📗 Understand

May 27, 2024

8 min read

How Instagram Is Manipulating Our Lives and Tips to Free Yourself from Addiction

How Instagram Is Manipulating Our Lives and Tips to Free Yourself from Addiction

Was Instagram better before it became an ad-driven machine? Short answer: Yes. But what happened? Let us explain how Instagram manipulates your time, fuels FOMO, and pressures you to live an 'awesome' life. Most importantly, we'll show you how to regain control (easily).

For those who joined in 2010, you've seen and experienced all of Instagram's transformations. It evolved from a simple photo-sharing app to a full-blown targeted advertising machine. Has Instagram lost its essence with each update?

Yes, I'll say it: "It was better before." At least, Instagram was. Back when it was just friends sharing photos. No Reels, no shops, no DMs, no influencers.

It was simple, it was fun, and it was without Meta.

📷 Source

Over the years, Instagram has evolved, transformed our society, and even created new jobs. Along with other competitors, they've created what's called the "attention economy," where your time and attention have become money.

This has consequences. To generate the most profit possible, platforms compete for your available brain time. To keep your attention, they need to make their services appealing, so you want to stay and come back.

In this article, we'll look at how the platform keeps you hooked and how Instagram may have sealed its fate by always seeking more profit.

Why Do We "Need" Social Media?

Humans need humans. We are mammals with a tendency to live in society rather than isolation. We have to meet several primary needs related to our survival, and among these needs, it's clear that we need others to keep living. 

📸 Simply Psychology

| "Apart from economic payoffs, social status seems to be the most important incentive and motivating force of social behavior.” — John Harsanyi, Economist

Humans need to connect with their peers to survive and continue evolving. Once, humans lived in communities. As we evolved, we spread out, settled down, and invented long-distance communication methods to cope with the separation: telegrams, mail, and then the telephone.

With time and advancements, these technologies changed. Today, we are "hyper-connected": through social media, video calls... There are fewer barriers between people than when we lived in communities.

Every Life Becomes "Awesome"

With social media, people have become more exposed to their own self-image and the images of others. They started to question their own existence. Over time, they began to share only what would embellish their lives, making them look more exciting through filters, angles, and selective shots.

| "[Be] 'authentic but not accurate'. Portray yourself in a way that feels real enough. — Emily Hund, Social Media Analyst (Interview for The Guardian)

In 2024, Instagram has evolved into a competitive arena, leaving no space for a "normal" life. Success and perfection must be evident in every post, each one aiming to garner as many likes as possible. Like other social media platforms, Instagram has become a space where all lives must appear "awesome."

In other words, no one wants to see a "boring" life that mirrors their own. People crave to be dazzled. The moment a content creator adopts a more "modest" approach, they are quickly sidelined. Social media platforms and their recommendation algorithms push creators to go further, encouraging increasingly extreme actions. For instance, when the Apple Vision Pro was released, simply testing it safely wasn't enough. People had to drive with it, walk in the street with it, and put themselves in danger to gain more views.

Moderation isn't an option. You can't just use your phone reasonably; you need a 3-month detox. You can't live simply; you need to be a minimalist living in a cabin in the woods. You can't just be organized; you need to be a productivity freak with an impossible schedule.

Algorithmic & Economic Manipulation

As we've explained in several articles, Instagram's goal is to generate more revenue, and this drive isn't stopping anytime soon. Let's be clear: these platforms aim to keep you on their site as long as possible because time equals money, and a lot of it.

To achieve this, they need to offer content that captivates you, ensuring you keep scrolling mindlessly. Not only will you not want to leave — after all, who knows if the next post could be amazing? — but they also play on FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

And between each post, there's an ad. If you pay attention, you'll notice a sponsored post or an official ad every one to two posts.

| "Online ad revenues have surpassed those of television or press..." —"C'est décidé, je ralentis !", Xavier Kreutzer

Recently, the Nielsen Norman Group, top experts in ergonomics and design, published a study on the evolution of advertising techniques, addressing the phenomenon known as "banner blindness" on online platforms. Their conclusion is quite disheartening: we've become so accustomed to ads that we've inadvertently pushed platforms to innovate even further in this area.

The result is the rise of UGC (User Generated Content). These contents are created by "users" to promote products on social media to their followers. About 80% of consumers say these posts strongly influence their buying decisions. This new advertising model is booming.

So, between social platforms, billboards, TV, and more, we're exposed to an average of 4,000 to 10,000 ads daily. Here’s a little game: how many of these do you actually notice? This market was worth an average of $510 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $876 billion in 2023.

Don’t worry, TikTok will always be around

But your

won't wait.

Better Screen Time

Made simple. See by yourself.

⚡️

💜

🔒

⌨️

🌿

🌿

🌙

Don’t worry, TikTok will always be around

But your

won't wait.

Better Screen Time

Made simple. See by yourself.

⚡️

💜

🔒

⌨️

🌿

🌿

🌙

Don’t worry, TikTok will always be around

But your

won't wait.

Better Screen Time

All made simple. See by yourself.

⚡️

💜

🔒

⌨️

🌿

🌿

🌙

Don’t worry, TikTok will always be around

But your

won't wait.

Better Screen Time

All made simple. See by yourself.

The Flip Side

To make us consume more, social media platforms need to find ways to keep us engaged. As mentioned, they exploit a flaw in us: FOMO. But that's not all.

Since 2006, with the invention of scrolling, users have "little to do." A flick upwards, and the feed continues to appear like magic, with no end in sight. What's happening in our brains at this moment is comparable to playing slot machines in casinos. Each scroll reveals new content: Will it be interesting? Will it make us laugh or cry? Was it good? Great. Was it bad? Scroll on. Does this sound familiar? Each scroll, like each pull of the slot machine, gives a shot of dopamine (the "happiness" hormone). And our brains love it. Dopamine secretion can be very addictive.

| "It has also been scientifically proven that dopamine is more intensely secreted in unpredictable situations." —"C'est décidé, je ralentis", Xavier Kreutzer

The problem with addiction is tolerance. The more you get, the more you want. This is how we end up spending hours on these platforms. Like with cigarettes: you start with one, then five, then a pack. Here, it's 10 minutes, then 30, then an average of 2 hours and 23 minutes per day.

Instagram Is No Longer Here for the Right Reasons

Today, it seems Instagram is no longer here for the right reasons. As a social validator, it no longer connects people but keeps them in perpetual competition. Studies show it doesn't make people happier or more connected; it isolates them.

For others, it manipulates their lives. According to a recent survey, 40% of millennials choose their vacation destination based on its "Instagrammability." The hashtag #beautifuldestinations has over 40 million posts.

From a product perspective, you've probably noticed that all new features introduced in recent years aim to make us consume more. From the "Shopping" section and Reels that let you consume more content (especially in full-screen format) to the numerous business opportunities for increasingly powerful ad campaigns, Instagram's focus is clear.

Taking Back Control

After this somewhat depressing assessment, it's time for some solutions. The idea isn't to reject Instagram but to learn to use it better. There are several simple steps you can take. Let's get practical!

🐻 Instagram ≠ Refuge

Many have made Instagram their emotional refuge, a comfort zone to dive into when things go wrong. According to a recent study, 39.8% of people choose to ignore the negative consequences of their decisions. So when everything goes wrong, they flee to Instagram!

For others, it's boredom: “The problem we observed was that social media can alleviate superficial boredom but that distraction sucks up time and energy, and may prevent people progressing to a state of profound boredom, where they might discover new passions,” explains Dr. Timothy Hill in an article published by Bath University. This isn't good either.

The best thing to do is teach your brain that social media isn't for this. To break this automatic circuit ("I'm bored → Instagram" or "I'm feeling bad → Instagram"), you need to break the habit.

At Jomo, we developed the "Conscious Use" method. Block your social media apps by default. If you try to open them, they're blocked. You can use them, but you have to ask Jomo for a break first. This conscious unlocking makes you think: Do I really need it? What do I want to do? Do I have something better to do?

🌿 Choose Ethical Solutions

If you enjoy sharing with your friends and family and aren't ready to take a social media break, don't worry. There are alternatives to Instagram, TikTok, or X. Some social media have a more "ethical" policy and don't rely on ads or data exploitation:

The same thing applies to messaging apps. Recently, I discovered Signal, a competitor to WhatsApp (owned by Meta, a.k.a. Facebook). Here's their business model:

"Signal is designed for you, not for profit or to collect your data. With your support, we continue our mission: to protect free expression and enable secure global communication through open-source privacy technology. Private messaging. No ads, no trackers, no surveillance."

⏱️ Limit Your Time

Of course, the most important thing is to control your time. You can do this by paying more attention to your usage. We recommend limiting your daily time on these platforms to get the most out of them.

If you don't set limits, no one will do it for you. You won't wake up one day with an iron will. It's chemical: your brain will always want to return, and always a little more.

You can use your phone's native functions (Screen Time on iPhone and Digital Wellbeing on Android) or tools like Jomo.

If you use Jomo to control your Instagram time, and you'll most likely stick to it longer. Why? Because you customize what happens when you hit your limit.

The usual way blocks the app entirely when time's up. But that's frustrating. Most people snooze the limit or delete it after a few days.

With Jomo, you can take intentional breaks after reaching your limit. You decide how many breaks, their length, and what to do to unlock them. This shifts your mindset from "F***, I'm restricting myself, I can't take it…" to "I'm simply using Instagram more mindfully". That's the only way to protect your time and attention from Instagram in the long term.

👋 Embrace Being an Outsider

To apply all these tips, you'll also need some self-work. Embrace being an outsider. Consuming less and consuming better can make you feel out of step with society. Everything is designed to make us more dependent.

So accept being part of the small percentage of people taking back control of their attention. Embrace living more in the "JOMO" mode (Joy of Missing Out, the opposite of FOMO).

I agree, this article was long (but I had a lot of interesting things to share). The takeaway is that while Instagram may seem indispensable, and living disconnected might make you feel like an outsider, it's not necessarily true. The platform has mainly become a giant marketplace, blending perfect lives, storefronts, and disguised promotions, all manipulated by highly addictive algorithms. If you feel like you're losing control, try these tips. If it applies to someone you know, share this article. Until next time!