How Instagram Is Affecting The Way We Perceive Ourselves And The World Around Us

by Adriana Mariella

A mindless scroll through Instagram, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Utah Valley University and Humboldt University Berlin, can be more damaging to your psyche than you think.

Studies conducted on the negative effects of Facebook showed that users were likely to develop feelings of depression, loneliness, resentment and lowered self-esteem. Unsurprisingly, the most negatively charged aspects were those linked to photo sharing.

More specifically, it’s linked to the pleasure-loathing phenomenon that accompanies pseudo-stalking photos of others’ seemingly better lives and sharing your own photos as a way to project an equally envy-inspiring social media persona.

Though Facebook dilutes these effects with shared articles, games and other non-photographic updates, Instagram is solely dedicated to the sharing of photos (and now, videos) that are, more often than not, significantly edited.

Though these studies focused only on Facebook, the basis of their findings is easily applicable to Instagram.

When all we can see of each other’s lives is whatever fits within perfectly filtered squares, we’ll inevitably do the kind of harmful self-assessment that keeps us thinking that the grass really is greener on the other side — that everyone else’s lives are more perfect than our own.

What might make you green with envy through the lens of X-Pro II might, at best, be mediocre through the lens of real life. When we look at Instagram, we see a life literally cropped and filtered -- a perfectly-set dining room table, while there’s a half-renovated living room just beyond the frame.

Instagram is imperatively filled with half-truths and optimizations of life, yet we still use it to gauge our own. For some reason, though, we don’t consider Instagram photos to be as manipulative of reality as the photos in magazines.

This is because despite the editing, they seem more accessible because we know the photographers.

As I pour over my feed, I find myself asking why I can’t look like one girl or another, why my outfits aren’t as cute, why my “skinny arm” always fails or why my weekend outings aren’t as exciting as everyone else’s.

I’m always saying, “I just want to be her,” or “His life is so cool" because no matter how much I love my own life, someone’s will always be better looking on Instagram.

Through this process, we’re breeding a culture of people who are not only fascinated with looking, but are also permanently aware that they are being looked at.

I constantly find myself preoccupied with monitoring how my own life looks, rather than just living it.

I capitalize on any opportunity to beef up my Instagram: I’ll make the simplest dinner with friends look like a night in a Paris café (hopefully no one posts an actual picture of a Paris café because it would send me into a full-blown, Insta-induced depression) and I’ll go on outings that I know will look good in pictures.

A friend recently invited me to a polo match in Newport, Rhode Island and included a reminder to how wonderful the day would look on Instagram in the invitation. It has become a tool for self-invention as much as it is a tool for sharing, which is probably why people live in their phones.

It’s not that we can’t interact with each other in the real world, but rather, that our reality is so distorted by half-realities, like Instagram, that the real world just seems boring.

It starts to look better cropped and edited than it does through our own eyes — a cup of Starbucks sitting on a table looks a lot better when it’s artistically framed and documented.

And if we want to look back on how it feels to live our lives, all we have to do is scroll through our Instagram profiles and the ethos of each moment is right there for us. Why even bother living in the present?

Instagram allows us to have a kind of permanent snapshot memory. Our memories might be recorded in moments, but they aren’t fleeting; they’re a lasting reminder of how our lives look, and they look good.

I’m aware that this phenomenon is altering my consciousness and the way I interact with the world. I can choose to filter out my envy just as easily as I filtered last night’s mojitos with the girls.

I can and will choose to put the phone down and take pictures only for my own memories, not for someone else’s news feed.

Photo via We Heart It