About a week ago, my coworkers were talking about signing up for Instagram over all-you-can-eat sushi. While mentally preparing ourselves for an onslaught of rice and raw fish, they explained the humor in picking a username, the mechanics of gathering followers, the importance of too many hash tags, and anything else that one asks when comparing social media services used in different amounts. It came up again with my college friends over dinner, so 4 years after acquiring a smart phone, I registered for Instagram.
Onboarding was rough. I tried to login using my Facebook account, but it ran into an error after setting my (unique) username, and when I tried to redo those steps, it told me that the name was taken (by me). After quitting the app, it let me login, but I still wonder if I missed a fun and relevant part of the onboarding experience.
Within a minute of registering, I was surprised to find that I already had followers. Inquiring later, apparently by logging in via Facebook, my friends had been notified that I had joined Instagram. Shortly after, I posted my first picture.
Ideally, I would have taken a picture with a complete tray of brownies. Having already eaten part of the tray, though, I did the best I could and showed a few layers. Apparently my larger mistake, however, was not including more hash tags. I’m still working on becoming fluent in emoji, but I think I can handle this, too.
Especially with Julie’s help. Her suggestions featured prominently in the hash tags on my second Instagram post.
I have push notifications for Instagram turned off, but I have been checking about once a day over the past week. Keeping it that infrequent has taken some effort, and I can see how addictive it can be. Most social media I know keeps its users coming back just to check for new content from friends. However, my experience being bad at social media is that most of my posted content tends to go apparently unnoticed: a lot of tweets aren’t favorited, and a lot of Facebook status updates only get a few likes. They’re good platforms for consumption but not always rewarding for contributions.
However, Instagram seems to run on an endless trading of likes. It provides continuous gratification for posting pictures, and it makes you want to like other people’s pictures as well. That exchange is always rewarding, and even without push notifications, there’s a sense that there are unviewed likes just a screen touch away.
That’s just a fancy way of saying that Instagram has higher engagement than other social media, and it’s a refreshing change from endless politics on reddit and Facebook. However, Instagram still feels like an academic exercise to me since I have 2 big reasons for using it other than entertainment.
First, I can learn about trends in web applications to bring back to my job in web development.Usable web applications need to match how their users expect to use the applications, and a lot of that is inspired by other services. At Zanbato where we’re building financial technology, we once had a user suggest adding a swipe-left/swipe-right interaction to add Tinder-like approval interactions. Online dating is a very different space to be in, but there are crossovers in interactions. Despite being a distinctly unvisual person, I signed up for Pinterest a few months just to see how it worked. It’s good to know.
Second, using Instagram makes me feel less old. I started social media on Facebook and sort of passed over Twitter, but apparently kids these days are using other services like Instagram or Snapchat more often now. These apps are social, and as I experienced over sushi, they are difficult to understand abstractly. You actually need to use them to get it.
My great love of video games is no secret, but I apparently have become less relevant in that sphere as well. On the casual side, I don’t play any mobile games: my parents have played more Candy Crush than me, though I experience Pokemon Go vicariously through Julie. On the serious side, I haven’t played any Minecraft, and I don’t really understand the appeal of survival games like H1Z1 or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
I enjoy my life just fine without needing to use the apps or play the games that everyone else is, and tradition wisdom about defying popular opinion backs me up. However, staying relevant is really helpful in life in general. When I’m tutoring high school students, I actually have more to talk to them about when it comes to video games. Watching Game of Thrones brought me into a weekly social event with my college friends.
I haven’t started using Snapchat yet, and notably, I still don’t drink alcohol, so it of course is still a judgment call, and “because everyone is else doing it” on its own is an insufficient reason. However, it’s the nature of pro-social behavior (like using Instagram) that it becomes increasingly culturally relevant as it grows, and I’m not sure if that’s really clever or just convenient.