A Proustian View on Being Unfollowed

By Andrew Reid Wildman
Proust is known for his verbose style. It appears tedious at first. Twenty pages to explain insomnia for instance. Yet the opposite of detail is the curse of brevity. A drama reduced to a digestible headline. A person’s life and death as a pithy soundbite. Proust’s aim in choosing such length was to let the story develop, to allow the reader to identify with his characters, and in so doing to find solace and reassurance. So is it so bad to perhaps unpeel the onion of human frailty at times, and examine the undercurrents of emotion that I suspect more of us share than admit to?

Proustian View on Being Unfollowed zimshoppingmalls lifestyleTo work then. Everyday at least twenty people unfollow me, a tiny percentage of my 20,000+. Most of them are fake followers anyway. Robotic and spam-like entities, silicone breasted and shallow, and they mean nothing to me. And each day a similar number follow me. It evens out. But there are layers upon layer of emotion that can find themselves inter-wound with social media. If there were no emotion then who would continue to waste their time on it? Each encounter can bring in its wake frissons, however brief, of triumph, of familiarity, kindling the primitive need to matter and be noticed. After a lovely holiday, or an eventful trip I make a point of following the businesses I frequented. If they follow back a connection is made, a bridge built. If they do not refollow after one week I unfollow and shrug it off.

Twitter at times takes the place of boyhood stamp collecting, a diverse and growing map of interactivity, with the joy of connecting over distance and seas and oceans, establishing ties with real people. For a few seconds or minutes one can imagine still basking in the exotic delight of travel, a silly but meaningful escapism. And just as the business, the hotel, the special restaurant, the funny taxi driver, the entertaining guide or sexy fellow passenger stirs memories for us, there is the added satisfaction that perhaps we made an impression, however fleeting on them too. Who would honestly not be thrilled at entering a cafe and being greeted with those nectar-laced words, “the usual?”

Mutual following on social media can at times take elements of flirting, the sweet and vulnerable happiness at being noticed, of occupying for however short a time, a place in the eyes, mind and heart of the other. It is the warmth of hearing the words, “I like you too.” But all coins have two sides. Contrast the tingling of a stranger’s smile, fleeting and delicious, with the heart-deadening, genital-withering sting of cold rejection. Such stings, instant and probably unnoticed by the waspish creatures who deal them can last for minutes, hours or days. We are more vulnerable than we care to admit, easily wounded by rejection, and infinitely open to the tiny strokes of attention at the hands of the thousands of people who cross our paths daily. And unfollowing is a loaded and evocative message in itself. A second-long act that severs ties, that spells out clearly “you bore me.”

We can unpeel the onion further.

“Your life is of no interest to me, and what excites you, impassions you, your life experience and your talent, your opinions and your interest in me are of no consequence. I would rather have you out of my circles than take a second longer to rearrange my filters and see less of you. Mute? See less of? These tools exist to arrange my newsfeed and make it manageable, but no. I wish you to be gone.”

So be it. Unfollowing and unfriending have their face to face equivalents. “Nothing personal (but your life and all its facets bore me)” is in fact very personal. Just as friendships can germinate on social media, they can also be snuffed out there too. To be unfollowed by that special restaurant whose food you loved and whose business you supported, to lose the attention of the buff barman who filled your summer holiday with delicious innocent eroticism, to discover a friend would prefer to cleanse his account of your presence rather than share your work and photographs as you did his, well, it is personal.

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