Happy Birthday Instagram: Stress Reliever, Learning Tool and, Oh Yes, a Photo Sharing App

Instagram, the online mobile photo-sharing, video-sharing, and social networking service just celebrated its 6th birthday last week. The company is young, yet has attracted 500 million active users. If you aren't using it, or are one of those middle-aged people who had to be dragged into signing up for Facebook, do you really need to be saddled with yet another diversion from life?

To begin with, Instagram is not nearly as ubiquitous as Facebook. Only 26% of adult Internet users have Instagram accounts, compared to whopping 71% adult Internet users who are on Facebook. Instagram grew 23% in 2013, while Facebook only grew 3%. No doubt the growth potential was a factor in its acquisition by Facebook in 2013 for $1 billion. The demographics of the Instagram community differ quite a bit from the Facebook community. Facebook tends to appeal to adults, with 47% of its users over the age of 35. Of Instagram's 500 million active users, 53% are between the ages of 18 and 29.

So why is a 65 year old who coerced, prodded and actually set up Facebook pages for my high school and college classmates, and even for clients, singing the praises of Instagram? First, I should talk about what I don't use Instagram for. I don't use it to follow the daily travels or activities of people unless they fall into one of the categories described below. I don't use it to photograph food (though I must admit that I have shared a pic of a killer steak or pizza on occasion). Second, I don't follow every Facebook friend, nor do I care who follows me-well I care a little when I want the world to see the beauty of last night's sunset. No, my love of Instagram is more internal and less social, which I admit, is a little nutty for a social website.

So with those caveats, here are five reasons to sign up for Instagram:

1. A geographic learning opportunity. Both average and exceptional photographers from all over the world use Instagram. You need only search for a part of the world about which you are curious, and voila, there are virtually unlimited ways to eavesdrop on a culture or get to know another part of the world. When I took a bucket list trip to Cape Town, South Africa earlier this year, I searched for the top Instagram photographers of the city and the hashtag #CapeTown. I spent the month before my trip getting acquainted with a city that might not have been described in a tour book. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

2. Impressive photography from both friends and photographers. Unlike Facebook, where people think nothing of sharing hundreds of photographs at once-many of which are not very good-the very nature of Instagram is to focus on quality rather than quantity. So, while I like seeing friends' Facebook photos, the Instagram photos tend to be more interesting and thoughtful. As for photographers, there are some on Instagram who have millions of followers, so they must be doing something right. I have become a better photographer just from following photographers on Instagram and observing what makes a good photo.(city photo credit: @gettyphotography)

3. A way to follow your passions. What is your passion? You can easily search for it and start following those Instagrammers who are active in that area. I am interested in tuxedo cats (a true cat lady), golf, nature, contemporary art and architecture, and certain musicians (I'm a total groupie for Adele and Coldplay). The choices are unlimited, and you can mix and match depending on your preference.

4. Beauty, nature, colors, and textures are a good antidote for stress. Although I don't have the exact statistics, viewing beauty and serene scenes is soothing and can combat the anxiety inherent in life itself. It is a chance to put in the clutch, detach from the present and transport to somewhere peaceful.

5. A way to remind yourself of the good in your life. For some, especially professional photographers, a benefit of Instagram is acquiring followers to broaden their exposure and enhance their reputation. For me, capturing a photo of a flower, intense colors, a cool design or nature reminds me that while there is much ugliness in the world, there are moments of awe, joy, beauty and love for which to feel grateful. I find it a good exercise to snap a moment of beauty regularly and label it with hashtags. It is fun to reflect on the photos at a later time.

My Instagram favs

Everyone's tastes are so different, and my likes are tailored to my palate; but in case you are curious, here are my current favorites:

@chief770 and @icapture_nyc Stunning photos of New York City

@NYONair NY City helicopter service with jaw dropping view of the NY City skyline

@copterpilot LA aerial photography

@world_bestsky and @sunset_vision for sunsets that confirm that no one puts on a better show than mother Nature

San Francisco photographer who posts vivid and dramatic skyline and nature photos

@kobechanel A travel blogger with exquisite pictures of bucket list destinations such as Bali, Tahiti and the Maldives. Also check out travel photographer @bihterelis who posts many pictures from her hometown of Istanbul

@awesome_earthpix An assortment of collated snaps from top photographers

@dailyoverview Views of cities from above to change the way we view our planet

@contemporaryhome and @d.signers Contemporary architecture, homes and design

@john_kapono A Hawaiian photographer who is posting spectacular pictures of the erupting Kailua volcano

@nuzzlesandco My favorite animal rescue organization. Heartwarming stories and pictures

Photo used by permission @lilothehusky

@lilothehusky Chronicles the relationship of Lilo the Husky and Rosie the cat, who Lilo raised and are now best friends. Rosie thinks she is a husky and swims and runs with Lilo and other huskies. She is a regular celebrity who has been featured on numerous TV shows. You have to see it to appreciate. Be ready for your heart to melt. (photo credit @lilothehusky)

And if you want to see what I'm grateful for and the beauty in my life, I am @janehowze

All articles
Jane Howze

Jane S. Howze

Managing Director