The age of unfollowing
07: If a muted account falls in the IG forest...will it make a sound?
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The age of unfollowing is nigh: lately I’ve found myself casting off Instagram accounts that I’ve been following for years. The feed is in my control, I tell myself (total lie but okay). I’m not always muting either, I’m actually hitting the big ol’ scary unfollow button from which there is no return. With apologies to Colin Nissan: it’s account pruning season, motherfuckers!
Types of IG accounts that I’ve recently unfollowed:
see ya, big brands (why would anyone look at Big Corporate Content without them having to buy an ad?).
bye-bye astrology accounts (I’ve always been more happy when rationality reigns).
90s meme accounts (they’re kinda funny but also like a total waste of my life as I catch a glimpse of my pile of unread amazing books).
goodbye all breaking news outlets, quit traumatizing me with war content when I least expect it. Instagram and Twitter can’t be the only way we find our way to pertinent info these days, that’s a recipe for a dark age.
Hipster restaurants in other cities I probably won’t ever wind up at? Delete.
@SpaceX? COME ONNNN. It’s over Elon, let’s try to solve the climate crisis instead of shooting rich people to the moon.
I did away with the anti-vaxx, Jordan Peterson spewing, Covid-deniers a year ago (but unfollowing them felt different, the reasons were more clear)
A few influencer-level IG accounts that have survived the cull (pls tell me your faves in the comments):
@arthandlermag - the most random and satisfying art jk’s around
@fucknomontreal - look, either you get life in Montreal or ya don’t (this is about as close I get to living there right now so let me see allllll the sad construction pylons pls+thx)
@canada.gov.ca - eastern Canadian hoser nostaligia and it’s clever and I’m here for it, the Gander airport post is worth a follow for it alone
@newyorkercartoons - don’t lie: do you ever make it through the whole printed issue? they pile up on my coffee table and I read them all while camping in the non-cell service woods so in the meantime don’t miss the comic goods
@designershumour - because I’ve probably been pushing pixels since y’all were in elementary school and I need this account to understand my work traumas very deeply and it does, it does
Um, it’s bonkers that one person follows well over 3000 accounts, right? All of them were slowly collected since I joined Instagram in 2012. As if I even see 95% of them day-to-day on my feed. A totally reasonable argument for unfollowing accounts for a cleaner feed is simply the the futility of keeping up with so many people and worlds. Yes, ending up following 3000+ accounts is due to some absurdly heavy IG participation on my part through the years. I’ve barely unfollowed or muted anyone the whole time I’ve been on IG and it turns out I was not as precious with that follow button as I thought I was.
It might be time to start a burner Instagram account where you only follow 40 people and go back to 2012 Instagram where everyone was just there because they truly were in it for the love of photography. Oh my god the still image! Remember that?
Every second post in my IG feed right now is from a new account that I don’t follow that the algorithm thinks I’d like (and of course, it’s kinda right). The point is though - why is there content in my feed that I didn’t agree to follow? It’s simple: social media companies want you to follow more accounts so you spend even more time on their apps, shhh, shhhh, the attention economy wants it this way. Well I want it another way dammit! I don’t want to see new stuff from new people, I just wanna see new stuff from my people. And my people cannot be 3000 people.
You would imagine my 3000+ following IG feed is a mess of interests and people and the various chapters of life I’ve lived through the past ten years. Except weirdly, for the most part, it isn’t. The algorithm knows I’m deep into ceramics these days, and it shows me ceramics lots of the time. Except when it feeds me breaking news and a random influencer post. Or a meme. Or a photo of someone I haven’t connected with in seven years. Which leads me to wonder: can your instagram change over time to suit what you need it to do? What if you want to go back to the way it was before? There are some permanent content-intake decisions being made with each unfollow (yes you can go back and follow the account, but I doubt you’ll even remember what it was three days later). To me, unfollowing an account feels permanent. I am taking that clutter to the thrift store and it is no longer mine, goodbye.
Which leads to me a confession I’ve got around this unfollowing binge of mine. I’ve also been editing out the accounts of people I truly like IRL (or maybe have never met IRL) but who are…you know…a bit extra on the internet. Yeah. Sometimes you delete people out of your instagram like you would exes out of your phone’s contact list (wait does Gen Z even use phone numbers to stay in touch) - but I’m not quite talking about that.
Maybe we can all slowly adjust to the idea that an unfollow isn’t a cancelling. Not everyone’s internet persona is their real life persona and the two spheres can be very different sides of the same person. The thing you learn somewhere along the way as you grow up into an adult is that not everyone’s going to like you, and you won’t click with everyone you meet either. Some people just aren’t a fit!
And so now we get to split an internet hair: when you like someone IRL, and at the same time find yourself wishing you hadn’t followed them online in the first place, what do you do? Should one make it a practice not to follow people they know as a general rule anymore? The mute button is a lifesaver, but maybe for the sake of internet hygiene, not following in the first place is better. Can we get over this artificial idea that if someone unfollows you on IG that you’re friends-off IRL? Sometimes that’s the case, sure, life is like that - but sometimes it’s just totally not you, it’s them. We’re all in flux, and it’s nice to hope that the internet culture will change too.
Where (when?) did this idea come from, by the way, that your friend group and your social media friends list has to match up exactly or something is off between you in real life? What if they’re still on your mailing list (and if I really heart you, yes, I'm very likely on your mailing list)? What if you nod at each other from across the room at the neighbourhood local’s happy hour? Where’s the line on who you follow?
When you delete someone out of your feed, in what ways do they cease to exist? What do you achieve? Immediately, the person stops existing in your own social media bubble and I wonder: is this the only mind’s eye we have left? Is muting or unfollowing someone in 2022 basically casting them into the oblivion of your hazy memories? Do we only remember each other these days because we like each other’s photos?
Pruning our accounts might be something we need to learn to do periodically. Instagram is a tool, not a proof of your whole life. Maybe somehow, some way, we need to learn that it’s not a burn if someone you know doesn’t follow you. You’re just choosing to stay in touch in different ways. You know: the new, modern way.
Attending (on Zoom):
Tactical Practice: Digital Art and the Ethics of Design - DesignTO Festival
A DesignTO Festival talk on May 3 about digital and new media art practices that resist surveillance capitalism.
My Year in Mensa - podcast
I so enjoy Jaime Loftus’ work and we’re at a point in internet culture where someone can make an entire very funny 4-part podcast rebuttal to a weird and hilarious sort-of cancelling, sort-of joke joining of MENSA, so there’s that to be inspired by
“Exposed Material” Ceramics Exhibition
Peep some truly wild ceramics, via Sight UnSeen.