Instagram launched in 2010 as a photo-sharing app designed to capture picturesque moments of our otherwise mundane lives. Since then, it’s evolved into a full social network, a messaging tool, and an ad platform, which exists in both mobile and desktop spaces.
Now, most Instagram users opt for the mobile experience, replete with its familiar motions — scroll, double tap to like, scroll, scroll. But it’s come to our attention that there’s a population of Instagram users who actually prefer the web browser version. Which one is superior? We invited our colleagues from Racked, Eliza Brooke and Alanna Okun, to settle the debate.
Eliza: It’s Friday afternoon, so I would like to pick a fight.
Alanna: Say more.
Eliza: I really love Instagram on desktop. I believe this is an unpopular opinion.
Alanna: It is! The only other person who I know of who prefers desk-gram is my mom. Who is a very smart and tech-savvy lady! But like, also my mom, so.
Eliza: I think my mom, too. So to start, Instagram is great on desktop because the images are huge, and because you don’t scroll as quickly, you really take the time to consider them. It’s like a magazine. This also means that you really figure out who you hate following. You can’t whisk away Donna’s shitty food photos like you do on the app. Eventually you will wind up unfollowing her, and that will make your life better.
Alanna: See, but that’s what I like about mobile — the lack of commitment. I have more choice in which photos I linger on (and zoom in on) and which ones I scroll right past. The thought of an image taking up a full, large screen is intimidating! I like the intimacy and the coziness of mobile, these little windows into people’s lives. And while I have reduced my number of hate-follows in my advanced age, I do keep a few around for schadenfreude and self-manufactured jealousy purposes.
Eliza: So, two things in response to that. One, the fact that images take up the full screen on desktop does mean that you need to be mindful of who’s around you and potentially looking over your shoulder. It’s like opening the hatch on all of your embarrassing lifestyle aspirations. You could make the same point about using the app on the subway, but it’s easier to tilt your phone screen away from prying eyes. Two, I find that desktop gives me some psychic space from the people I’m jealous of, whereas the intimacy of a phone makes me feel like I’m literally closer to my envy. Like I’m clutching my bad, gross secret to my chest.
Alanna: We’re making it sound like we’re the world’s most craven pervs on Insta.
Eliza: When it’s literally just us looking at [cool writer’s name redacted]’s apartment decor.
Alanna: God, I want her life.
Eliza: So much! Another great thing about Instagram on desktop is that you’re way, way, way less likely to fave someone’s photos while stalking them.
Alanna: Ok, so while I HAVE absolutely done some pretty embarrassing 112-weeks-in accidental faving, that’s still not enough to convince me to switch to desktop. I kind of even like the thrill of mobile? It’s like that old board game Operation, where you have to meticulously tweeze bits ‘n’ pieces out of your unwitting patient.
Eliza: My parents did not instill healthy risk management in me as a child. I have done the thing where you are snooping through someone’s photos, leave their profile, are immediately filled with fear that you accidentally faved something, RETURN to their profile to make sure you didn’t fave something, and so on and so forth. It never ends.
Alanna: Another thing I don’t understand about your method is that half the joy of Instagram for me is its portability; I won’t lie, I’m not averse to bringing my phone into the bathroom with me. In fact, part of the way I forced myself to start flossing every night was when I began saving Instagram stories to watch while doing so!
Eliza: You have many more life hacks than I do.
Alanna: And this is actually psychotic but I kind of think of Instagram as like, my “unplugging” platform. Like when I’m lying in bed and am all done with Twitter and email and Facebook for the day, I switch over to the more passive, lulling scroll of Tumblr and Instagram. I know this is terrible for my REM cycles and brain and stuff, but I can’t help it! It brings me peace.
Eliza: I love that it does. I really struggle with Instagram self-control. A few months ago, my boyfriend, who does not have Instagram (and somewhat ruefully agreed to let me post photos of him if I really want to, so I never do), told me that every time I pick up my phone, the first thing I do is open Instagram. Apparently I would sometimes realize half a second later that I didn’t actually want Instagram and would swipe it away, but I always went there first. Clearly, I have a problem. I delete the app from my phone probably three times a week, and in its absence, the desktop version is a nice, less addictive middle ground. I consume Instagram in a much more moderate way now. That’s a huge part of why I prefer desktop.
Alanna: That makes a lot of sense; I realize my reasoning for preferring mobile is also a testament to my full-blown addiction. Is there anything you do miss about the mobile version when you’re on desktop?
Eliza: I do miss the DMs. The app can be a really fun frenzy of tagging your friends and sending them things that you know they’ll love or that you can mutually eviscerate. But it’s also overwhelming, and you start to feel like you owe people something. Desktop is a quieter space. You also can’t post photos on desktop, which makes it a much more passive experience. I usually download the app again when I have something I desperately need the world to see. And when you want to share an Instagram post with a friend, you really have to go the extra mile and copy that link to drop in your iMessage conversation.
Alanna: I think what I’m drawn to, healthily or otherwise, is the endless feedback loop of posting, and getting faves and followers, and feeling validated and in on something, but that can cause a lot of fatigue. And when a photo doesn’t perform the way you expect it to (kill me!) or when the glow fades from a recent successful one (kill me twice!), you’re left feeling... cold. Not to mention the somewhat sinister nature of Facebook-owned apps in general; I’ve always kind of just assumed that all my data was being mined and sold, but even as my discomfort with that grows, I still feel fairly helpless in its thrall.
Maybe we should just throw our phones and computers into the East River?
Eliza: Let’s do it!!!!!! But my laptop is the property of Vox Media.
Which platform do you prefer to use Instagram on?
This poll is closed