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An open letter to Instagram on its third birthday

dear instagram birthday
Dear Instagram,

First of all, happy birthday! This might come off as insulting, but I can’t believe it’s only been three years – you seem way older. I mean, way older. You’ve just changed so much, so rapidly that it feels as if you’ve been around a long time. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’ve packed a lot into three measly, little years.

Remember the beginning? Back when Hipstamatic was the hot photo app, and you’d barely escaped being named (shudder) Burbn and becoming just another location-sharing service? Man, I am for so glad you did not take that path – it’s OK though, I once narrowly escaped dyeing my hair purple. We all have close calls.

You’ve certainly grown up though. It used to be “just us,” you know? Me, and you, and a handful of our closest friends. The circled widened, of course, in the sort of way it does during college: You start out clinging to the familiar faces from your high school, but by senior year you’ve met entirely new people. Of course, when you see those old friends on campus, you stop to talk and catch up.

There’s a lot of ugliness everywhere, so thanks for three years of bite-sized, beautiful escapes.

Now, it’s not “just us,” as you know. It’s us, and celebrities, and professional photographers, and brands, and marketers, and your new best friend Facebook, and I hear that you’re about to throw ads into the feed. I’m adjusting as well as I can, but we both know there’s the occasional resentment. Change is hard, and you’ve become a lot more than just another app to me, and to a lot of people. You made it feel like we had a special, more intimate relationship than I do with other social technologies, and sometimes when you start cozying up to the corporate side, I can’t help but feel betrayed. Where were they in the beginning? Were they uploading Lo-Fi pictures of their dogs, or their first post-college apartments or their Sunday morning breakfasts? That’s what I thought.

Corgi parade you're breaking my heart. #corgilove

A post shared by Molly McHugh (@mollygrams) on

Sometimes I feel like a clingy ex-girlfriend who’s trying to keep something alive that isn’t there anymore. Even though you definitely have your new favorites, I still can’t stop myself from going back to you. I still upload and paw through filters and check my comments and likes – to date, I’ve uploaded more than 600 photos. It just doesn’t feel like a two-way street between us anymore though.

Sorry. I told myself I wouldn’t do this – it’s bittersweet, you know? There’s something nice about being able to say “I knew you (or rather, used you) when,” before Starbucks and Lebron James figured out how great you were. But I can’t try to make you to stay the same; that’s an unfair expectation. I’ve certainly changed over the last three years. And even the money thing – I get that. I might only be a writer, but I want that green, too. No shame, Instagram.

Even though we’ve had our differences and sometimes I find myself questioning if I ever really knew you, I’ve learned a lot from you. I used to be a camera snob, and only resorted to my iPhone if I forgot my DSLR. You were fun, sure, but not for taking real pictures. But now, I know that there are times where a bulky camera is an interruption, and you’re able to simply, ably capture and share smaller moments – moments that might not be the most important ones, but worth remembering or capturing.

You taught me the power of selective sharing: Not everything is meant for Facebook or Twitter; sometimes limiting the audience makes the interactions more meaningful.

You taught me that there is such a thing as too many pictures of food – but that I’ll never get enough Instagrammed photos of animals or landscapes.


A post shared by Molly McHugh (@mollygrams) on

You taught me the power of the actual humble humblebrag, the silent kind, sans hashtags or captions. Sometimes, the image alone speaks volumes.

You taught me that sometimes the things I see, do, the places I go, and the people I do them worth are more important than perfecting my profile. I don’t spend time changing my Instagram profile picture, or chatting, or writing my bio. Instead, I quickly capture and share the pieces of my life I want to remember. And, while you instantly introduce a false sense of nostalgia to these moments, because they become scrapbooked to me I feel freer to move on to the next one instead of arbitrarily editing how they show up on my profile.

You taught me that just because you can, maybe you shouldn’t; hence, I don’t make much use of your video feature.

You taught me that Nashville is wonderful; Toaster means you’re trying too hard; Mayfair is a selfie’s best friend; and Kelvin is a sick, sick joke you’re using to test us.

But above all, you taught me to notice and appreciate the beauty in small things without mindlessly capturing and uploading every single thing. Yes, scrolling through Instagram feels like seeing a fantastical version of everything, a bit surreal. But there’s a lot of ugliness everywhere, so thanks for three years of bite-sized, beautiful escapes.

Never change, Instagram. Or … at least keep us normals looped in for the ride.

Love always,


P.S. I expect at least one drunken birthday upload.

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