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An addictive painkiller

Picture credits : Sumer Wagner

At a glance : Instagram and mental health statistics

  • 71% of 18-24-year-olds use Instagram, and 72% of 13-17-year-olds use the platform as well.

  • 25% of teens using social media said that it had a negative effect on them, with 31% claiming it has a positive effect.

  • Some of the most discouraging issues on Instagram include sleep quality, body image, fear of missing out (FOMO), and bullying.

  • Research suggests social media users of 7 or more platforms had 3x the risk for anxiety and depression.

  • More than 1 in 3 adults (38%) consider social media to be harmful.

  • 73% of millennials agree that social media causes loneliness and isolation.

  • A UK survey, #StatusOfMind, showed Instagram voted the most negative in terms of health and well-being.

  • 9%-10% of Americans could meet criteria that determines a social media addiction.


Increase in the number of Instagram users

Source  : Instagram

Undo the damage

Where are we headed?

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I was in school when Facebook took off and hit its peak in no time. It was in the mid 2000s when Facebook was introduced and it had a wall for engaging with people in conversations and you’d post a series of about 100 photos from your timely outings. The number of likes, comments decided your popularity and at that particular point of time the concept seemed great. 

As an introverted, socially awkward and low on confidence teenager who could barely speak in public, I liked the fact that I could be part of these public conversations without making my presence felt. I created my profile to play games, chat with people which I couldn’t do in person. I was vicariously living through people’s lives at some point. The positive side to social media was it made me more confident and at this point, after almost 10 years, I am not so bad at holding public conversations.

It hadn’t been long when instagram was introduced and the younger Millennial and Gen-Z crowd switched social media platforms. The crowd fell more into the pitfalls of social media popularity and before we realised it, it has become an integral part of our daily lives such that a good chunk of our day is spent mindlessly scrolling through instagram.

According to statistics Instagram has an increase of almost 1oo million users every 9 months. ( It may more than often seem that our behaviour and addiction towards our smartphones is a result of the way we’re wired. While that reason might not be completely false, one of the major reasons behind all the flashing and the beeping of the apps is something that we call “behavioural design”. The addictive likes and comments section on instagram and facebook is all part of this behavioural design. 

According to the Stanford professor B.J. Fogg there are three criterias to form a habit : sufficient motivation, an action and a trigger.


A certain feeling or motivation is a prerequisite for opening an app. This could be catalysed by the anticipation we feel when our phone goes off or the feeling of ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) if you don’t check your phone immediately. An action is necessary for the success of the app and that has to be as effortless as possible, for eg, double tapping a picture to ‘like’ it. And the trigger part of the formula is fulfilled by the gazillion notifications provided by the app.

Several ex-employees of tech giants such as Apple, Facebook, Google have warned us that these companies deliberately design apps to be addictive. Attention is currency. The more time you spend on the app, the more money they generate. Tech giants maximise their profits by forcing you to spend more time on their apps regardless of your mental well being. If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold.

Social media apps such as instagram and facebook are known as ‘painkiller apps’ that don’t satisfy a particular need, they’re just simply attractive. According to Meyzk they typically generate a stimulus which usually revolves around negative emotions such as loneliness and boredom. "The reason some apps are addictive is that most companies first ask themselves how they can make money with them — but ethical app development focuses on the user," argued Mezyk.

The sheer volume of content being shared via direct messages is reaching mind-boggling levels. It's like we're drowning in a sea of junk! Do we really need to sacrifice our sanity and waste endless hours scrolling through an endless reel marathon? So, while we are already wired and far too deep into the social media addiction, these companies could try and reverse some of the features of the app to make them less addictive. 

What if we have a feature that allows us to limit the number of reels and posts we receive from a single person. This in turn will reduce the motivation and trigger required to tap on the app. We need to regain control over our precious time and mental health. Else, we’ll become nothing but mindless zombies, endlessly scrolling through an abyss of mind-numbing content.

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