Instagram Is Entertainment, But So Is Everything Else
Indulging in endless entertainment is one of the most tangible ways we worship ourselves.
Earlier this summer, Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram posted a video on Instagram and Twitter explaining how Facebook and the leaders of Instagram were beginning to change they way they look at the platform. You can watch the roughly two-and-a-half minute video here, but here are some of the key quotes:
We are no longer a photo-sharing app.
The number one reason people say that they use Instagram, in research, is to be entertained.
We’re going to be experimenting with how do we embrace video more broadly—full screen, immersive, entertaining, mobile-first video. And so you’ll see us do a number of things, or experiment with a number of things, in this space over the coming months.
Mosseri and the rest of Facebook/Instagram leadership have surely recognized that they not only have stiff competition with other social media platforms, namely TikTok, but that the line between social media and entertainment has virtually been erased.
On a much grander scale, it feels like everything is entertainment.
The Entire Internet Is Entertainment Now
Once upon a time, as recently as the early 2010s, the internet could theoretically be separated into a handful of content categories: entertainment, social media, shopping, information, finances, video games, and a whole host of others. The line between entertainment and social media has always been a bit more blurry than, say, the line between entertainment and banking, but there was a line.
As time lurches on it feels as though entertainment is gobbling up every aspect of the internet.
Amazon, the Wal-Mart of the internet, is obviously a shopping platform. But not so fast! Don’t forget Amazon Prime Video, Music, Twitch, and their video game studio, which is preparing to release one of the most anticipated games of the year this fall, New World. Amazon is an entertainment company in addition to a retail company. (Not to mention they own the internet real estate—servers—for some of the most popular platforms in the world such as Zoom, Instagram, and Netflix.)
The line between information and entertainment has been blurry since at least the invasion of the television into the home. The line between finances and entertainment has been breached by the gamification of cryptocurrency through platforms like Zed Run or Axie Inifinity.
The line between social media and entertainment is completely gone. Of course, entertainment has always been an important food group of social media content, but it has become the entire food pyramid. Sure, we still use social media to connect with other people, but the shine of that experience has been scuffed by trolls and other negative experiences over the years.
Social media has become more of a solitary experience of entertainment consumption for many who no longer hope to carry on any substantive conversations online. There are a hundred reasons why this is the case, but perhaps the strongest underlying current is the reality that attention is the currency of the internet, and its scarcity has never been more apparent.
Attention: The King of Internet Currency
In his summer update on how Instagram will be changing into the future, Mosseri said that the company’s internal research shows that users come to Instagram not to connect with friends and family, not to learn, but to be entertained.
This reality only makes clear what has already been true: social media apps compete not only with each other, but also with other deliverers of entertainment.
There is a temptation, I think, to wonder, “What’s going to kill Facebook” or “Will TikTok topple Instagram?” or other such thoughts. For a number of years in the 2010s, social media apps would zoom onto the scene and explode in popularity, leading people to ask, “Is this app the Facebook killer?”
It was a pretty silly question, as if we all only have space for one or two major social media platforms to absorb our attention and warp our understandings of reality. Luckily for Facebook and others there’s virtually no limit of attention we’re willing to cede to platforms that simulate social interaction and provide us with the opportunity to craft ever-changing identities!
But what Instagram has realized and what we ought to realize is that Instagram and Facebook and HBO Max and TikTok and Apple TV+ and YouTube and Netflix and Twitter and Hulu and LinkedIn and Disney+ are all competitors now. Sure, there are differences between streaming services and social media platforms, but a lot of young people spend their Friday nights scrolling TikTok for two hours or bingeing their favorite Netflix original for two hours—the length of the individual pieces of content notwithstanding.
All of these platforms, whether or not they are in the same “industry” are competitors because they’re all competing for our free time and our latent attention. In the same way that Budweiser has said its primary competitor is water and Netflix has said its primary competitor is sleep, Instagram is a competitor with not only TikTok, but HBO Max.
When everything is entertainment and attention is the king of all internet currency, we would be foolish to think these realities don’t have offline, spiritual implications.
Reminders for Christians
Toward the end of Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman dedicates a chapter to televangelism, which was in its heyday in the 1980s. He writes as a non-Christian in 1985, “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing [read: entertaining], it is another kind of religion altogether.”
The purpose of the local church is not to entertain the people who attend but to equip the people of God for the Great Commission work to which they have been called and send them out into the world in order to do that work. We serve a God who is wholly uninterested in our amusement. This is a mercy to us, not a cruelty, though it can feel like a cruelty in minds that have been re-wired to lust for entertainment at the cost of depth. The reality that God is uninterested in our comfort and entertainment has become, for many Christians, a touchy subject. Why? Because we have come to prioritize entertainment above all.
Indulging in endless entertainment is one of the most tangible ways we worship ourselves, and when our God gets in the way of our self-worship, we are faced with our own idolatry.
The purpose of the local church is to equip the people of God for the work of God. And, much to the dismay of our appetites for entertainment, faithful obedience to God is often quite boring. God Himself is exciting and full of wonder, but the daily grind of faithfully following Jesus isn’t often exciting. We should find contentment in quiet lives of humility in paths of righteousness instead of reinforcing the primacy of entertainment in our hearts.
Entertainment may be the core value of Instagram, but it shouldn’t rule our hearts.