I have so many thoughts here, but I’ll try and limit them to the important ones.
There are probably lots of answers to the intent question: subconsciously, to fill our feeds so we can continue to be distracted from our thoughts and real life; to get someone to notice us; because we think someone might be able to teach us something; because we want to be entertained or inspired. I’ve probably followed people for all those reasons at one time or another. Like you, though, I do go back and look at what they’ve posted previously before I follow them, and I don’t usually have too much trouble unsubscribing if that changes and I no longer find value in it.
“But why do we follow absolutely random strangers on the Internet? That too, based on one tweet, one post, one photo they’ve posted? We’ve often joked about it, but these social networks have indeed turned us into stalkers of the highest order. We peek into the lives of absolute strangers with no easy way to communicate with them meaningfully (likes and hearts are not communication, they’re a distraction).”
You’ve hit on the flip side of one of the reasons I’ve moved to TinyLetter, because, at the very least, I can see a person’s email address (and hopefully their name in it) when they subscribe, so they’re not completely anonymous. And I can have a one-on-one conversation with them by email, as opposed to a public conversation in a comment section (which often feels awkward and contrived to me), with other (anonymous) people looking on. I guess I just want things to feel more personal and genuine.
I also like the friction that email subscription provides. People will only subscribe if they really think it’s going to be worth their while, whereas we probably tend to subscribe more indiscriminately when it’s by RSS or in WordPress.com Reader.
“That’s when I decided that this person was worth following around. There is a massive difference between me and him – I’m not a poet, not a Christian, never been to NZ. But his words are beautiful and always strike a note in my mind.”
Thanks so much for following, despite our differences–and for sharing my poem! Funnily enough, that’s the very first one I shared when I started sharing poetry on TinyLetter the first time (a couple of years ago). 🙂
“No, that email went to a fraction of those and that fraction did the smart thing and subscribed to the newsletter.”
Full disclosure: I’ve since invited a bunch more of my existing WordPress.com subscribers to subscribe. But only people I thought might genuinely be interested (I checked out their sites first), not the ones that looked like they’d indiscriminately followed.
Sorry for such a long response, but it was a thought-provoking post.