I started my Instagram account in January 2015. I started it for several reasons, but the main reason was because I’d moved to Los Angeles that same month to pursue a living as an actor. I’d been told through the actor-grapevine (no one really knows where it begins, but if you’re an actor in LA, you’re a grape on that vine) that casting directors weren’t even considering hiring actors who didn’t have large social media followings. That producers, after narrowing their choices for a role down to their favorites, were looking at those numbers to make the final decision. So, I set out to gain a large social following.
As any social media influencer worth their salt would tell you, you can’t gain a large, engaged social media following just by wanting to have a large social media following. People follow you because they like what you’re doing, or because they aspire to be like you. They follow you because they want to see the content you’ll be posting.
On some level, I understood that. I tailored my content to fit a niche, something that I thought was unique about me that people might resonate with: I was an actor and a writer!
So, what does an actor/writer fresh to Los Angeles post on Instagram? If you were me, the answers was, “not a whole lot.” My content included photographs from empty audition rooms or casting offices, screen-grabs of self-tape auditions, selfies, random shots of nature, & gym photos.
These are not things that people who don’t personally know you care about (unless they want to have sex with you, in which case they’ll thirst over literally anything you post). They will not follow you, and if they do, they likely won’t interact with your content, meaning that even if you somehow do manage to gain a large following, the algorithm will ensure that your posts aren’t seen by many people because the people who do will scroll right on by.
I didn’t know any of that at the time. I thought “having a large numbers of followers” would automatically translate to “success.” So, I set out through various methods to attempt to gain a large number of followers.
I downloaded apps that allowed me to mass-follow accounts that followed other actors, and then I’d unfollow everyone who didn’t follow me back within 24 hours. I didn’t want my “followers” and “following” to be the same number, so every month or so, I would go through the accounts I was following and unfollow people who had followed me back months ago, hoping they wouldn’t notice that I’d gone and unfollowed them months later.
It worked. Over the next 18 months, I gained a large number of followers: over 75,000. Best of all, I was only following 1,000 accounts.
To those not in-the-know, it looked great. Many a new actor to LA complimented me on my number. The roles were bound to start rolling in!
But that’s not how acting works, either. Acting is a business. If you want to be a successful actor (or influencer, or anything), you need more than artificially inflated numbers on your social media accounts. You need to be able to show results, or at least prove your capability of showing results. You need people who care about you, and who engage with your content.
The roles did not start rolling in. I ended up making a few films in various combinations of writer and/or actor under my old name, but the reasons I was involved with those projects had literally nothing to do with my social media following (as far as I’m aware).
Over the course of the next 5 years, the reasons I was using Instagram changed. I slowly grew less interested in acting as a profession, and drifted away from “conscious posting” and into “consuming.” It became, instead of a tool for my profession, a past-time. I started following accounts I was interested in, influencers I was interested in, meme pages, political pages (on both sides, to try to always have all the information)… the list went on and on.
It became an addiction. Many times a day, I’d check IG. Usually there weren’t any notifications, because I wasn’t really posting anything anymore. Then Instagram introduced the “story” feature, and it became even more addictive.
I thought about deleting it several times. But every time I’d talk myself out of it for the same reason: what about those 75,000 followers? You did all that work to get them, and now you’re going to throw them away? How long will it take you to get the swipe up feature again?
I kept the account, checking it several times every day, thinking that eventually I would find a use for it. When I began podcasting, I attempted to use the account as a means of advertising those podcasts, but as I would eventually find out, IG followers rarely translate to podcast listeners, even if your followers are incredibly engaged. The account existed in a state of nothingness, existing just to exist.
And, of course, to pass the time.
In 2018, the social media addiction was real. In 2019, I attempted to launch a business that would help break people of their social media addictions. After becoming addicted myself, I knew how serious it was, and how deeply it could spiral you into a state of depression, feeling like the world was ending, like there wasn’t any hope, & like nobody cared. Somehow, that business twisted from its original intent into a social media management business, because companies were more interested in paying us for our social media knowledge than IG users were in spending money to give up their accounts (or we just weren’t very good salespeople).
COVID sent the last of our clients screaming for the hills, and we closed the business for good.
And my 75,000 followers were still just sitting there. Every day, I shared maybe a dozen or two dozen memes or videos to my IG story. Every day, the same 85-130 people would look at those stories. I wasn’t in a state of growth or decline. The account… merely existed.
And why? What am I saving it for? What use could I ever have for 75,000 people who probably don’t even remember that they’re following me?
And then I watched the new Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma.” It’s not a perfect film, but it’s an important one, and I recognized a lot of the symptoms they were describing in myself and in my own habits. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it was in 2018, but the effects were still there. Every time I checked social media, I stayed on longer than I intended. Every time I opened Instagram, I closed the app feeling worse about the future of our world than when I’d opened it. Every meme, every story, every “hot topic of the day”… it was getting overwhelming. And I’d had enough.
Tonight, a mere 3 hours ago, I permanently deleted the account. Maybe I’ll start one up again one day when I better understand how to use it to benefit me instead of harm me, or maybe I’ll avoid it forever. Maybe Instagram will get their shit together and stop investing into our own self-destruction, at which point I would join even if I didn’t have a “greater purpose” in having the account.
The love affair with Instagram is over. The magic is gone, and honestly, I feel like Instagram is getting a lot more out of the relationship than I am. I’m tired of feeling like Instagram’s dutiful wife, playing my role quietly, acknowledging his flaws but always believing it’s going to get better.
It’s not going to get better unless we do something. Unless we say something. And without us, the users, these social media apps have no way of generating revenue. So let’s put our money where our mouths are, shall we? Let’s not let these apps destroy our future.
PS! I never had any association with Star Trek growing up. The first Star Trek property I ever saw was JJ Abrams’s reboot in 2009. I recently started watching The Next Generation, and I have to say, I feel like I’ve been lied to by just about everyone in my life who said this show was a positive and exciting vision for our future. I’m thinking about writing a longer blog about Star Trek and why the very concept of the show is only an ideal future if you’re a White male who is still more or less brainwashed by imperialism… if that sounds interesting, or if the idea of that blog makes you want to strangle me, you can let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org!