Used to be, back in the olden days, when you were interested in someone you had to get their number. You’d text them (or, if you were a freak, call them) and slowly but surely a relationship would form.
But here in The Year of Our Lord 2018, those days are long gone. Instagram handles are the new phone numbers now, and honestly no one seems to be that thrilled about it.
Um. Instead of asking for my number, a guy at a party asked for my Instagram handle because "it's less commitment." And then I jumped off a bridge because humans are garbage.— Megan Ryan (@meggurr) December 12, 2017
It’s interesting how Instagram has become the first line of contact for some people. Seriously, more people ask me for my insta handle than my phone number at this point.— Shelbi A. Jones (@itsshelbs) December 2, 2017
These days people just ask what your insta handle is instead of your phone number. So whack.— Sarah Sherman (@shermy_21) July 23, 2017
A guy gave me his Instagram handle instead of his phone number which is a cool way of saying I think you’re hot, but I don’t want to hear you talk.— Molly Brown (@MollyElizBrown) January 16, 2018
Like most things to spring forth from the internet, no one seems to know exactly how or when this trend began, but its clearest roots can be traced back to December 2013, when Instagram first rolled out its messaging feature, Instagram Direct. Up until that point, Instagram was primarily a public platform. If someone wanted to hit you up on IG, their only option was to leave a comment on one of your posted photos. And since most dudes (and folks of other genders, I guess) weren’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of unabashedly announcing their thirst to the world in the virtual equivalent of a semi-crowded suburban mall, Instagram stayed relatively pure. But the advent of Instagram Direct ushered in a new era for the platform. Suddenly it became the human equivalent of window shopping. A dynamic, pocket-sized advertisement for your established online persona.
“I started noticing this happening in college, when social media was in full swing,” DeLaynna Corley, a 23-year-old living in Michigan, recalled. “Guys would stop [me and my friends] and try to have random conversations, then ask what our Instagram or Snapchat handles were instead of an actual handshake or a Hi, nice to meet you greeting. Then after that, it just became something normal that most guys would do throughout our college years. I even remember my best friend telling me that some guy just yelled [his Instagram handle] across the street while she was walking to class one day. No introduction. No nothing.”
“I think people are so eager to share and exchange their Instagram handles because they genuinely put forth a great deal of effort into perfectly shaping it the way they want it to be,” Grace Moon, a NYC-based 20-year-old, told me. “The saying that social media is the best version of ourselves rings true, and especially when it comes to today's hookup oriented dating scene [people want to put forth] minimal effort. Pictures seem to do the trick somehow when it comes to appealing to someone of interest, rather than using words that require more thought.”
And while it may seem like handing out your phone number is a much more of a privacy concern than a social media handle, it’s worth noting the amount of highly personal information the latter conveys. Unlike a number, your Instagram profile is often attached to your first and last name, and exists in relation to your various other social media accounts. It has countless photos of you, your friends, and gives a stranger a distinctively personal look into your life. What’s more, unlike a phone number, it can’t be faked to appease an aggressively pushy creep. “It’s harder to give [someone] a fake profile than a fake number,” explained Holly White, a 19-year-old Floridian. “Instead of getting the chance of a wrong number, they get a visual and can make sure it’s actually you.”
So a girl asked me out and instead of giving me her number she gave me her Snapchat and Instagram. Interesting to say the least— Rob Rudnicki (@robrud98) January 19, 2018
The male species is adapting... instead of asking me for my number this man asked for my INSTAGRAM. I can give a fake number but not a fake Instagram!!— kerry miklas (@kerrymiklas) January 12, 2018
“The times that I did ask for a handle before number was because I wanted to see more of the person. More pictures,” explained Colton Steele, a Florida bachelor who confessed to soliciting a handle or two. However, as we talked about the practice, Steele became more and more embarrassed. “[S]ure, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with [it],” he said, “however, it goes against what I believe as far as actually taking the time to get to know someone. Rather than being so quick to want to see more.”
This seems to be the root of the problem here. A constant need for “more.” More photos. More information. More ways to convince yourself you know someone without actually having to put in the effort to, you know, know them. The practice has only been aided by the popularity of dating apps like Tinder, which offer the option to connect your Instagram account to your profile. When your first interaction with someone is already online, it’s easy to fall into a rabbit hole of content and information about your new match.
“I believe in this age of social media and online dating we are more accustomed to getting to know each other online instead of actually trying to have deeper conversations with someone you may be interested in,” Corley posited. “It sucks, but it gets better over time I think. The more you surround yourself with the kind of dating and approach by guys you want, the more you will get someone that actually looks you in the eyes and ask you your full name.”