How Instagram shows your age

Get ready for a chilling feeling: You no longer know what "Hip" and "With It" mean. (Maybe you’ve never done this?) If you’ve ever wondered how your Instagram says about your age, recent research from Penn State University has the answer—and whether you want to be reminded that you’re old and relevant Isolation is another story entirely.

As you've no doubt noticed from your Facebook feed, different generations use social media for very different purposes. Millennials, for example, are more likely than baby boomers to use them as their primary source of news, while selfies are definitely a pursuit among young people. With that in mind, the generational differences in Instagram content found by Penn State researchers aren't shocking, but the differences are interesting in their own right.

In a study published this month, researchers compared the social media habits of more than 26,000 teenagers (between 13 and 19 years old) and adults (between 25 and 39 years old). Although teenagers are known for being addicted to their phones, research actually found that younger users post less than adults. At the same time, however, these posts tend to receive more likes and comments, suggesting that teen users are more active on Instagram despite posting less content. Researchers have even found that teenagers have faster reaction times. Research shows that they take an average of 7.2 minutes to respond to comments, while adults take about half an hour to respond.

The charming part? Teenagers may only be posting less ostensibly because they are deleting posts that don’t receive a satisfactory number of likes. Dongwon Lee, co-author of the paper and an associate professor in Penn State's School of Information Science and Technology, told The Atlantic: "Adolescents ... are very aware of how well they are liked."

The content of the posts themselves also varied: adults posted more diverse content from more diverse locations, possibly because they had the funds to travel, and they tended to write longer headlines. Teens, on the other hand, tend to share photos that indicate their "mood or personal sense of happiness"—in other words, they're more likely to post a photo that expresses their feelings rather than a vacation photo.

That's not to say that generational differences are a hard and fast rule, but it does show that even just a decade can make a difference. Unlike millennials who can at least vaguely remember a time before smartphones and Facebook accounts were ubiquitous, today's teenagers have grown up in a culture where social media is the norm. According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 had access to the Internet in 2012, and further research shows that nearly three-quarters of teens have access to a smartphone. Despite all the panic surrounding new technology, which is not inherently good or bad, research from Penn State University clearly shows that growing up with social media affects the way we interact with it and each other.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to do a search on my Instagram account to see if The Youths can tell I'm not one of them.

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