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PILLAI: Why I avoid using Instagram

Column: Unboxed

Social media can be devastating, so why not just skip making an account in the first place?  – Photo by PixaHive.com

At a Halloween party a few weeks ago, my roommate and I met another student during a game of ring toss. The three of us hung out for a while, making small talk as we tossed rings successfully and unsuccessfully onto the pegs. When it was time for our new acquaintance to leave, she asked us both for our Instagram handles. “Sorry, I have no Instagram,” I told her. 

That is technically a lie. I do have an Instagram account for business purposes, since it is connected to my YouTube channel, but I rarely post on it or check it at all. 

Every time I tell someone that I do not have a personal Instagram profile, they are usually surprised because a typical member of Generation Z is on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, VSCO, Snapchat and other social media sites. 

I do use some of these, but my avoidance of Instagram in particular seems egregious. Instagram is where people share memories, comment on posts with adulation (or anonymous hatred), message potential friends and learn about the latest gossip. 

It is a hub of social connection in the form of carefully curated photo galleries. There are “finstas” and “rinstas,” and honestly, I cannot tell which is which. 

My reason for eschewing Instagram has nothing to do with my cluelessness regarding teenage slang. It stems from my desire to avoid social comparison and digital addiction. 

In September, The Wall Street Journal reviewed an internal presentation in which Facebook acknowledged that, “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.” One slide concluded, “We make body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teen girls.” 

Teenagers scrolling through Instagram do not just compare themselves to others based on their bodies. Application users document every moment they deem noteworthy throughout the day, but we do not see the moments of stress and loneliness that are probably just as frequent. College parties, extravagant trips to the city and island vacations are some examples of photograph subjects on Instagram. 

The app distorts our sense of reality, convincing us that everyone else in the world is living a better, happier lifestyle when this is clearly not the case. What aggravates our envy and longing is the fact that when we scroll through social media sites, we are often alone. During those moments, we feel angry that everyone else is having fun while we are sitting on the couch. 

Although I like to think that I am not vulnerable to FOMO, I know that using social media will break down the layers of self-confidence and security that I have built over the years. Other students tell me that Instagram is a scrapbook where they can store memories and reflect on them later, and I simply reply that to me, this benefit is not worth the angst Instagram can cause. 

After all, I have my phone’s camera roll to store my pictures and videos. Keeping those items to myself makes them feel more special. 

Moreover, I am concerned that I will whittle away the hours in an endless spiral down my feed. Since I have already experienced this on apps including YouTube and TikTok, I know that Instagram is yet another source of addiction. The bright colors and filters turn ordinary photographs into visual confections that we devour within seconds, making us hungry for more. 

Like streaming services, Instagram seems to have a limitless pool of content that is displayed based on our particular preferences. The more time I spend scrolling, the less time I have to read, enjoy nature and actually live the life social media makes me want to live. 

My last reason for staying away from Instagram is my desire to protect my privacy. The fact that any person can “stalk” a complete stranger by combing through their social media profiles is frightening, and the show "You" has only heightened my wariness. 

I have accepted the fact that tech giants such as Google and Meta already have access to much of my personal data, but I cannot give away this information to individuals online. So yes, I may not know what everyone was doing last weekend or be able to comment on my friends’ posts, but I am willing to make those sacrifices for my own sanity.

Preanka Pillai is a Rutgers Business School junior majoring in marketing and business analytics and information technology. Her column, "Unboxed," runs on alternate Wednesdays.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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