Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction
Look, I don’t want to talk about this any more than you do. I didn’t want this to be true. I wanted this to work out; I thought this was the platform that could be The One to make it with us for the long haul. But it’s time to get real. It’s not working out. Instagram kind of sucks now. And it’s not Instagram, it’s not us, it’s an outside force that is tearing us apart. That home-wrecker is Stories.
In a time when social media seems full of negativity and soul-crushing content, Instagram has remained, for lots of people, the one haven that’s enjoyable.
In the eyes of many, Facebook (yes, I know Facebook owns Instagram but let’s set that aside for a second) has morphed into an evil data harvester platform that isn’t fun anyway because none of your friends under age 50 actually post there. Twitter can be fun, but fun like sipping rosé on an inflatable swan in an infinity pool of radioactive waste. Instagram felt like a beautiful escape.
But lately — and I am sure I am not alone here — Instagram has changed. Scrolling through vacation pics and cute dogs is no longer the serene, happy refuge that it used to be. Admit it: You feel differently.
In my experience, the problem is that as Stories has exploded in popularity, people — at the very least, my friends and the celebrities I follow — seem to be posting to the regular photo feed less often. While they're posting Stories daily, they're only sharing a photo to the feed a few times a week. Our feeds have grown stale and are littered with ads and celebrities and influencers: people who are still posting actively, professionally, obligatorily.
And Stories has made the stakes for posting photos to the feed way higher. The slowdown in new photos make you feel like something has to be really special or worthwhile to post — an important announcement that you’re out of town or some milestone like a major haircut or an engagement — because there’s no hiding in the crowd. I understand it. Posting to the feed seems so demanding of people’s attention, so permanent.
Our photo feeds are now ghost towns, and Stories is like sticking your face into a firehose in which a distant acquaintance talks to the camera through an unbearable number of videos.
When Instagram launched Stories in summer 2016, people initially scoffed that it was ripping off Snapchat — any yet they quickly adopted it.
It seemed for a moment in those early days with Instagram Stories that it might be a fix for all the things that made Instagram toxic: the staged, airbrushed photos of people looking their best, experiencing impossibly fabulous moments. We were putting forth an idealized and unreal version of our lives, and it had the power to make everyone feel really, really bad.
I recently talked to teenagers who had quit Instagram because seeing other people’s beautiful lives led to insecurity. A 2017 study showed that Instagram was the worst social media site for the mental health of young people, who said it made them feel loneliness, insecurity, and a negative body image.
The live, candid nature of Stories gave it the potential to be an antidote to that pressure. One writer even claimed it made us “alive in new ways.” But instead, something else happened — Stories developed its own problems.
Just as people's photos became overwhelming, users figured out how to make Stories “good,” or too good — the right number of times to post per day, how to use stickers and text effectively to be clever and funny, capturing a narrative in four to seven segments. The pressure to produce an immaculate selfie just transformed into pressure to create an immaculate multi-segment Story.
Spencer Pratt is actually very fun to watch on Instagram Stories, full disclosure.
On the other end, there’s now a flood of downright shitty Stories — just a single photo of, say, a dog. No text, no stickers, no labels. In a word: boooooring. Some people are muting Stories now.
Your friends are probably divided into three groups: never posts, terrible shitposters, and the rare group that posts really entertaining multipart Stories. You are one of those, by the way, and I don’t judge you for whichever group you fall into.
This is the crux of the problem: Adding Stories has led to people posting fewer pics to the feed, so the feed is boring. And then people either post Stories way too much or not at all because they’re intimidated by the concept of having to post a full, charming narrative. Our photo feeds are now ghost towns, and Stories is like sticking your face into a firehose in which a distant acquaintance talks to the camera through an unbearable number of videos.
Instagram once gave us real and serious feelings of envy or FOMO, but we still loved it for not being as toxic as Twitter, as lame as Facebook, or as confusing as Snapchat. It was guided by unspoken rules: Don’t post more than once a day; only post good pics. We understood these rules; as an experience, it worked. Stories ended that.
I told Instagram how I felt about what it’s become. I’ll let you know if they have anything to say.
Instagram has long resisted adding features that would lead to a cluttered experience. There’s no “regram” or “share” and there’s no way for regular accounts to post outside links (aside from “link in bio!”). This has kept Instagram a walled garden, mainly of photos. Adding Stories was a massive shift in the experience.
With Stories, Instagram is no longer an oasis away from the internet; it’s a full blast of it right into your face. There is certainly something fun and fresh about Stories, and it's often used in clever ways. But it comes at a price: Some piece of blissful happiness is forever gone.