Superstar of social media.
An absolute necessity on the modern-day smartphone.
It’s the platform that everyone expects you to be on. It has the tendency to replace emails, text messages, event invites, and online dating. We unconsciously open it first thing in the morning (even when it’s buried in folders on page two in a futile attempt to limit its usage – ahem) and monitor it on autopilot throughout each day. We hate to love it.
It highlights the finest parts of our lives and accentuates the perfection of our angles. It allows us to broadcast to the world that we are essentially “living it up.”
This is what I’m doing tonight. This is how fine my taste in restaurants is. This is the amount of adventure I’m having this summer. This is how hot my friends are.
The truth of the matter is that – no matter how much Instagram may serve to connect likeminded individuals, help businesses grow, share photography, or spread global news – it can, just like any tool, quickly become toxic.
So, to post or not to post? Welcome to the thought process of a 25-year-old millennial on Instagram.
When stories were introduced in 2016 and Instagram gave Snapchat a run for its money, the game changed.
Users are not only able show off their lives for 24 hours without committing to posting a photo, but also observe the multitude of individuals that view their stories without ever liking their content (we call these lurkers).
If that’s not confusing enough (Do they like my aesthetic? Do they just view everyone’s stories? Do they dislike my actual posts? Am I being stalked?), cue to consistently checking to see if a certain someone viewed your story. We all have that “someone” in mind. When they see and interact with your content, you experience a rush of dopamine (the feel-good reward chemicals released in the brain). Bonus points if they react with one of the eight predetermined emojis that feel oh-so personal and yet we all know are not.
Although not as intense as hit of cocaine, positive social stimuli – such as a “like” on Instagram – “will similarly result in a release of dopamine, reinforcing whatever behavior preceded it.” This leads to the addictive cycle of posting, checking, obsessing and indulging.
On the flip side, if they don’t view your story within a modest couple of hours after being posted, it’s a huge disappointment. You wonder if they muted you so that your stories don’t show up on their Instagram homepage. Or, perhaps they haven’t even checked Instagram and are instead leading the fun, busy life that you attempt to portray while you’re actually at home sitting on your phone.
Oh honey, I’m just getting started.
This most often leads to the fear of missing out (or FOMO, for short).
Wondering, “Where was my invite?” is a common thought that enters the rational mind.
As I just wrote that sentence, I mindlessly grabbed my iPhone, opened Instagram, and saw the fifth person within a span of 12 hours capture moments from the same party last night – a party full of people I know and like, I might add. Um, excuse me, but where was my invite?
Not only that, but I had been out on a patio last night with a group of girlfriends from university. Naturally, I posted a cute photo of the four of us to my story. Ten minutes later, a close friend of ours – whom we hadn’t thought to extend the invite to – messaged, “Where was my invite?”
I fall into the same trap. My thoughts express “left out,” yet my actions scream “hypocritical.”
FOMO is a trap. We weren’t meant to broadcast our parties and hangouts and lavish lives to the world.
There’s a feature that allows users you follow and those you message to see when you were last active on Instagram. This can be disabled, of course, but then you won’t be able to see the activity status of other accounts.
I have always veered towards turning my activity status off. Why publicize the amount of time you spend online? It’s embarrassing enough.
For the sake of science, however, last week I decided to enable my activity status. To follow the program of the show, I was presented with an onslaught of perplexing emotions:
He’s on Instagram but hasn’t read my message – what gives? I feel more connected to this person because we’re both online, despite having not talked in months. She’s sure online a lot. Maybe I should log out so that I look like I have a life and am not always on my phone. Should I just delete the app to deter me from opening Instagram altogether?
Something as simple as alerting others when you are online presents internal dialogue and, in many cases, a steady state of worry and stress.
Last, but certainly not least, there’s the act of actually posting photos to your personal feed.
I don’t know about you, but I definitely notice when a particular person doesn’t like my content. It doesn’t help that the users you interact with the most appear at the top of the “liked” list.
So, why don’t some people actually like the photo? Was it the filter I used? Is he playing hard to get? Did I do something to offend her? Is it an unflattering angle? Do they still find me attractive after this? Perhaps they didn’t even see it?
Further, there’s the dilemma of posting too many photos with one person. Do others question whether I have a more diverse group of friends? Should I make plans with someone else and capture a photo of them just so it’s not all the same? Will I be unfollowed or muted because someone doesn’t get along with the person that I’m posting pictures of all the time?
Then, there’s group photos. Oh, the magnificent-yet-perplexing group photos:
You take an absolute darling shot of yourself and your girls at the lake; everyone is looking fire in their bikinis, and the sunshine is sparkling just right. You’ve edited the photo to perfection, and you’ve tagged everyone, but then you hesitate. You zoom in on each person, analyzing for flaws or angles they may not be thrilled with. Do they like themselves in this particular image out of the 20 that we took? I look great, but I don’t want it to look like I’m posting it just because of that. Should I post a photo that I’m average in but that my friends look amazing in? My feed looks better with attractive friends, after all. Should I just post the photo we all look okay in? Should I even post at all?
Between monitoring story views, suffering FOMO, manipulating activity status, and flaunting on the feed, we are curating our lives. We expend our energy on impressing others rather than what brings us joy, forsaking transparency and authenticity.
A social media platform designed to establish communication and showcase talent has created a pattern of overthinking, rendering it addictive and detrimental to our mental health.
So, what is a millennial in this day and age to do? Eliminating Instagram completely from one’s life seems impractical – not to mention downright impossible. We rely on social media to connect with friends, family, and businesses; alleviate social isolation; develop communities; learn new skills; spread news; create awareness; and express ourselves.
For as much as it has the potential to become toxic, Instagram – and social media – plays an important role in our society.
What we can control, then, is how we use Instagram. We can limit our time spent online, take photos for the sake of taking photos rather than for sharing them, and put our phones away every now and then. Heck, we can (and should) refuse to check our story views or watch others’ stories when we are feeling particularly lonely and subject to the influences of FOMO.
In the end, we’re all in the same boat: trying to make our way in the world. Be careful what you share. Who are you trying to impress? If someone might be hurt, why post it? Be authentic. Be you.
Bury the temptation to construct a false reality because it may look more enticing than your current one.
And stop overthinking! It’s exhausting, and we’re totally over it.