Why Instagram is making me sick

And you're in danger, too.


Don’t get me wrong. I used to love Instagram. By all means: Instagram made me realise my passion for photography and traveling. Ultimately it made me quit my (rather uninspiring) office job to pursue a new career path. I should be thankful, right? But that’s about all that I have to say in favour of Instagram today.

From fake numbers to fake humans?

Instagram has become a poisonous place of envy, deceptions and lies, mistrust and valid reasons for mistrust. Everyone seems to be cheating on Instagram. All the numbers seem to be untrustworthy if not fake. And let me tell you – it’s easy to be angry or disappointed because of it. I often am and have been an avid contributor to uncover all the problems of Instagram (read my story about how I got to 270.000 followers on Instagram for a hint of it).

But more importantly, Instagram has an affect on our attention span, on our happiness – and ultimately on us as humans and our society. 

It’s not easy for me to state this as I built my career off of Instagram. Today I’m still living off of my reputation on Instagram. So, it’s a hard call for me to judge Instagram. And it might affect my career. But I believe it’s worth it!


The hunt for numbers

Let me start at the beginning: Instagram was built by knowingly using (or rather abusing) the weakness of people. The weakness of humans is the need for social acceptance. The need for validation. In Instagram’s case: The “need” for likes, comments and followers. Maybe it’s even a substitute for real social connections?

Before I get too philosophical, let’s just look at the basis, the foundation of Instagram. You set up a profile and the first thing Instagram suggests is that you invite your friends and follow people. It’s concealed as a place for social interaction, but it mostly just wants you to get sucked into a vicious circle of hunting for the numbers.

Instagram Notification

Just look at how Instagram’s user interface is flooded by numbers. You’re own profile is not dominated by your profile photo, but by your numbers.

The numbers of posts, followers and followings gets more space than your portrait photo. On a photo platform. Funny, right?

The same goes for every photo you post. Instagram shows the number of likes before your own text. Is it more important how many people liked that photo, than what you have to say about it? This seems to be the case. The numbers have a higher ranking than your story about your photo. Who reads this text anyways…?

Back from silence. . I never had such a long Instagram pause before. Posting to my feed didn’t feel right for a good while… and I can’t even tell you why. . Sometimes I just pause to reset, think over certain actions and behavior. Probably to the extend where I overthink everything ? . So it’s about time to silence the critical voices in my brain and just put myself out there again! I’m back for now. Beware ? #VisitFaroeIslands #FaroeIslands . . . #thetravelblogAT #travelblogger #igersvienna #igersaustria #igersviennaontour #austrianblogger #viennablogger #exploretocreate #createscenery #welcometonature #welivetoexplore #discovernature #createexplore #wekeepmoments #theweekoninstagram #diewocheaufinstagram #visualsofearth #sombrescapes #visualscollective #exploreourearth #Faroes #Färöer #trøllkonufingur

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The stone is set into motion

So what happens next? Unconsciously you’ll get addicted to those numbers. This is not something you can fight. Not even knowing about this helps you fight it. Why? It’s in our DNA, in our brain. We’re built to validate ourselves by social interactions.

Social Media makes us become addicted to dopamine. Those little shots of “happiness”, that we get from likes and followers.

Don’t tell me you’re immune to this. Because you aren’t! I am not. By no means. I still feel the dopamine kick in every time I post a photo on Instagram and hit the refresh button. And you feel it too. Every time you get a notification. Every time the little red box opens up telling you how many new likes and comments you received. And every time you get a direct message popping up! Every time someone tags you in a photo. And so on…

How Social Media affects our society

Have you heard of the Center for Humane Technology? No? Does “Time well spent” ring a bell? No? Did you read about Facebook’s former exec Chamath Palihapitiya saying Social media is ripping apart society? No?

Their messages about the danger of Social Media are amongst the most important of today. But obviously our mass media finds it more interesting to discuss the profanity of cheating and buying followers on Instagram (amongst other stuff). Well – go ahead and feed the monster. I’d like to shift the discussion.

This group of former tech insiders (think Google & Facebook execs) has come together to make the world understand how Social Media is a threat to our society. And it’s worth listening to them!


To be ON or OFF

How right Tristan is in his TED-talk. We only have the choice to be ON or OFF today. We can either be a part of Social Media and be constantly distracted and shot full of dopamine (which then is withdrawn again, so that we come to get our next dose).

Or we can not be on Social Media and miss out. For me the decision is clear: I can’t be OFF. And I don’t want to be completely off. It’s not only my job. I still find inspiration on Instagram (mostly on accounts, where the numbers don’t even matter to me). I still connect over important topics with my peers on Facebook. I still have interesting discussions via Instagram Stories and Direct Messages.

So the choices should be expanded. We need something in between ON and OFF.

Getting rid of the numbers

For this I have a few requests. Among them: The numbers have to be deleted from Instagram. There is a solution for Facebook called the “Facebook Demetricator“, which makes all the numbers go away. Instead of looking at “32 people have liked this” you’ll read “people have liked this”. Doesn’t this sound nice?

Unfortunately we still have to wait for someone to come up with the same thing for Instagram. Or we join together an urge Instagram to change their platform. Wouldn’t we have the power?

Introducing a new metric

Tristan suggests to introduce a new KPI, a new kind of metric of success called “Net positive contribution to human life”. Wouldn’t that be what we would ultimately want from Social Media? That it contributes positively to our life?

Let’s pressure Instagram to measure their success differently. Not in user numbers, usage growth, time spent. But in time well spent. Only our demand can change technology!