By the power vested in us by social media, we have the capacity to know so many things about our accounts. On my Instagram, I can track hour-by-hour how many views, likes, comments, et cetera my posts are accumulating. On Pinterest, I can monitor how many clicks and saves my pins get, allowing me to compare which type of pins perform best. There is so much statistical data available, which I think has contributed to the idea that social media performance is more important than social media engagement.
Think about the word choice here: social media performance. This diction implies that we, as bloggers and readers and writers and people, participate in social media to reach a higher level of achievement. Instagram is a stage and we are its performers. We want to receive high marks, achieve maximum engagement. We now have the means to quantify how people consume content online, and that scares me.
As a young writer, I’m terrified of the idea of not being “good enough” online. It’s a known fact that writers with popular platforms are more attractive to publishers, which is why I started this blog in the first place. The idea of not being enough, and thus hindering my chances of publishing my work, terrifies me, but I don’t think it should.
In my post on why I’m not going to review Turtles All the Way Down, I talked about the ethics of oversharing and why bloggers need to, or should, keep some thoughts to themselves. Blogging is an activity initiated in solitary but ends in the continuous interaction between a blogger and her followers. Before the Internet, interactions required the use of voice and the crossing of space to gain proximity to the people with whom we want to interact.
As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that I don’t know what any of your voices sound like, and probably never will. I pour my heart out to you guys, but you don’t know what my voice sounds like either. How tall am I? What color are my eyes? These facts are trivial and don’t correlate to a strong blogger-follower relationship, but it’s interesting to think about the things you will never know about me because we operate on separate sides of the computer screen. I stare at my screen, you stare at yours, and through the folds of time and space, we somehow interact.
These interactions matter. Connection achieved through a tweet or a comment is connection nonetheless, and we should treat it as such. The people with whom we share our content are people and should be valued.
Similarly, we should engage with the people who we decide to follow. As I’ve labored over the statistics that summarize all of my lovely followers, I’ve wondered how many of you follow me because you want to follow me, and how many follow out of loyalty or fear that I’ll reciprocate and unfollow you back.
We associate a high level of ignorance and rudeness with the act of unfollowing people. I’ll be the first to admit that losing an Instagram follower irritates me; seeing that someone unsubscribed from my blog stings. It can feel like a personal attack, like someone thought we weren’t good enough or weren’t trying hard enough. Seeing that someone unfollowed us makes us feel lackluster, like we weren’t enough to keep that person from saying goodbye.
Within this frame of mind, we believe we are inevitably connected to our content. If someone unfollows me, I think they did so not because they didn’t like my writing style, but because they didn’t like me. In this context, creator and content are one and the same.
I disagree. I think it’s entirely possible to separate the creator and the thing created. Someone could unsubscribe from my blog because they don’t like how I format my reviews, but that’s not a personal attack on my character.
As a Creative Writing major, I’ve sat through many a workshop where the piece may quite literally be torn to shreds. The critiques can be ruthless, but there’s an unspoken understanding that writer and writing are not a singular unit. If I don’t like how a classmate represents a certain character through a certain type of imagery, I don’t insult the writer by saying so. Sharing a negative critique isn’t the same as telling the writer I don’t like her haircut.
Perhaps we should adopt this perspective when thinking about social media. Instagram and Twitter are, in their own ways, never-ending critiques. We create our content, send it out to the world, and watch as feedback rolls in. If we can learn to separate the feedback from the followers, I think we’d all breathe a little easier.
Social media isn’t intended to be a popularity contest. Having thousands of followers is fun, but basing our worth based on how many people unfollowed us is a total misrepresentation of our value to our respective communities. Numbers are numbers, but having a thousand unresponsive followers isn’t necessarily better than thirty enthusiastic followers. Engagement should matter more than some stupid number.
So, if you want to unfollow someone, do it. If you want to unfollow me, do it. Don’t waste your time-consuming content that isn’t for you. Seek out the likeminded people, form meaningful connections, and cut ties when they deserve to be cut. Be unapologetic and intentional in how you carry yourself online, and know that others will thank you for it.
What do you think about unfollowing people online?
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