I miss pictures of food. Remember when the whole internet was pictures of food? That was nice. I signed up for Instagram and curated my feed so that it would be 90 percent pictures of food, 7 percent close personal friends, and 3 percent not-so-close friends who might take offense if I didn’t follow them. (And whose companionship is worth enough to me to strategically interrupt my otherwise delightful stream of ceaseless pictures of food.)
Now, you might be thinking that the internet is still full of food pictures. Some incorrect people contend there are too many. If I had a dollar for every time somebody complained about how everyone is incessantly posting their breakfast online, I’d squander a whole lot of dollars on avocado toast.
But you’d be wrong. Instagram has recalculated its algorithms. Now the internet is full of food videos. And not even videos you signed up for.
Instagram, fearing competition from TikTok, has rapidly reinvented itself over the last few months as primarily a video site. The new algorithms bury users who don’t post videos, and reward those who create quick video loops with musical accompaniments. They also attempt to broaden your diet by showing you videos from random strangers, another idea swiped from TikTok.
I’m sure there’s an analysis to be written about the fact that one of the largest companies in world history is so insecure that it’s willing to completely nuke its own product model in order to compete with whatever new thing the kids are doing. If everyone else was jumping off a bridge, Instagram would absolutely climb up on the railing.
The New York Times has already written about how the algorithm changes are damaging small food businesses that cannot afford to create endless streams of video content.
But this is not the time for “analysis” or “thinking.” This is the time for complaining that they messed up my thing. Now I log in and there are (as I write this) videos of people singing songs, dogs talking, people riding electric roller skates, some girl and her dad walking down beach, and a guy doing model poses while throwing baseballs. None of these videos contain food.
“Ah,” you may say, if you are a smartass, “but the algorithm predicts what you want to see based on your interests.” Please recall the aforementioned 90 percent ratio. None of my internet activity relates to talking dogs.
Instagram shows me unsolicited food videos, too. I should be fair about that. There’s an obnoxious before-and-after video from some restaurant in California that I’ve never heard of, showing a pile of ingredients turning into a burger. There’s one of those dumb recipe videos that doesn’t contain an actual recipe.
And, most disturbingly, there’s a video of Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn spinning in circles while holding a barbecue tray. This was the last straw. I have all sorts of concerns: is Daniel going to get dizzy and fall over? Did the air breezing past get his brisket cold? Most importantly: are my editors going to make me do this?
Look. All I wanted to do was stare at food and think about how it looks good. I’m a simple internet food freak. Boy sees food, boy likes food. This spinning and boomeranging and electric roller skating and unprovoked singing is all making me feel like an old man, yelling at those pesky kids to stop stealing food off his lawn.
The madness must end. Pictures of food were better. I want control of my feed back so I can just look at what everyone is having for breakfast. Or cats. Cats are fine. Especially if they aren’t talking.