I built a brand

In 2013, I started Instagramming under the username "@josh.guitars." I created the website "josh.guitars" and "joshguitars.com" shortly thereafter. I bought that silly domain the day that "dot guitars" went live with all the other new TLDs.

I built a Twitter and Facebook following but didn't like those platforms as much—I was "josh_guitars" there. After a little while, I revised my username to "@joshguitars" (without the dot) on all platforms, to be easier to find.

My following grew quickly as I talked about my life as a professional guitar player, about gear, about my faith, and about what it meant to play the guitar for the church.

For the first four years, I loved everything about it. I hustled on social media, building it up by talking to people every single day.

My following grew as I was helped along by larger accounts, too. My pictures were reposted by all of these gear companies, and smaller companies would then send me products to talk about.

I became friends with other guitarists who had thousands of followers and we all shared each other's content, met up, tagged each other, and the more I engaged, the more my account grew.

But then I noticed that the guitar community was changing in ways I didn't like.

I noticed a trend among newer Instagramming guitar players that I just despised—it led me to write the post that launched this blog, it was called "More is more to lose" (I've since archived many of the old guitar-specific posts).

The trend I saw was this need to one-up one another in a toxically consumeristic pursuit of more guitar gear, going into debt to buy boutique gear, and shaming guys who didn't have as much as others.

I saw how, in a small way, I was to blame for that trend. I fueled it by talking about my own gear, endorsements, and sponsorships instead of talking about things that matter.

Moreover, I saw how I was ruining my finances to buy the latest and greatest guitar gadgets that kept me ahead of all the new guys and kept the likes, comments, and follows rolling in.

I was also disappointed in myself that I'd allow that kind of influence over my life. One day, I decided enough was enough. I decided to just leave it all—to delete all of my socials. And I did it.

It felt so very liberating. I was off of social media completely for about six months and then returned with a private Instagram account just so that I could keep up with close friends.

When I pressed 'Delete' on my Instagram account @joshguitars, I had over 6,100 followers.

The picture here is from the day I hit 5,600 followers. I was sitting in my car after a photoshoot and happened to have my camera out so I snapped a pic.

I think it's the only 'proof' I have now of the account that I had built.

In any other industry—or for some company or publication—6,100 followers is nothing. But for a regular old joe like me, I felt like a celebrity.

People were asking my opinion about things. I was invited by a friend to this American Idol event and got recognized backstage by a musician. I got recognized in a Starbucks, "Hey! you're JOSHGUITARS!"

JoshGuitars had become a brand in a weird way. It was fun for few years. But then the pressure, the greed, the trolling, and the divisive one-upsmanship got to me.

If you've ever had an account of that size, you'll know that the trolls can eat your soul up if you let them. I was digging through old photos yesterday and I found screenshots of some of the daily trolling I received—the things they'd say were awful.

I wanted to set a good example to younger guitarists. I saw how they felt the need to try to keep up with me, when their top priority should have been learning the guitar before buying all that fancy gear.

So my solution, for me and for them and for the community, was to delete myself.

I didn't want to just deactivate—I wanted to eliminate the temptation to come back. I didn't realize that when you perma-delete your account, after 30 days or so Instagram makes the username available. So I no longer own the @joshguitars username—some random guy grabbed it. But I don't really mind.

I've written at length about my objections to social media in the past. I think there are very real dangers to it. But then, I also love being social.

I'm a total extrovert—I love being the life of the party, making jokes, meeting people, including people in conversation, and discovering new perspectives.

But the moment you hang up a scoreboard and we start measuring our sociality in likes and follows, I become a competitive monster. The follower count was a game I played with myself, and I'm sad to say I often hinged my happiness on whether or not I felt I was winning.

I have no regrets about deleting an account with 6,100 followers. Of those 6,100 people, I think about 200 were genuine friends. Of those 200, I had met 120-150 or so in person. Of those 120, I have close, personal friendships with maybe 20 of them.

But letting go of things is hard. It was easy to hit 'delete' that day, but in recent months, feeling nostalgic about the days when my phone was blowing up, I've wondered if I could start blogging and posting about the guitar again but in some healthier way. I'm not sure that I can.

I also regret that I rejected an enormous platform, rather than trying to work from within the community to change our toxic culture. Sometimes I feel like a quitter. But I think deleting my accounts was for the best, and my brain agrees.

I've said it many times before, that I think we should be cautious of social media.

I think we're seeing friendships being redefined by scores and streaks, our self-image eroding with every picture-perfect post we compare our own lives to, our society fragmenting and dividing into these polar, isolated echo chambers.

These so-called 'services' have a profound effect on our attention spans, our happiness, our sense of self-worth, and even our sleep.

If your Facebook profile causes you to hate your fellow man, delete it. If your Instagram feed makes you hate yourself, delete it. It's difficult, yes, but nothing worth doing is easy.