We all have those moments we’d like to forget. Or, more accurately, we all have those moments we’d like everyone else to forget. And for these situations, Instagram is debuting its best new feature since the Hudson filter: the option to archive posts, rather than simply delete them. Delivered in an update rolling out this week, the new feature lets you go to any old image, tap into the options, and hit “archive.” The post will go into a private gallery. And if you ever want to return it to your feed, there’s a button to unarchive it, too.
I’d like to see every social media service borrow the idea. Because it’s a stupidly perfect solution to a huge problem: that while we grow into ever-more realized versions of ourselves every day, we’re nonetheless trailed by permanent evidence of every dumb thing we’ve said or photographed on the internet in our earlier, stupider days. The internet doesn’t forget our trail of damning idiocy, which has led to users creating their own practices of self-editing and curation. Instagram is simply institutionalizing it.
As Engadget and the Washington Post point out, pruning your Instagram feed is already a standard practice for teens. Some constantly trim back their profiles to no more than 25 photos, constantly deleting old posts as new memories are made. This is on top of the fact that Snapchat’s meteoric rise is largely due to its revolutionary self-destructing posts, which can be viewed only for a few seconds at a time for up to a day until they disappear. (Instagram later copied this feature, of course.)
But why do teens get what all of us older folks don’t? I’m guessing it’s the wisdom of generation Z (born in the mid-1990s to early aughts), a group that was raised not just on the internet, but on the internet delivered to the always-connected smartphone cameras in their pockets. They’re coming of age facing the repercussions of what they share online every day, in their social circles, in their schools, and likely even in those summer jobs they’re applying for.
This behavior also tacitly admits to something else–that deep-stalking someone’s Instagram feed is a standard practice, so it’s worth tightly editing your own into a perfect, up-to-date portrait of you at any given moment. Especially when you’re a teen, and your identity is transforming with such soul-searching frequency and drama, keeping that portrait current is crucial.
However, deleting posts simply sucks. It’s a pitiful ultimatum that companies like Facebook offer us now as standard practice: Don’t want your new employer to see those college keg stands? Privacy settings can be tricky business. You might want to just delete.
Yet deleting is a poorly designed end game for services that urge us, at every moment, to overshare. My Twitter posts are on a 30-day self destruct cycle, largely because I began to cringe at my own esoteric, often booze-influenced wisdom months after it was typed. However, that purging comes at its own cost. Sometimes I’ll want to rediscover an old stat or reference I’d posted, and I realize that it’s gone, never to come back again—which essentially means that I’ve lost the long-term value of using Twitter, like I’ve misplaced a full Subway sandwich punch card that I could swear was in my wallet. Dang! I ate all those full-priced BMTs. Now what?
Likewise, I often want to delete many of my old Instagram posts, but I cherish the service for the same reason a lot of us do. Wrong or right, sunset-lit or under the alien glow of fluorescents, I appreciate the easily accessible visual compendium of my years on Earth. The feed, after all, isn’t just some meaningless UX construction of Silicon Valley. It’s a metaphor for our mortality. Speaking of sharing things I’ll regret later: The feed is life.
Unlike those teens, I have more incentive to keep the memories around, and all my silly social media time lines intact. Because I realize how quickly the pace of time accelerates into your 20s, 30s, and beyond—that before you know it, the photograph is the only tool capable of triggering something long forgotten.
So given that so many of us effectively live our lives on Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook, it seems a particularly sad fate that we’d be forced to delete that life away, one scene at a time, if they become inconvenient. Instead, let us archive them. It benefits you, too, nascent social media platforms—because it ensures that in 50 years, we’ll all still be coming back.