FRIENDS OR FOLLOWERS? LET’S TALK ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIPS WE FORM ONLINE

I am incredibly invested in my online relationships.

Yes I realise that this sentence has me sounding like a professional Catfisher, or a web-cam dominatrix, but try as I might, I cannot find an appropriate way to describe the relationships I have with the people that I connect with online on a daily basis.

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Thanks to the astonishing popularity of first bloggers, then vloggers and more recently the ever elusive ‘influencers’, I am relentlessly surprised by how much I know about a group of people that I have never met.

And how much anyone is welcome to know about me.

“I know, I saw it on Instagram” has basically become the ‘I’m fine thanks, how are you’ of every conversation I now have.

Every day I share photos of my gribbly ass face when I first wake up on my Instagram stories, I moan about my IBS flare ups, I show off my new pants, new plants, new pimples. I show you my fridge, I show your my bed and my wardrobe and my car and my dog and my boyfriend.

I have, what I deem in lots of ways to be a very boring life and yet, every day thousands of people watch me go about my boring business.

A thought that would totally creep me out if I didn’t, in turn, spend a large amount of my boring life watching, with impressive levels of commitment, the boring lives of others. (Commitment that I am often unable to maintain when it comes to relationships  I have nurtured for years has meant real life friendships have fallen by the wayside, by the way).

It’s only when I take a step back do I realise quite how personal so many of these relationships have become.

I know how big Hannah Gale’s boobs are, I know how Chloe Plumstead keeps the sex alive in her long term relationship, I was so used to seeing Vix Meldrew‘s engagement ring on her Instagram feed that I forgot to do what I was supposed to the first time I saw her IRL after her now-fiance popped the question; grab her by the left hand and squeal in unnaturally enthusiastic excitement.

It was the latter realisation that inspired the blog post. I don’t think that knowing Hannah’s preference in anti-perspirant is particularly problematic, nor is knowing what gets Chloe off (something my mum would probably class as TMI but that the 24 year old that grew up with an obsession with Cosmopolitan finds to be just the right amount of juicy).

That is interesting though is how the lines blur between online and reality. Between information and too much information. Between feeling like a friend and feeling like a follower.

After an afternoon spent with Vix and her now somewhat-more-valuable-than-it-used-to-be left hand, I’ve found myself wondering what kind of world we’re currently living in that we nurture and obsess over online relationships with what are actually nothing more than a group of total strangers.

When it comes to Instagram, and more specifically the relationships we are forming with bloggers and influences, where is the line between follower and friend? How invested are we really supposed to be in the lives of people that, as hard as it is to remember sometimes, we don’t even really know.

I think to best understand that, I need to have a closer look at my own use of Instagram and the website that harbours more of my secrets than I ever thought I would put onto the internet.

See, in lots of ways, I live two very different lives.

I live my Instagram life: hello, nice jumper, these are my favourite shoes, how cute is my dog, COFFEE IS LIFE SO DO YOU LIKE ME???? And I live my home life: arguably full of the same stuff (coffee really is life and my dog really is cute), the only difference really being the speed at which stuff gets done when I’m not stopping to photograph everything.

Ultimately I have drawn a definitive line on what I will share and what I won’t.

It can be surmised pretty effectively when I say I’d happily Instagram-story from the bathroom if I were having a wee… probably not if I were having a poo.

Sharing updates from my life as and when they happen has become second nature to me and watching updates from my life as and when they happen has, in turn, become second nature to other people.

I realise as I’m talking that I sound like I am describing legions of people sitting on the end of their beds waiting for the next snippet of my day to upload with paralleled enthusiasm to what they’ll have come Sunday night ahead of the Bodyguard finale, this is obviously not the case.

But I am aware of the fact that people do watch my stories and they do seem genuinely interested and they do notice when I piss off for a couple of days (normally weekends and normally hangovers).

So perhaps because it’s become second nature, or perhaps it’s because I live for validation (probably both), I talk to my Instagram audience in the same way I talk to my mates. Or, in the same way I would talk to my mates if they had enough time in their lives to give me relentless attention.

But it’s not all about me. In fact, most the time I spend online is dedicated to immersing myself totally in the lives of others.

Thanks to the somewhat odd job description of bloggers and influencers, and even just the increased use of Instagram by those normal folk who just got swept up by social media, I currently have access into the inner most corners of thousands of houses.

My iPhone is basically the door factory in Monster’s Inc (niché reference, but you’re with me) and as Mike and Sully found, if you spend too much with one door in particular (I might be starting to lose it here, but stay with me…), it won’t be long before you find yourself too attached.

Every day for the last however many years I have found myself walking through the same doors time and time again and as a result I am finding distinguishing relationships and boundaries within that, hard.

Because for the most part the bloggers that I follow are not my friends. As invested as I am, as committed, as appreciative, as involved… there is something that needs acknowledging and that is that these people not only don’t know me… but they don’t owe me either.

Sure, they talk to me like I’m their friend. They tell me things they’d tell their friend.  They ask for my advice as if I were their friend. Sometimes we will even have conversations like we are friends but repeat after me: they are not your friends.

Yes, I am very aware of the fact I sound like I am in the early days of stalkers-annonymous.

It’s confusing though, it’s really confusing.

Because if they are not friends, then what even are they?

When I see these people struggling with things I want to be there for them. When they get good news I want to hug them. When they do something awesome I want to tell the world how cool my pals are. Hrhum. I mean, how cool the people I follow on Instagram are.

There are houses in the world that I have never set foot in that I could walk into and find my way to the bathroom with absolutely no direction whatsoever.

There are people in this world I could go out to dinner with and order their food for them without even having to ask what they like.

There are a whole host of people out there I feel I know better than some of my in real life friends. There are certainly a large collection of people that I spend more time engaging with than some of my in real life friends.

So the implication that I am nothing more than a follower and they are nothing more than people I follow undermines relationships that, thanks to the advancement of technology, are SO much more than that.

Hello, yes, that stalkers anonymous thing please?? I think I’m ready for you. 

Ultimately the people that I follow online feel more like friends than anything else.

This probably means they are very good at their jobs as every influencer strives to be your ‘best friend in your pocket’ and although that feels a little bit like, I imagine, paying for sex because you want the intimacy would – I can’t say, hand on heart, that it’s not worth it.

Sure I might not get the friend… but the friend experience is enough.

GOOD GOD COULD I SOUND ANY CREEPIER CAN SOMEONE HELP ME?!

Were I to find out any of my faves were chucking in the towel I would be upset. More than that, I’d be devastated.

For whatever reason the mundane lives of those that I follow online have become of alarming interest.

And although to the vast majority of those that I follow online I am but a number, the effects that these people are having on my life are so positive that, really, I’m okay with that.

So what, it’s a little odd that sometimes I have dreams in which these women I have never met before are my best friends.

Yes, it’s weird when I do finally meet them in the flesh and I know already that their sofa is from DFS and their fiancé’s favourite food is marmite.

No, it’s probably not totally normal that I could walk into any one of these people’s houses and find the wear-with-all for a cup of tea faster than I’d be able to do it in my own dad’s house.

But that’s life circa 2018 and quite frankly, I wouldn’t change it.

The relationships I have formed online, whether as a friend or a follower, have become some of the most important in my life and so help me god if the chairman of stalkers-annoynmous himself has to come down here and un-ironically kidnap me to make me see I have a problem, I can’t wait to see what all of my almost-imaginary friends get up to next.

 

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2 Comments

  1. September 20, 2018 / 12:13 pm

    Spot on Emily! I think it’s a very intimate relationship we can have with readers. I have been fortunate enough to have many readers become friends but also appreciate that just because some of my relationships look like friendships, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are. As always, I love you insight and analysis 🙂

  2. Emma Harrison
    October 7, 2018 / 10:41 am

    What a post!!! I have a number of online friends who have definitely become IRL friends – people I speak to on an almost daily basis and who I have come to know on a personal level too. I then have a handful of online friends who I would love to meet for coffees and cakes if our paths cross because I feel like they’re my kinda people and then there are the online “friends” who aren’t really friends, they’re people who I am emotionally invested in because I insta stalk them on a daily basis but that have that aspirational lifestyle, not a relatable one.

    I guess I use them for escapism.

    Emma | HarmonyBlaze.co.uk

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