I thought I found a solution to my social media problem last week. I am not great at interacting with my followers or initiating conversations. It turns out that being social doesn't come easily for me online or in real life. If only I could outsource the uncomfortable work.
I wanted more people to see the animated Star Wars drawings I have been posting on Instagram. How could I get them in front of people outside my normal friends and fans?
I thought maybe the solution was a Python script called InstaPy. You customize a few variables then run it from your computer and the process of liking, commenting, and following people is automated. For example I could say, “Find the last 100 photos tagged with #StarWars, like them, leave comments on 25% of them, and follow 10% of the people who posted them.” I ran a few experiments to see if this was the answer to my anti-social media tendencies.
In a way it worked. My likes were appreciated. My comments were welcomed. Some of my follows were reciprocated.
So why did I feel so icky?
As I reviewed the aftermath of my automation tests I saw that some of the photos the script liked were indeed worthy of praise. Some of the comments I left appeared honest. Some of the people I followed are worth following.
I felt icky because what I saw was an impersonator. He did things I wouldn't do, said things I wouldn't say, and connected with people I might not connect with. The thing missing from these interactions was me.
Perhaps I can refine the script, train it to mimic my behavior more closely. Or I could ignore the ickiness, excuse myself with observations of how many other bots are infesting Twitter and Instagram.
I just can't do it.
Over the years I have gotten better at sensing that icky feeling and correcting my mistakes. I felt icky when I pumped my first blogs full of Google ads back in 2004. I felt icky when I SEO'ed my writing for better search rankings. I felt icky when I scammed those old ladies. I felt icky when I added analytics to my apps. Heck, I have a whole series of essays outlining why there is a special hell for designers like me. You would think I would learn my lesson, but it isn't easy. I am not alone, there are too many people who succumb to shortcuts.
You can see the results of shortcut addiction everywhere. Everything is covered in ads. Every headline you read follows whatever dehumanizing formula gets the most clicks. Every product has an angle, every person has a motive, and every interaction is a source of data that will be scrutinized, optimized, and weaponized. It has never been harder to decipher whether you are interacting with humans or bots.
The reason for all this gunk is because things that feel icky are easily justified. It doesn't take much rationalizing to make the feeling go away especially when you make money from the ickiness.
The thing that is rare, the people who stand out in this bleak landscape are the ones who do the uncomfortable work. They reject shortcuts. They invest in relationships. They will create their art regardless of whether it is received with applause, cricket chirps, rotten tomatoes, or pitchforks. They are allergic to ickiness, so sensitive to authenticity that when they discover good work they eagerly do all the things that automation tries to replicate. They like, comment, share, and follow not because they are robots but because they are humans who crave real connections. That is who I want to be and those are the types of fans I want attract.
Thanks for reading. If this post makes you feel icky you probably shouldn't follow me because I write unpopular stories like this every Saturday. Just remember that when I follow you back you can be sure it is really me doing the clicking. Stay creative.