Me and the people around me got Instagram in middle or high school. The custom is to follow and be followed by almost everybody in your grade and even other grades, so most of us seemed to have amassed 400-700 followers through middle school and high school.
When college came into the picture, people jumped at the opportunity to follow anyone who was also in the incoming class of their new college. We usually crossed 1,000 followers at this point.
Extending this into the future, it seems like your Instagram becomes a magnet that picks up whoever’s nearby in life. But it also accumulates so many people who you’ve never even talked to, and just went to school with at the same time.
So does my, and everybody else’s, Instagram follower list just grow as I travel through life? Am I going to be an adult and still have people from middle school who I never talked to?
Maybe this mechanism is what drives people to new social platforms. On a new platform, you start fresh without carrying old followers with you and often without the social pressure to allow anyone who you only vaguely know to follow you.
But if that’s not carefully managed, social media seems to trend back to masses of vague connections. It’s a lot easier to accept follow requests from people you don’t really know than to defend your account from encroachment.
I’m not sure how common this experience of Instagram as a magnet for life’s acquaintances is, but I would guess that it’s the way that a lot of 18-24 year olds experience Instagram. I’ve seen prompts in the app encouraging me to make a second account for a “small circle,” which seems to indicate that Instagram sees this happening.
My Instagram account feels like there’s a thousand people who I loosely know watching. It feels like something to be careful about, since it’s such a broad audience of people who might be judgmental.
I think that Instagram either has to solve this problem — which is very difficult because it requires solving the social awkwardness of cutting ties with people you’ve brushed with in the past — or they resign themselves to slowly fading out of relevance.
People crave an inner circle of friends and moments of privacy that allow them to be themselves. And eventually, another app will come along that provides a fresh start on followers and is popular enough to slowly make people use Instagram less and less.
But these things are cyclical. This new social platform will also become cluttered with people we used to know but don’t care to see anymore, and so the cycle continues.