I use social media feeds like my personal, multi-level purgatories. On Twitter, my muted accounts list alone is a River Styx filled with dozens of lost souls whom I don’t really want to unfollow, but don’t want to see in my feed anymore. I don’t know why I cling to them in this limbo, but I can’t let them go. I hoard them, and I’m usually okay with it.
But with all the buzz about Marie Kondo lately—the organizing expert whose KonMari method of cleaning your life of things that don’t “spark joy” recently became a Netflix series—I’ve been feeling a little exposed. Maybe it’s time I address my digital clutter, and perhaps doing so will spark some joy back into my Twitter feed.
Tokimeki Unfollow, a Glitch app made by designer Julius Tarng, helped me do this. It confronted me with every person I follow and their latest tweets, one at a time, and asked me to consider whether they still bring me joy. If so, I can keep them. If not, it’s unfollow time. There’s also a third option for adding them to a list, if those choices feel too extreme.
Tokimeki is the original word used in the KonMari method that was translated to “spark joy” in English, but Tarng told me in an email that for him, it means “anything that can cause you to feel happy, motivated, nostalgic, or anything that’s important.”
I chose to start with my oldest follows first, which is Tarng’s recommended method. “It’s an interesting experience, reliving who you were, seeing the thought leaders I used to follow, and friends that I fell out of touch with,” he said.
This means I revisited the entire mass media communications class from my junior year of college when we were forced to set up accounts. Most of these people stopped tweeting immediately after that semester. Many of their feeds begin and end with one “first tweet!” message.
These ancient posts didn’t spark any joy, but I couldn’t unfollow any of them. What if they suddenly get famous or something and start tweeting again? This, to me, counts as nostalgia. Or at least, social anxiety. I keep them all.
After these presumably well-adjusted and offline people are out of the way, I move on to The Outlets: NPR, the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press—all of those news organizations you follow when you first set up your account and need to fill up the feed. I keep some of these but not many. This reminds me that I have the Atlantic official Twitter account blocked, a fact I realized one night while checking my settings; I have no recollection of doing this or what the Atlantic did to me to deserve a block. But I think they know.
Eventually the app hits upon a couple exes, and their friends, whom I don’t talk to anymore and who only ever tweet dumb sports shit anyway. My first unfollows. Feels good.
Next are The Celebrities: Anderson Cooper, Mindy Kaling, etc. Closely related are the joke accounts, and the gimmicks (sorry @coffee_dad). I unfollow most of these. They do not spark joy. It’s nothing personal. I keep @Bourdain.
All of this takes forever, but according to Tarng, that’s intentional. “KonMari is not supposed to be easy. It’s difficult, and can take a long time,” Tarng said. “For me, it’s about the process—reflecting, one by one, why you followed each account, and making a decision whether or not to keep them.”
As I KonMari my feed, I realize how my social media habits evolved over time. I stopped following so many organizations and started following people who worked for them, instead. I started following people when they were at events, or to keep up with whatever topic they were discussing that day, and then forgot to ever unfollow them—a major contributor to my clutter. A ton of my more recent follows are sources I needed to directly message, but had to get their attention first.
I realized the way I use the follow function is different now, compared to when I first started using Twitter in 2012. It’s not just to keep up with someone’s feed forever, but to drop in and out of their lives when what they’re saying is important to me, at the time.
The way Tarng designed Tokimeki Unfollow reflects some of my angst. The app defaults to not showing bios, “since I know I followed a lot of people for who they were, not for what they tweeted,” he told me.
It also doesn’t support muting people or disabling retweets: “I wanted to challenge myself to overcome the feeling of socially obligated follows.” A ton of my follows fall under social obligation—but then again so do a lot of my IRL interactions. The biggest difference being, my real-life acquaintances aren’t beaming their every inane opinion into my eyeballs for several hours a day.
If hell is other people, Twitter is a whole other kind of damnation. But after unfollowing 50 people—only about 1,150 to go—I can say that at least the meditative process of considering my connections sparked a little joy.