When Instagram Broke Us

It has been seven years since Rebecca Jennings downloaded Instagram, downloading the photo and video-sharing app in 2012. She downloaded the app in the spring that year, and that spring would be followed by her worst summer.

I remember them both vividly, sulking at home in the July heat on an air mattress in a sweltering bedroom I shared to save money, convinced my boyfriend was about to dump me.

Her boyfriend eventually broke up with her, but it was fine as they got back together a week later. What followed her worst summer was the best autumn she ever had. By September of that same year, she was already studying abroad, going around cities in Europe with people who become some of her closest friends.

These have been two different times in Jennings’s life. On Instagram, however, these times were indistinguishable.

Instagram has a way of flattening lived experiences so that my best years look exactly like my bad ones, and that everything seems pretty good, all the time, for everyone. This, obviously, is not how life works for most people, and ever since Instagram has existed experts have debated what seeing an infinite scroll of other people’s happy moments is doing to our brains.

Lately that conversation has gotten louder and more complicated. Influencers, models, and celebrities — the people who Instagram was supposed to work best for — are realizing that they have been made complicit in an app that feeds its users a poison of narcissism and envy and prevents them from ever logging off…

Now Instagram is trying to make up for what it’s done to warp our perception of reality over the past 9 years. The company is now implementing new measures to protect its users from bullying and body image issues, and it tries to create a more “authentic” place for sharing photos and shopping for clothes.

But what’s more authentic than the desire to make your life seem wonderful? Instagram succeeded because it exploited the basest aspects of human behavior until concepts like “authenticity” and “honesty” barely meant anything at all, to the point where even when we do see something vulnerable or “real,” we inherently distrust it. On Instagram, and increasingly in real life, everyone is suspect. Even if Instagram deleted itself from the internet tomorrow, we couldn’t get back what we lost.

More about this over at Vox.

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(Image Credit: ElisaRiva/ Pixabay)