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Scrolling through Instagram Reels is my version of channel surfing

Published Jan 18th, 2024 6:41PM EST
Instagram app
Image: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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Whenever I stay in a hotel these days, I always feel a quaint bit of nostalgia as I’m flipping through the channels on what’s usually a large, flat-screen TV in the room. I haven’t had a cable TV package at home for a while now, and I only pay for a handful of streamers, which means that the days of pointing a remote at the TV set and mindlessly changing channels to see what’s on are long gone. That behavior, though, certainly still lives on; it’s simply changed mediums.

That is to say, I don’t know about you, but when I have time to spare, I’ve noticed myself filling those free moments more and more by scrolling through Instagram Reels. I’m talking marathon scrolling sessions, the same way I used to bounce from channel to channel, sitcom to newscast, zoning out at the end of a long day.

As a matter of fact, Instagram’s Reels are now my de facto main Instagram feed (and I apologize, for the umpteenth time, to all of my friends who I’m constantly bombarding with hilarious Reels in their DMs). The same way I used to switch on my TV and poke around to find whatever happened to be entertaining at the moment, I’m now getting that same fix for better or worse from Reels. The format, which Instagram launched as a counter to TikTok back in 2020, offers a convenient, quick fix of entertainment — and unlike the way you could scroll through all of your 10,000 TV channels and still feel like nothing good is on TV, at least with Reels something amusing or delightful is always a quick swipe away.

I don’t mean to sound like I’ve just discovered the format, of course. It’s more that the behavior of consuming it has come to remind me of channel-surfing back in the day. Obviously, part of what also makes the format so addictive is how it learns what you like over time, which explains why I’m mostly confronted with reels of cats being insane, of dogs being silly and rambunctious, of hilarious epic fails, travel inspo, and footage from my favorite bands (among many other things).

That said, I don’t know that the algorithmically-driven personalization behind Reels — which, of course, remains something that linear TV can’t offer as you’re clicking through channels — fully explains why it’s such an addictive content format. Perhaps the main reason Instagram Reels is such an engrossing part of the app (at least, for me) is that it feels like the last refuge of amusement and delight in app otherwise overrun by posers and superficiality.

I’m sure that will change soon enough — and maybe, for you, it already has. Toxic comments, the revolting influx of influencers, the clout-chasers; maybe your Reels are already filled with all that, and more. I’m sure, at some point, Meta’s uninspired handling of things will open the floodgates even more to such negativity and run me off from Reels, too. For now, though, I can’t help it; I love the chaos and unpredictability. The dumb jokes, the inside jokes, the eye-rolling banality, and all the rest of it that keeps me (and probably you, too) scrolling and scrolling. It’s a drip feed of ephemeral whimsy, and I don’t want it to ever change.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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