Welcome to the Spring 2014 semester – I’m happy to be blogging again!
Much like the users of other social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, Instagram users who follow the activities of others run into a common problem: a feeling of inadequacy, disappointment, or lack of confidence by observing everything everyone else is doing (precisely when this user is at home NOT out doing something). There is a collective impact, when scrolling through the photos of others, that they are off “living” as represented by their photos of the hike they are on, the concert they went to, or their gatherings with friends. “Why aren’t I out doing this stuff like everyone else? What’s wrong with me?”
The critique linked above combats this creeping tendency toward Insta-jealousy with a simple fact: even if the photos themselves are real (and maybe artistically filtered to paint otherwise mundane activities in a more optimistic light), the photos that are shared on Instagram are just not wholly representative of the user’s life. Naturally, the photos chosen to be shared by the user are the highlights, the best, most shareable moments that the user gets to witness. After all, why photograph every little uninteresting tidbit of my day?
But this is precisely the point! When we mistake an Instagram feed for a fair representation of this person’s life, we’re neglecting to consider all of the moments not photographed. We only see the survivors. Behavioral economists often discuss the impacts on decision making of just this idea, known as survivorship bias.
Suppose I want to start a pet grooming business, and I notice there are four pet groomers already in town. I may be tempted to say “It must be easy to succeed in the pet grooming business, considering there are 4 pet groomers in town.” So where’s the gap in my line of thought? It is in my failure to consider all of the pet grooming businesses that have failed! By definition, I don’t see them around town. It’s likely I am overestimating the success rate if I am only basing my guess on the surviving businesses.
So, the next time you are tempted to think you aren’t living “fully enough” because of what you read about others online, remember that you are only seeing the survivors.