Instagram & the death of the chronological timeline

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Well, it finally happened: Instagram has announced that it is ditching the reverse chronological feed in favor of an algorithmic one that serves you content ‘of interest’ at the top. No amount of 😱😨😰😭 can describe the feelz I have around saying goodbye to chronological grams.

The announcement claims that people miss up to 70% of their feeds, which could mean you miss an important post—and we all know the tragic embarrassment of missing the latest "dog or food" meme.

Silicon Valley's insistence that our feeds should consist only of what we "most want to see" troubles me. Imagine that philosophy applied to eating: we would have a serious diabetic outbreak. Will our Instagram feeds turn into an infinite scroll of Us Weekly, overrun by celebrities with hundreds of thousands of likes? Could an algorithm that places ‘important’ posts on top make it impossible for new media stars to rise out of obscurity?


Here's how Instagram says the new feed will work:

The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post. As we begin, we’re focusing on optimizing the order — all the posts will still be there, just in a different order.

If your favorite musician shares a video from last night’s concert, it will be waiting for you when you wake up, no matter how many accounts you follow or what time zone you live in. And when your best friend posts a photo of her new puppy, you won’t miss it.

The point, says Instagram, is to deliver “the moments you care about first”, but what if the moment I care about most is NOW? 🕒🕟🕙🕣

Instagram is the last place on my phone besides the clock & calendar that is tethered to the real world construct of time. Chronology gives you contextual clues that are so often missing from platforms like Twitter and Facebook, telling you exactly how your friend's night progressed or where in the world someone is based on the state of the sun in their photo.


Time is baked into the very fabric of the Instagram brand. It’s not called editgram or bestofgram, it’s called Instagram: an instant glimpse of views from other people's lives. I get the FOMOS scrolling through my Instagram feed more than any other platform because it reflects what my friends are doing in that very moment.


It is so expected that what you post on the platform is of-the-moment that there are certain naming conventions that have emerged as a way to distinguish old images, #latergrams, from images that are being posted live.


And what about Thursdays?! As of right now there are close to 350 MILLION posts with the hashtag #tbt (Throwback Thursday). Will we be forced to look at hilarious old prom pics on other days of the week? Will all of our throwbacks be subject to a popularity poll? It feels like high school all over again.

One of the great promises of the internet has always been that it can collapse space, turning our vast globe into a small town. The appeal of Instagram is that it treats the art gallery just like your neighbor's window in that small town, serving professional art alongside voyeuristic glimpses into everyday life. The fact that I can look at my feed at 3 o’clock in the morning and see that someone is sitting down to a spaghetti dinner on the other side of the world is a modern miracle; the fact that a plate of pasta could be followed by a GIF from your favorite glitch artist, or a historical photo of lesbians is deliciously disruptive.


I understand that the internet is getting to be an overwhelming space, and oftentimes algorithms can be a useful way of sorting and arranging information into digestible portions. But if we have this filtering capability, why not put it in the hands of the user? Allow me to toggle between the ‘best’ posts and ‘real time’ posts. Building another opaque algorithm that assigns value to content based on behavior is starting to look lazy.

My new favorite social media platform will undoubtedly be the one that allows users to tailor their feed, giving all the potential power of algorithmic optimization to the user. I can keep mine chronological and you can do whatever you want with yours. Your feed, your choice. It’s even possible that sometimes I’ll want to see only the most unpopular posts. I’m always looking for a diamond in the rough, and they shine brighter when surrounded by late night pizza pics.


Cara Rose DeFabio is a pop addicted, emoji fluent, transmedia artist, focusing on live events as an experience designer for Real Future.