Young, social, worried and eating

By Lenore Skenazy

Do you know what a Finsta is? Neither did I, because I am not between the ages of 13 and 34. Anyone aged 13 to 18 is being labeled “Gen Z,” while those 18 to 34 are the much-discussed Millennials. Dan Coates studies them both. His company, yPulse, is a marketing research firm based in Manhattan, 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 is a window into their imperfect lives. But on their “real” Instagram account — that is, a social media account where people can share pictures and captions — they post perfection. In fact, Coates said, Instagram users take an average of eight photos for every one that they post, which means that their friends or 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, well, clothes.

Naturally, if you are 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 is 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,’ ” says Coates. “Sixty percent say that ‘social situations make me feel anxious.’ More than 50 percent say, ‘I constantly feel stressed.’ ”

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 counseling. 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 e-mail, all I can do is wish them luck.

When not worrying about how their life looks to the world — or whether they’re having some kind of breakdown — Millennials are completely obsessed with food and drink. Even though I was the last to hear about the Starbucks Unicorn Frappucino (currently being sued by Brooklyn’s End Cafe for being a ripoff of its Unicorn Latte), the drink is still being shared on social media, in part because it is a gorgeous swirl of colors and sprinkles. But also, like the Cronut before it, this is a novelty food that confers status on whoever gets one. Snap!

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, “We’ll say, ‘We totally get all your friends — except Phil.’ They say, ‘Yeah, we get it, there’s a lot going on with Phil. But if you ever need advice on the Android operating system …’ 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. Coates theorizes that “after going through the ’60s and trying to change the system, I think an entire generation of Boomer moms decided, ‘OK. Mixed results. We haven’t changed society, but I’m going to start with my own family.’ ”

It may be no coincidence that the Millennials’ concerns are the same as their parents’ — race relations, gender equality, tolerance — just taken a step further.

“My kids were proud to be part of the gay-straight alliance the whole time they were in high school,” Coates says.

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.”

That’s a worthy goal, even if a multi-colored frappucino may be a particularly sweat-free, status-boosting, camera-ready way to achieve it. Snap!

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