Do you know what a finsta is?
Neither did I, because I am not between the ages of 13 and 34. Anyone 13 to 18 is part of Gen Z, and those ages 18 to 34 are the much-discussed millennials. Dan Coates studies them both. His company, Ypulse, is a youth marketing research firm based in New York, and lately some of its research has been on finstas.
Finstas are “fake” Instagram accounts that are actually more real than a person’s so-called real Instagram account. On a finsta account, Coates explains, “teens only accept their closest friends and post funny or embarrassing photos for the enjoyment of their few followers.”
In other words, it’s a window into their imperfect life. But on their “real” Instagram account — that is, a social media account on which people can share pictures and captions — they post perfection. In fact, Coates says, Instagram users take an average of eight photos for every one they post, which means their friends/ followers are seeing a highly selective, cropped and filtered version of their lives. Instagram pictures are to real life what Vogue’s fall fashion spread is to the average person wearing average clothes.
Naturally, if you’re taking eight pictures for every one you post, that’s a lot of snapping. Young folks “feel like there’s always some sort of camera on,” says Coates. “So they’re always ‘on.’” They are also worried about which moments should and should not be recorded. It’s like sitting at the control panel and editing a movie of your life. Constantly.
This new pressure — and the pressure of seeing all your other friends looking their best, happiest and skinniest all the time — may explain why this generation of young people is so anxious. “More than half say, ‘I often feel overwhelmed.’ Sixty percent say, ‘Social situations make me feel anxious.’ More than 50 percent say, ‘I constantly feel stressed,’” says Coates. That is an unprecedented level of worry.
The worry manifests itself in a couple of ways. On campus, there’s been a “huge increase” in students seeking personal coun seling. But another trend Coates has noted is the “fear of burning out,” in which young people recognize that this media obsession is too consuming and deliberately take a break.
As a gal who has tried her own digital detox and generally failed within several long minutes of not checking my email, all I can do is wish them luck.
A much lovelier trait the millennials seem to share is their inclusivity. The generations before them, says Coates, were far more cruel. “One false move and you were exiled. You got a nickname, and everything went downhill from there.” But today’s young people have lots of friends, including some who’d have been outcasts in an earlier era. When Coates and his team interview millennials, the questioner will say, “We totally get all your friends — except Phil.” They’ll say, “Yeah, we get it. There’s a lot going on with Phil. But if you ever need advice on the Android operating system…” Coates says, “It’s like they’re stockpiling tools and resources.”
It’s also like they’re just not into excluding people, perhaps because they were raised by the generation that brought us flower children and the peace movement.
Like their parents, young people also expect to save the world, although sometimes they do this with a credit card. “I used to just buy shoes. But now when you buy shoes, you somehow must be shoeing people on the other side of the planet,” says Coates. “Your every act as a consumer somehow has to create a positive net effect.”
Using your credit card to change the world is a worthy goal, even if it happens to be a sweatfree, status-boosting, cameraready way to achieve it.
Lenore Skenazy is author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids” and a keynote speaker at conferences, companies and schools.