talking to imaginary friends. Although I was probably close to it.

The whole time I was doing this, I recognized that it was insane. I knew that I should just go about my day. I mean, fuck Instagram, right? In the realm of social media networks, it’s the easiest to replace. Sure, I’ve worked hard on some lengthy Tumblr posts or Twitter jokes I’m proud of. But Instagram? It doesn’t take that much work to choose between Valencia or Hudson. So why the hell did I care?

Seriously, why the hell did I care?

Much has been said about millennials’ obsession with social media. Head to the movie theater right now and half the movies playing, be they Oscar nominees or movies that desperately wanted to be Oscar nominees and failed horribly or just sexy teen dramedies, and you’ll see a scene in which someone pontificates on how young people these days only think they “exist” if they can get enough followers or likes. It’s become a cliche because there’s a level of truth to it. (And also because every single writer in Hollywood was inspired to write a script “about the Internet” when they were procrastinating on the Internet.)

All these movies focus on young people going nutty over their Internet audience, but that’s only half of what drives people’s obsessions. Perhaps more importantly than connecting and chatting, these accounts enable us to easily horde memories. And humans love to do that because, really, what is life but the accumulation of memories? If that’s the case, then having a digital collection of those memories (be they pictures or conversations or thoughts) that you can quickly open up on your phone is as close as we can get to transforming our entire time on earth up into a tangible thing. These networks become a very real part of our life by becoming an encapsulation of our lives. Anyone can relate to that idea, whether they’re a millennial or not. Hell, how many baby boomers post tons of pictures and links on Facebook whether or not there are any “friends” around to look at them.

Instagram the thing, whether I wanted it to be or not, was a part of my life. And Instagram the company had stolen that part of my life away by deleting my account.

I know what you’re thinking. That’s fucking crazy person talk. But how else would you explain all the (non-crazy) people I know who clearly felt like part of their life had been stolen as well?

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And there are plenty of others who said stuff like this in person.

Even my editor, when I pitched this piece to him, made a point of responding with genuine sympathy for my situation. Hell, I don’t think his response was that different from what it would be if I pitched an article about a funny thing that happened at a family member’s funeral.

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Finally, about nine hours after I first noticed my account was gone, I received this email:

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Form emails like this would be so much funnier if I had a goofy user name like “fuckface” or “hippopenis.” Just once I want an official email that begins with the line “Hi placenta-gargler” or something.

My account is back. But now I have to continue my life knowing that, even as an adult who shouldn’t care about social media, I do care. I really, really do. And that sucks.

In fact, I’ve tried to fight it. I don’t want social media to be an important part of my life! So, in the days since the Instagram incident, I stayed off Tumblr. I didn’t look at how many Twitter retweets I was getting. I tried whatever I could and I felt like it was working. I really did!

Then, after I started writing this article, I told the girl I’ve been dating the title I was considering for it. She laughed and said I needed to “step away from the apps.” I thought that was a funny quote and considered including it in the piece. However, I couldn’t decide how to describe her. I mean, “the girl I’ve been dating” sounds clunky, but a voice in my head said I couldn’t call her my girlfriend. “After all,” the voice said, “we aren’t even Facebook official.”

Hearing that thought from my own head, I got really concerned. Whether these things are a serious part of our lives or not, I really need to step away from the apps.

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One of my first pictures back. 16 likes. Nailed it.

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