This essay was submitted as an assignment paper for one of my English courses in my first year of university in 2017. I describe how I felt when I first opened an Instagram account in back in high school and what sort of insecurities it raised in me. I resumed using Instagram four years later to promote my blog. This article is not intended to make you delete Instagram, but instead make you aware of the consequences of living a digital life.
When I had first opened an Instagram account, I put up a decent profile picture. Then I went on to go through my friends’ profiles, scrolling through their ever perfect pictures with captivating captions. How does everyone look so good? How is life so positive for them? Jealousy and greed rose in me when my “decent” profile picture, now, seemed awful. After 3 hours, I realized that I was doing nothing but scrolling through many profiles with feelings of inferiority throughout my soul. When I woke up, I realized those 3 hours of Instagram was one of the lowest points of my life. My heart was never filled with such jealousy and insecurity. I didn’t want to carry such feelings forever, nor did I want to hate my precious friends, so I immediately deleted the app.
An app that was supposed to bring people together and to share and rejoice memories, turned out to be a platform for competition wherein the person with most followers wins. In this race of winning followers, the amount of mental consequences on a person is immense. Three hours of Instagram had brought me down to a whole new level of negativity. What about the people who use Instagram on a regular basis?
A survey conducted by the United Kingdom Royal Society of Public Health labelled Instagram as the worst online platform for psychological health (MacMillan, 2017). The survey included answers from around 1500 young people of ages 14 to 24 throughout the United Kingdom. The RSPH also reported that Instagram is responsible for “high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO, or the “fear of missing out.””(MacMillan, 2017)
A young person spends around 32 minutes on Instagram per day (Frier, 2017). What could one possibly do for so long in a social networking app? Upload pictures, upload status, and monitor your posts. However, a large percentage of 32 minutes is usually broken down into intervals of 5-10 minutes. It is those 5-10 minutes of break that you usually take in between some important tasks, looking through what other people have updated, and we often tend to compare our lives with others. Feelings like, “Oh, this lady has the perfect eyes”, or, “Oh, look at him, always enjoying in some country or the other, and look at me sitting here like a potato”, are usually generated. Matt Keracher, an RSPH executive, stressed that teenagers often use Instagram to “compare themselves against unrealistic, largely curated, filtered, and Photoshopped versions of reality.” (Ruiz, 2017)
These type of comparisons are strongly associated with depression and anxiety. Two studies conducted by the University of Houston and Palo Alto University investigated how comparisons in social media affect peoples’ psychological health. The studies concluded that people feel depressed due to comparisons in social media (Walton, 2017).
A study that looked into users of different social media sites which included instagram found that “the more time people spend on these sites, the more socially isolated they perceived themselves to be.” (Walton, 2017). Why would Instagram users not be socially isolated? First of all, if they are somewhere out, instead of enjoying the experience, they look for the perfect shot that could earn them the most number of hearts. Then, they spend some time to flip over the pictures and choose the best one, after which they edit the photo – adding unnatural stuffs to make it look better. Finally, wait for the time to post. Not done yet: It’s time to monitor the number of hearts and comments, and also, look through other’s posts to see which is better. How can anyone expect such people to not be socially isolated?
Something which is more dangerous than these effects is that, these activities lead to symptoms similar to that of addiction. Dr. Shannon M. Rauch of Benedictine University, Arizona, stated that when online posts receive flattering comments and “likes”, it feels like a reinforcement that can swiftly develop into a habit that’s difficult to stop. (The Dangers of Social Media on your Mental Health). Thus, once a person gets into the whole cycle of posting the best and the perfect piece, it would become extremely hard to come out of the cycle. Even if one realizes how Instagram plays with his/her mind, it would become challenging to stop at that point.
Despite being labelled as the worst social networking site, Instagram has received positive scores for “self-expression” and “self-identity” (MacMillan, 2017). Something to wonder: A medium that’s highly associated with mental effects like depression and anxiety is also a decent platform for expressing oneself. Although Instagram allows one to express himself/herself and establish a “self-identity”, we have to think if that self-identity is actually his/her real identity, or is it an identity that he/she displays to the virtual world. Do you think Instagram users, especially the ones with lots of followers, would dare to upload an untouched picture? Or, would they look to increase saturation, add filters, crop things out to make it look the best possible? People tend to upload pictures that are more likely to get positive reactions from their followers. Therefore, the identity that is established in Instagram is really questionable.
Another argument that’s often put forward by Instagrammers is that Instagram is a nice place to build a community and make new friends. However, having more followers/friends doesn’t necessarily mean you have a lot of friends. According to a study conducted by R.I.M Dunbar, from University of Oxford, there is a certain limit on the number of friends that a normal person’s brain care about, and it requires proper social interactions to uphold these friendships (Walton, 2017). So if you think you have a lot of friends because your friends’ in Instagram follow you, and heart all your pictures, maybe you are wrong. Real friendships require commitment, support, and honesty, something which requires you to keep your phone away and make physical interactions.
These reasons are more than enough to consider deleting the app. However, if you still don’t want to, do consider the following:
Is it better to flip over your album to avoid the silence in your dining than to break the silence with interesting thoughts or funny jokes? Is it better to look for the perfect shot of the sunset than to take some time and enjoy the moment, and contemplate on the beauty of nature? Is it better to impress some people in the virtual world than to maintain honest and meaningful friendships in the real world? Maybe it’s not necessary to delete the app, but it should definitely not dictate your way of life.