On the Discomfort of Instagram

Jul 2017

Whilst Instagram provides a stellar platform for benign things like documenting one’s life, the insidious side-effects that inevitably come along with its being a social media platform are often overlooked.

Time spent on (or thinking about my conduct regarding) such apps tends to elicit some pretty grotesque, otherwise-unnecessary thoughts regarding social status, rendering them a formidable modern perpetuator of the need to keep up with the Joneses.

What is somebody’s (/my) reason for posting a picture on (say) Instagram? Given that some nonzero percentage might be composed of some desire to share experiences with friends, etc. I’m confident that something like the remaining 95% of the motivation behind our posting roots in an insatiable hunger for ‘likes’ and social approval. 1).

The dopamine rush that comes with such ‘likes’ is incontrovertibly a positive thing, ceteris paribus, but only in the same way that a shot of heroin is, I conjecture.

And as soon as one photo has reached a new milestone of (say) 5 likes, there then exists a newly charged (and seldom talked about) pressure for subsequent photos to surpass that high score, leaving a strange lonely pit of dissatisfaction if this totally arbitrary and self-inflicted burden isn’t met.

The harboring of such pathetic, desperate thoughts (perhaps unconsciously) cannot be healthy / desirable, especially given the frequency with which modern folks tend to open up such apps.

I certainly can’t see how Instagram could be any other way however - they’re effectively compelled to ramp up the degree to which our time spent on their app is valuable to their companies’ success via simple game-theoretic reasons regarding their competitors’ success in doing so.

My gripe is really rooted in how, when I think about tomorrow 2, I wish to spend time reading, or being outside, etc. but inevitably end up having that preciously finite time dwindled by Instagram. I’m almost certainly not the only one this susceptible to such things, else these companies would be employing more effective tactics to maximise how much time we spend on their apps.

When I really sit back and try to quantify this cost-benefit of my using Instagram, it’s starkly clear that this combination of things are qualitatively of net-negative impact on my life - viz. something I really would do better without.

These criticisms are also true of something like Twitter, though I feel the benefit of which still outweighs the aforementioned downsides - for now, at least.

  • 1 - Maybe this composition of ugly impulses and needs constitutes most of our social conduct outside these apps also - but even if this holds, I'd certainly want to limit the amount of places which this (effectively) self-loathing can manifest.
  • 2 - Whilst I'm not a prisoner of my every impulse, and can reason about what I ought to do in the future given my long-term goals.