When Did Instagram DMs Become the Sneaky Successor to Email?

instagram vs. mail

So I’m laying in bed on a Tuesday morning, it is no later than like, 6:40 a.m., and I wish I could say I have already cycled through what would be considered the respectable first-order digital checkings of an early morning—the sleep quality app, the news, my text messages—but no, I have only locked apps with Instagram. Which isn’t as bad as it might sound, because those early morning scrolls don’t really exist for the depleting function of comparing my life to the perception of the lives of the people I follow. I spend most of that time inside my DMs.

The anticipation of leaving that upper-right red dot unmet burns a hole through my thumb. A lot of the messages serve as the verbal equivalent of a “like” or a one-way comment that functions as the cursory reaction to something I have posted. But it’s more intimate because it’s private. It feels like a text message because it’s instant—because the assumption is that you’re on Instagram to socialize, not network—or maybe you’re doing both. Is there even a difference anymore? Lately it seems the quality of conversation being conducted within Instagram’s inbox is changing. Chiefly in that it is being used, effectively, as an inbox. Of email. So it’s an email inbox that delivers within a medium that acts more like text, which demands immediacy.

Imagine having to answer a text from a business associate, though—the turnaround times are fundamentally different. You’re awarded some version of a grace period on email, assumingly because you need time to think through what you will reply.

Maybe I’m giving too much credit to our relationships with email, it’s not exactly breeding grounds for thoughtfulness, but I love reading an email, marking it unread, and then coming back to it when I’ve had enough space to collect my marbles and reply.

You can’t mark a DM unread, though. That shit will get lost—and further, you can’t turn off the “read receipt” function, so in that way, because the sender of the message for which you are on the other end can see if you’ve seen what they sent, you feel an obligation to reply immediately. Or maybe you don’t, but I do, and in this way, speed of response trumps quality of response. A devastating revelation, in my view.

If I let myself spiral and apply this tenet of valuing speed over quality to other areas of my life, I can argue that this handling of Instagram—the conflation of what communication through the app is supposed to support (up for debate, but as I see it: recreational social connection) versus what it does support (spur-of-the-moment conversation across a broader spectrum of professional and hobbyistic interests)—could get me in trouble. That is, continue to place value on the easier thing (in this case, speed), and neglect the more valuable thing (quality).

Sometimes I forget the value of deep thinking. The way in which the first thing you think is never the most thorough or sophisticated version of an idea — how thoughts need time to exist and to marinate and to change in order to reach their unbridled potential. Do you get what I’m saying?

By all means, take your time answering that.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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