Until recently, my experience with Instagram was becoming increasingly lackluster, and I finally decided to take a step to fix that. I actually enjoy using the app again now.
A couple weeks ago, I idly opened Instagram and felt instantly dissatisfied. I was scrolling through endless memes, mediocre food photos, general miscellany, and of course, ads, all with a few real photographs interspersed between the fodder. I realized that the original reason I used Instagram — to be inspired by the photography of others — was being obscured by all these other things. And so, I did something I had been avoiding doing for quite some time, mostly out of feeling guilt for some perceived slight against those to whom I was doing it: I unfollowed people — a lot of people.
I was pretty ruthless. That acquaintance that started the keto diet a week ago and is now giving nutritional advice six times a day? Gone. That meme account that was flooding my feed with the same tired reposts from other accounts 20 times a day? Definitely gone. I can go to Reddit to see those. Someone posting variations on the same selfie with pseudo-profound captions twice a day? Sorry, bye. And then came the harder part: friends and photographers. I kept most of my close friends, but for acquaintances with whom I don't share many common interests and with whom I don't regularly communicate? That's what Facebook and texting are for. And what about photographers? Well, if their work wasn't inspiring me and I had just followed them out of politeness, it was time to bite the bullet and unfollow. After all, there was nothing rude in doing so. This wasn't the follow/unfollow tactic that so many employ to increase their numbers, and I wasn't obligated to follow anyone. My feed is my feed; I can do what I want with it, just as anyone else can post whatever they want. I simply chose not to engage with a lot of it anymore.
By the time I was done, I had unfollowed hundreds of accounts. It got easier as I did it more and more. In fact, the only backlash I got was from the very first account I unfollowed. The guy commented a middle finger emoji on my most recent photo, then blocked me. Not sure he's going far in photography with that professionalism.
Now, my followers list is nothing but close friends and family, photographers whose work truly inspires me, a few business connections, and people with whom I share common interests or admire. And in creating that, I've strongly reinvigorated my interest in using Instagram. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through my feed like it's a daily chore, I now thoroughly enjoy looking at every post (besides the ads). And because of this, I've genuinely improved my interactions. Because I'm truly taking in everything I look at, I'm more likely to comment and start a real interaction, and I leave the app feeling inspired by the work I've seen and having actually learned from those I follow. It's also much more manageable using the app now. Instead of being stuck in a seemingly endless feed, I can easily keep up with everything without missing a post by spending five minutes on Instagram twice a day, even with the post order all messed up by the stupid algorithm.
Of course, this might not work for everyone. I don't use Instagram to find work (though the occasional request comes in through it), and I don't make it a point to post regularly at all. For some people who need to maintain commercial connections (or at least the semblance of them), keeping a ruthlessly pruned following list might not be the best idea. But if you're like me, it might do you a lot of good to ask yourself why you're on Instagram and if you're curating your feed in a way that's tailored to that purpose.
Sorry if I unfollowed you. It was nothing personal.
Lead image by Lisa Fotios, used under Creative Commons.