Instagram, mental well-being, and Hannah Gadsby

The next advance in frictionless spending happened this week. Frictionless spending is where companies narrow the gap between a consumer’s desire and their spending as much as possible. Make spending as easy and thoughtless as possible. Credit cards and debt financing are the most pernicious forces here. Studies show that people spend more money when they use a credit card than cash. Same with debt financing a car (or for that matter buying a hosue): you’re willing to pay more if you’re financing it and forcing your future self to pay than if you have to pay cash immediately.

Autofill for online purchasing was a major advance in frictionless spending. You can speed up spending (and consumer debt) if you create the ability to buy online without having to input a credit card. Buying with smartphones and smartwatches are another level too. It’s the individual as perpetual consumer, whereever they are. 

And now Instagram is introducing Checkout, a new feature that will allow users to buy products directly within the app.


Not coincidentally, Instagram is the worst social media platform for mental health and well-being (YouTube is the best, followed by Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat). As any FF1 student knows, consumer capitalism works by triggering stress and anxiety about who you are and then giving you a commodified, temporary solution to it. But when you turn to buying something to relieve an uncomfortable emotion, you’re acquiescing to consumerism to repeatedly trigger than emotion.

I’m no longer on any social media platform. First I don’t like how those companies operate. Second and more importantly, I don’t like how I feel when I consume them. For me, Facebook is a recipe for feeling lonely. Instagram is a recipe for feeling inadequate. It’s junk food for your brain. As I say in Financial Freedom 1, Instagram is the Arby’s of the mind.

This recent Buzzfeed article about Millenial burnout talks about the effect of social media performativity have on users. Direct excerpts:

  • “I find that millennials are far less jealous of objects or belongings on social media than the holistic experiences represented there, the sort of thing that prompts people to comment, I want your life. That enviable mix of leisure and travel, the accumulation of pets and children, the landscapes inhabited and the food consumed seems not just desirable, but balanced, satisfied, and unafflicted by burnout.”

  • “The social media feed — and Instagram in particular — is thus evidence of the fruits of hard, rewarding labor and the labor itself. The photos and videos that induce the most jealousy are those that suggest a perfect equilibrium (work hard, play hard!) has been reached. But of course, for most of us, it hasn’t... And when we don’t feel the satisfaction that we’ve been told we should receive from a good job that’s “fulfilling,” balanced with a personal life that’s equally so, the best way to convince yourself you’re feeling it is to illustrate it for others.”

In other words, personal branding has become a full time job. With social media, all life has become work, a performance and display of how well you are doing. All of this so you buy more products for that performance and display

One of my favorite new writers, Jia Tolentino, wrote a New Yorker article this week about athleisure (think about that word), Outdoor Voices Blurs the Lines Between Working Out and Everything Else, focusing on how life has become a 24-hour performance of well-being.


Again, direct excerpts:

  • “These are clothes that broadcast a commitment to disciplining your body by working out. As the writer Moira Weigel put it, in an essay about athleisure, these clothes “encourage you to produce yourself as the body that they ideally display.”

  • “OV’s clothes perfectly suit an era in which, for many women, improving their looks and their life style has become a job that they’re supposed to regard as fun.”

  • “Sixty per cent of working Americans say they don’t have enough time to do the things they want to do, and a high income is the most reliable predictor of leisure-time physical activity; getting a lot of exercise feels like a luxury and an advantage.”

  • “OV’s price point—and the fact that it prefers to give excess product away to influencers and ambassadors rather than put it on clearance—keeps the company in the realm of the aspirational: if you splurge on ninety-five-dollar leggings, you will then want to live the sort of life that ratifies the splurge.”

Digital advertising reinforce unhealthy attitudes even with greater specificity than traditional advertising. In a recent Ringer article about femtech, we can see how companies use targeted advertising to trigger anxieties and insecurities. According to researcher Becca Ricks:

“When we were doing our initial research, we were interviewing women to get a better sense of what advertising they were seeing. We consistently found that [women] were getting tons of advertisements about fitness and dieting.”

Instagram Checkout makes it faster and easier to buy things when you’re feeling bad about yourself. You can buy immediately to relieve of any uncomfortable feelings you have. Funny enough, Instagram is already the worst app for mental health and well-being. If the research is right, Instagram targets you and creates the uncomfortable feelings you have. A FF1 student analogized it to Hannah Gadsby’s description of comedy:

Let me explain to you what a joke is…[A} joke is simply two things, it needs two things to work. A setup and a punch line. And it is essentially a question with a surprise answer. Right? But in this context, what a joke is is a question that I have artificially inseminated. Tension. I do that, that’s my job. I make you all feel tense, and then I make you laugh, and you’re like, “Thanks for that. I was feeling a bit tense.” I made you tense. This is an abusive relationship.

Instagram Checkout is the perfect marriage of consumer capitalism. Instagram creates the tension and Checkout allows the commodified release. And we’ll thank Facebook for it.

Consumerism is the most socially acceptable form of addiction in America. Welcome to a the next level.