We’re all just a bunch of apes lekking around the water hole, aren’t we? “Facebook,” it’s been said, “is basically designed like a lobster trap with your friends as bait,” and the same holds for Instagram. You know it’s empty, often stressful calories—but you can’t get away.
I’m reminded of this hearing teenage girls tell This American Life about their Instagram habits. Points that stuck out for me:
- Time is a big factor. Reactions are expected within minutes. (You can hear relief in the girls’ voices as the first likes roll in.)
- Getting 150 likes on a selfie is normal. Nighttime is when you get the most.
- Each person posts just a few times per week.
- They reflexively like nearly everything in their feeds.
- Commenting is more intimate than liking & carries more expectation of reciprocation.
- Language choice is super important. There’s tons of repetition of “Gorgeous, Pretty, OMG, etc.,” though never “Sexy.”
- Comments are a way to map & judge others’ relationships (who’s commenting, who isn’t).
- “If I didn’t have it, I’d feel like I’m missing so much.” It’s a diagram of where people stand socially. Parsing this is where the most time goes.
- The girls will preflight photos (sending them to close friends for review) before posting.
- They know it’s shallow, but “It’s like free candy, so why not?”
- “I’m a brand… Relevance is a big term right now. In middle school we were so relevant!”
Don’t get me wrong—I’ve enjoyed Instagram for 5+ years & would miss it deeply, even if I’m guiltier than I’d like of these pathologies. And still my mind turns endlessly to thinking about ways to foster more genuine, personal, enriching communications. Nobody said would be easy, but the desire is there.