Gen Z is social distancing — from social media.
Zoomers are known for being glued to their phones, but some twenty-somethings are taking a stand against all-consuming apps such as TikTok and Instagram. Calling them “toxic” and “obsessive,” these young people say they’re regaining control of their time by stepping away from the scroll.
And the anti-app wave seems to be catching on — new research reveals that Instagram is losing its grip on the next generation. According to a recent survey commissioned by investment bank Piper Sandler, only 22% of respondents between the ages of 7 and 22 named Meta’s popular photo-sharing platform as their favorite app, down from 31% in spring 2020.
“When you delete it you realize you don’t need it,” 20-year-old Gabriella Steinerman told The Post. The economics major dumped both Instagram and TikTok back in 2019, and said the relief she felt after unplugging was almost immediate.
“When I was posting I wanted the best photo that I took and the best angle and I had 20 different photos of the same thing. I was comparing myself to myself, it’s not a fun game,” Steinerman said. “I would say it’s an obsessive behavior and it is toxic, but it’s also sneaky in that when you do it, it seems so normal.”
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal last year, Facebook found that Instagram is harmful to teen girls and exacerbates body image issues, anxiety and depression, but downplayed the significance of those internal studies.
Penn State senior Pat Hamrick also ditched Instagram and Facebook two years ago, when he felt himself getting caught up in comparisons.
Social media, he said, “had me subconsciously comparing myself to others and it really ate at me. I was asking myself, ‘Am I doing the right things, am I having the right kind of fun?’”
So the now-22-year-old took action, getting away from the ‘gram for the sake of his mental health. He’s noticed a huge improvement in his mood: “[Leaving Instagram] made me feel better in day-to-day life, I’m just doing my thing, my way.”
Hamrick isn’t alone in his confidence taking a hit after spending time in these online environments. A December survey from Tallo found that 56% of Gen Zers said “social media has led them to feel left out by their peers.”
That’s why Columbia chemical engineering student Olivia Eriksson, 21, has such mixed feelings about her feed.
“I think people will spend a lot of time putting together Instagram posts, which can be fun sometimes, but other times it just feels like, what’s the point of all this?” said Eriksson, who “intermittently deletes Instagram” for up to half a year at a time.
Though she’s back on it now, Eriksson’s friend and classmate at Columbia, Nicholas Mijares, 22, won’t dare download the app.
“I just don’t really think people are presenting something for the sake of sharing a good time or just trying to be funny,” Mijares, who uses other social sites like Twitter very casually and mostly for a good laugh, he said. From what he’s seen, he finds the sleek, grasping feel of Instagram to be irritating. “I guess it feels more like something curated,” he said.
Clock ticking for TikTok?
According to the Tallo poll, most Gen Z respondents prefer TikTok to Instagram, with 34% calling it their favorite social media spot right now.
But even the most dedicated users admit to questioning the video-sharing phenom.
Halle Kaufax, 23, confessed that she’s caught up in TikTok’s clutches, with “no will power” to delete the app from her phone.
As an aspiring actor and recent NYU grad, she believes that being popular on TikTok and repping big brands could bolster her career — but she knows it’s not good for her.
“I saw one girl who had about 3,900 followers, which is only a thousand more than I have, get this huge package sent to her by Dior and did this huge unboxing video and it really had me thinking, ‘Why her and not me?’” Kaufax said.
The East Village resident posts amusing content for more than 2,700 followers, including TikTok dances and lip syncs. Yet the grind of the grid eats away at her. “In my head I’ll be thinking, what if I had another thousand followers? It can make me feel very self-conscious,” Kaufax said.
According to the Tallo poll, her experience is common, with three in four young women responding that social media had caused them “to compare themselves to peers.”
Tim Lanten, a 25-year-old biomedical engineering student at Columbia University, refuses to download the app because it “feels more oriented for high schoolers with short attention spans.”
Manny Srulowitz, 21, also said ta-ta to the “ultimate waste” of time that is TikTok.
“The constant scrolling, the sound got really annoying very quickly. I found deleting [TikTok] to be very easy just because of how annoying it was,” the Lawrence, New York, native said of dumping the app in 2020. “I think I’ll delete Instagram too at some point [for the same reasons].”
Srulowitz has been pleasantly surprised to find that spending less time on apps has had no negative impact on his social life.
“As a college kid I have friends, I have people to go out with. . . I don’t have FOMO,” he said.
Be Real, which launched in 2020, is billing itself as the anti-Instagram. In an effort to fight screen addiction, the site only allows users specific two-minute windows of time to post unedited, non-filtered snaps throughout the day. There are no likes.
The app appears to be gaining traction among college students, and was downloaded 1.1 million times in February, according to Bloomberg.
But what of those old millennial bastions, Facebook and Twitter?
Tallo found that the former juggernauts barely ranked, with Facebook a favorite for only 4% of Zoomers, and Twitter taking just 2% of the vote.
That sounds right to 23-year-old Max Gross. “By the end of high school, the people that I knew did not have Facebook anymore,” the NYU student from New Jersey told The Post.
Giorgio Gambazzi, 22, said that his early experiences with Facebook turned him off social media entirely.
“After Facebook I realized that [other social sites] follow the same sort of iteration … at this point, it hurts almost to keep scrolling. I feel like I’m wasting my time.”
Some Gen Zers never boarded the social media train to begin with — like Tzali Evans, a 22-year-old chemical engineering student at Cooper Union.
“If you have close friends and you’re willing to make a little bit more effort,” said Evans, “There’s no reason you can’t have the same real-life experiences as someone who is on social media.”