I feel like I’ve lost a friend. We weren’t exceptionally close; and, sure, at times things between us were a bit toxic, but I miss them all the same. Sometimes I get the urge to check in and see how they’re doing. I’ll open the app and scroll through about five posts before I remember that I don’t actually know any of the people in my feed, and I don’t actually care about their trips to Mexico. I click on the newly-installed Reels tab. Straightfaced, I’ll watch two, maybe three, then remember once again there’s already an app for this and it's better. I swipe back into my phone’s home screen and stare at my old friend’s new sunset gradient; its colors are unfamiliar and distant to me. I sigh. I miss the old Instagram.
The original Instagram was simple. It set out to connect friends through squared pictures and encouraged somewhat genuine social interactions. Now, as follower counts have grown, many users feel overexposed and hesitant to share photos with a public they hardly know. The app has become a breeding ground for influencers. Posts have become more edited, more calculated and less realistic, even by social media standards. More obvious is the app’s awkward shift into an online marketplace with persistent advertising and a Shop feature. The most obvious and awkward part is their blatant plagiarism of apps like TikTok, Snapchat and Pinterest with features like Reels, Instagram Stories and customizable search bar tabs. Instagram is now a cluttered accumulation of features from apps that are surpassing its popularity.
Much to my surprise, Instagram has actually remained relatively stagnant in its favor among teenagers and college students throughout the years. While the app often loses and gains popularity, it has yet to take the massive plummet seen by Facebook and Twitter. Still, we’ve seen this film before. And it’s called “The Social Network.”
When the social media spotlight shined its fluorescent glow upon Facebook back in 2009, it did so at the loss of one of the most trafficked websites in the world — MySpace. As if overnight, MySpace was uncool and unused. Once the vice president of marketing at MySpace, Silicon Valley regular Sean Percival, said what led to the site’s notorious demise: “[MySpace] just went everywhere, and that was a big, big mistake,” he said. “Lesson learned: do one thing great, not do many things good. Or in our case, we were doing many things kinda crappy.”
Doing many things kinda crappy sounds familiar, right? To me, it does. But I can also understand why a glimpse into social media’s past may seem unimportant. Why should we care that no one uses a website from the early 2000s anymore? The answer: College students killed MySpace, and, also, Mark Zuckerberg is a billionaire.
With Instagram quickly checking off all the boxes of social network irrelevancy, a new app is prophetically sure to signal its end time soon. Social media applications burn out eventually, fading out into the vast oblivion of MySpace and time. New stars simply burn brighter; and, as our generation makes up the majority of social media users, we are empowered with the ability to dictate which apps will take Instagram’s place. Applications like Poparazzi and Dispo have taken new approaches to sharing photos online, grasping on to a simplicity that once made Instagram so alluring. Still, there is space for an app with Instagram’s original intentions to reclaim the social media throne.
Some could argue that Instagram seems alive and well today, as one of the top six most popular apps in the world, but there is great turmoil here. Numbers may not lie, but neither do I: The Instagram we once knew is gone.
People miss posting oversaturated pictures of their food, giddily liking their crush’s rate me posts and taking duck-lipped selfies that didn’t go through five layers of VSCO edits. I miss not being bombarded by bikini selfies of girls I met once at a frat party or pictures of guys in chains standing next to BMWs for no reason. Like, do I really deserve to be reminded that I matched with a guy on Tinder who poses with fish in pictures? It was one time, Instagram. We didn’t even meet up!
Sure, I could unfollow. But I feel socially entrapped not to. Instagram, with all its many new endeavors, has become good at one thing: making people feel terrible. Whether it's FOMO, body dysmorphia or post-multi-hour-long-scroll depression, social media is known for its negative impact on mental health. While I believe we have the power and the motivation to kill Instagram for good, at this point it feels useless. The app it used to be is already dead. My advice to UO students: Learn how to code.