About Following People on Instagram

So, I’ll admit I’ve had this article gestating for some time (4 months) as I’ve mulled over whether to publish or not mainly because I'm still oblivious as to how this viewpoint may be perceived but before I shed light on it, I wanted to share with you a scene from one the very few sitcoms I watch regularly with my wife which is The Big Bang Theory.

I see this particular episode as a great encapsulation of exactly what I want to communicate. In it the street-smart neighbor Penny gifts Sheldon a present in the warm spirit of Christmas. Sheldon being the type of person who lacks a general understanding of social situations and his struggle to simply show or read emotions immediately views the gift giving not as a noble gesture but as a burden. Without delay he begins to fret as he believes he’s now under a 'social contract' which makes he feel obliged to give Penny a gift that is equal in value.

How does this relate to Instagram? Well, if there’s one salient characteristic I hope emanates from any of the photos I share is that I genuinely enjoy meeting people, a lot of which has taken place even more by virtue of the service itself. I attend Instameets whenever parental responsibilities don’t conflict and what typically transpires in these events aside from incessant photographing is also socialization. In attendance may be people who I already personally know and Follow and there’s also individuals who I may not be familiar with and in the wake of conversation as we wander around exploring, there have been instances where the person has proceeded to launch Instagram on their phone, ask me for my @handle and without hesitation tap on the Follow button.

Having experienced this scenario numerous times and keeping in mind the sequence of events I shared earlier between Penny and Sheldon, I use to feel obligated to Follow back right there and then and at this point, I honestly think it’s time to do away with that specious notion that you need to Follow everyone you meet in view of 3 things that have resulted from invariably feeling this way:

  1. You end up Following more people than you have time to view and appreciate what they’re sharing
  2. You result Following people who’s work may not entirely resonated with you
  3. It could become exhausting dealing with the influx of information, specifically having to sort between those who’s work you truly draw inspiration from and those who not so much but still Follow because you felt required to since they did the same

Driven by this insight, I was curious to know whether anyone else had felt this way and surely enough, I came across this article in which Jeffrey’s suggestions align sweetly with my mentality on managing the the people you Follow:

Find and follow all arbiters of your interests. Leverage their network. Pay attention to accounts they link to in descriptions and comments. Unfollow them if their account pivots away from your interests.

Unfollow anyone who adds too much noise, no matter who they are or what they do. Everyone’s tolerance for noise is different. Discover yours, and set a bar.

From now on, be an active curator of your experience, not a slave to your social network’s content. I promise you there’s way better content on Instagram than you currently follow.

At the risk of coming across as a jerk the reality of the matter is I cannot Follow every person I meet or who chooses to immediately Follow me on Instagram and this is not to say I consider myself important and that anyone needs for me to Follow them but it’s all mainly a stance I’ve established so I can keep my sanity. This may be a generalization and I could be completely wrong but I have a hard time believing that anyone who Follows over 800 people on Instagram meticulously goes through every single image to make up for anything they might have missed. It's borderline insane or perhaps impressive if they do. When it comes to Twitter and Instagram, I’m such a completionist that I go back to read and view everything that’s been published during the period in which I wasn’t actively checking in and the thought of doing that if I Followed over 800 people on Instagram sounds more like a chore rather than a place to glean inspiration.

If I choose to Follow a person on Instagram it’s not dependent on whether I may know them personally but more on the inspiration they provide me with their photographs and I generally aim to keep that number as low as I can. The only way I would be able to impart that undivided attention to the photographs published by the people I Follow is to not Follow that many in the first place. As human beings, you have a finite amount of time and attention and at some point, you have to switch from saying "yes" a lot to saying "no" a lot and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The obvious and instructive point here is don’t feel obligated to Follow everyone you meet. I’ve literally had people Unfollow me days after they chose to subscribe to my Instagram stream and it was either because they suddenly decided they no longer found my work appealing or because I never returned the favor in Following back.

Envision yourself walking down the street and you’re feeling generous so you succumb to giving 1 or 2 persistent panhandlers a few bucks regardless of whether you think they’ll inevitably spend it on something frivolous. Are you likely to be that generous again if within the span of a day 7 or 8 more panhandlers approach you scrounging for money? If you did, you’d probably go broke. My point is, this is no different from feeling compelled to Follow everyone who reciprocates the favor. As far as I know there's no limit to the amount of people you can Follow on Instagram but for me there is and that's out of respect towards the people I've chosen to Follow already.

There's no right or wrong way to use Instagram but having this "who I Follow & who I don't" mentality has allowed me to not only make sure I don't miss anything but also the opportunity to familiarize myself more deeply with the small group who's work I actively look forward to viewing and reading their captions.