You only want me for my Instagram

How messaging apps are fragmenting our friendship groups


The Director’s Sushi

The Director triumphantly walked into the office after being on lunch for what seemed like an eternity. OK, maybe 2 hours isn’t that extreme but it prompted a question. Where have you been? 

Delightfully waving a menu from Pham Sushi, “London’s best Sushi restaurant” (his words), he’d just met up with an old friend who’d been out of the country for a while. 2 hour lunches are common at agencies and meeting up with an old friend is nothing new. However, how the meeting was arranged indicates an interesting shift in who, how and why we communicate with others.

Only intending to pop out for a sandwich, a quick browse through Instagram meant he’d stumbled upon a picture his friend had taken of the view from the top floor of the Tate Modern. With the level of skill required to modestly compete in a game of Cluedo, he deduced that his friend must be in London. He called, it just so happened they were not 10 minutes walk from each other and they had lunch. A pretty productive one. Business was discussed and from it, a new venture born.

Pretty cool, right? A testament to modern communication, opportunities created from the ubiquitous accessibility of contextual content relative to your life.

I just have one problem. Take away Instagram from that story… better yet, replace it with another app. Take your pick, What’sApp, WeChat, KakaoTalk, Facebook Messenger, Vine, Snapchat, Glimpse, Skype, LINE or any other conceivable half-baked attempt at throwing a few lines of code at the messaging market and seeing how much of the 16-25 demographic will latch on.

Would that lunch of still happened? Probably not.

The sheer number of messaging apps on the market is beginning to fragment social groupings.

Who’s talking on what now?

Bold? Let’s do a quick survey.

Take out your phone and work out how many apps allow you to send a message to people in your social group (friends, relatives, colleagues etc). I’ve done it, 43 is the total. (I know. “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT?!” instantly sprung to mind, and I have a feeling your total may be in a similar range). Now think of a person in your social group.

Ready? How many of those apps would you message that person on?

My results go like this. 43 messaging apps, my little brother, 3. Me and my little brother only seem to send ridiculous SnapChat’s to each other, rarely iMessage and Facebook message when he’s lost his phone. For the large part, we keep in touch via ludicrous selfies in boring places. And when you think about it, SnapChat won’t allow messages of more than about 8 words so we could never find out that much information about each other’s current situation. Yet, it’s our dominant form of communication.

If SnapChat didn’t exist, would that mean I’d have a different relationship with him?

Think about the apps you primarily use, do you message someone more if they use the same apps as you? Do you communicate with someone less because they don’t?

If you weren’t on Viber, we’d probably be unemployed

Social understanding of these mediums plays heavily in this. A friend uses Viber, a free version of WhatsApp, to catch up with her sister because the alternative is an hour long Skype call which eats into her busy schedule. It’s not because she feels any differently towards her sibling, Viber just provides a different functionality and with it, a different social etiquette. Her sister can drop her a quick message on Viber, because it pushes her a notification straight to her home screen she’s able to quickly check the message. Because of their shared understanding of the medium, neither party would react different if she was not to reply instantly or replied at her convenience.

“I just check the message, and I could reply two minutes later, two hours or sometimes 2 days, it doesn’t change anything. That’s just Viber”

This would be different if she left her a missed call or dropped an SMS. Standard social understanding of these mediums infer upon the recipient an accepted window of reply. You are more inclined to reply quicker to a missed call than you are a Viber message. If you sent an SMS, would you think it rude to not get a reply the same day? Most definitely.

Different app functionalities suit certain situations. Different apps have specific rules and social practices of response and action. Is it the case then that the apps you use are representative of the person you are? Or the people you want to communicate with? Are the apps we choose to use altering who we ultimately share our experiences with?

Are your apps making friends for you?

New messaging apps are appearing every day, and every time they do it further fragments our communication channels. What I’m seeing is the effect it’s having on who we choose to communicate with. If I don’t use a friend’s prefered messaging app, will my ability to communicate with him lessen? Conversely, If someone in my social group is a heavy user of my prefered app, will the chances of us communicating increase? Even if I never had a desire to increase my communication with them.

It’s an interesting thought.

Have you experienced this in your life? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.



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