How Instagram Replaced the Contacts List

By The Atlantic  | Apr 09, 2019 03:18 (edited)

When Chris Rackliffe, a motivational speaker in New York, met a potential friend at a bar last weekend, it never occurred to him to exchange phone numbers. Instead, the two swapped Instagram handles, and have been liking each other’s posts. Rackliffe said they’ll probably meet up in person again soon.

“It’s so much more casual to give someone your Instagram handle and keep in touch through stories and DMs,” Rackliffe said. “Swapping numbers feels so serious and stiff nowadays.”


While many people message frequently throughout the day with their closest friends, Instagram is particularly great for connecting with people you don’t know super well, or have just met.

“Usually someone hands you their phone, and you follow yourself on their Instagram,” said Rachel Schultz, who works in the advertising industry. “It’s nice because you can then share things with them like events or funny things or whatever they’re into, which makes nourishing new friendships easy.”

But adding people on Instagram is like scanning a digital business card into your address book. You get their full name and bio, and a direct line of contact through Instagram DM. Plus, you have the added benefit of scrolling back on their profile for additional context on who they are and what they’re into.


A person’s Instagram posts provide a stream of conversation prompts: Maybe you’ll just reply to a Story, asking about that lunchtime pasta, or notice that the new acquaintance is nearby and ask to meet up for a drink. One of the hardest parts of fostering a new connection is figuring out how to reach out and start a conversation out of thin air. Instagram makes it easy.

John Colucci, a social strategist in Seattle, said he’s even seen the insta swap become more popular in business settings. In fact, he has all but done away with his physical business cards. Instagram is “a less intense, light-touch connection,” he said. It’s notably less uptight than LinkedIn, said Allison Winer, a public-relations strategist in Baltimore. “LinkedIn is so stale when it comes to being interactive, and then exchanging numbers is a little too formal and close for comfort,” she told me.


And, of course, because Instagram is such a good way to get a sense of someone’s personality and interests, it’s also a great way to suss out dating opportunities. Winer said that men nearly always ask for her Instagram handle as opposed to her phone number. “To be honest, I always try to look them up that way too,” she said. “It gives you a little insight into their life and, of course, selfies.” Many dating apps, such as Tinder and Bumble, even allow users to sync their Instagram profiles so suitors can browse their recent pics. In 2017, New York magazine coined the term Tindstagramming, for the growing phenomenon of men who slide directly into women’s DMs on Instagram looking for a date.


Revealing your phone number to too many people can also be a security concern. Once someone adds your number to a contacts list, finding your profiles on other apps is easy. Given the prevalence of two-factor authentication, keeping your phone number private is an important part of thwarting SIM-card hackers. “I avoid giving my [phone number] out unless I know a person very well,” said Nima Gardideh, a tech worker and entrepreneur, citing security concerns.

“I asked to exchange phone numbers for texting with another mom, and I felt a weird vibe, like I was being intrusive,” commented Tina Grove. “I think I should have asked for her Instagram handle instead.”

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