Randomly people will screenshot a post from a friend of mine. “Come get your girl.” They’ll say, #dumb.
If it weren’t for these screenshots I wouldn’t have any idea what these people were posting. I made a decision to mute them a long time ago. Am I the only one with people I like in person yet don’t like online?
Here is the problem with online friendships: I know too much.
I am a communication professor, and there are stages to relational development that we have to go through in order to gain intimacy with one another. You tell me your biggest fear, I nod my head in solidarity, and then I tell you something personal about me. That’s how friendship works. Slowly and gradually through a process of time and face to face assurances, you tell me that you don’t like sauerkraut, not that you don’t like Black people.
Thanks to social media having 10 apps on my phone in which I carry on 10 completely different conversations, I am learning things about my friends that I never would have known. We are oversharing.
When face to face, people tend to simmer down their political affiliations. They use words like “maybe” or “sort of,” because no one wants to be immediately rejected in an instant shaming ritual that reminds us of middle school. We put hedges between us and our messages in an attempt to persuade those that we are talking to, that if they don’t like our message, they can still like us.
What this looks like is someone saying, “I saw an article that said…” and then they go on to share whatever viewpoint they actually hold, while using the article as a hedge to protect themselves from your reaction. This passive approach allows me to reject your message, without rejecting you. “That’s a dumb article,” I say, and I never have to scream that in fact, you are dumb. It’s great. But social media is disrupting the process.
The Internet is a different beast. Suddenly we are super connected to each other. I know that on Saturday night you sat on your couch eating pickles and it feels like legitimate intimacy. But then suddenly you are retweeting Tomi Lahren and I don’t even know who you are anymore. We skipped a step, several of them. And typically, what happens when you skip steps relationally is that someone trips.
Here is the thing, I am not supposed to know that you take photos of yourself in your underwear. I don’t want to know that about you. I don’t want to see you share from biased news sources, and I certainly don’t want to know that you are so absurdly afraid of immigrants that you support ripping apart families who have been living in this country for decades. What I love about Twitter is that the insane people are strangers. On Facebook it’s my cousin Bob, and I don’t know what to do with that?
If you were this same shrewd, self-centered person when we eat chips and salsa, I certainly would get my bill and dash. But you aren’t. In person you listen more than you talk. In person you seem to show varying levels of empathy. In person you are funny, and like guacamole, so I feel like we can be friends. I like you when I see the whole package. I don’t like you in pieces.
And so I mute and unfollow. I hate seeing what videos or pages you have liked, that lead me to believe that my friend is homophobic. I hate seeing you like someone else’s post that clearly rings of sexist overtones. I especially hate when you read one article on Brietbart, and suddenly have the political prowess of a youtube demi-god who props up their Iphone editing software in their grandmother’s basement.
I am pretty sure there are people right now who hate me online. I talk about my faith too much, I post pictures of my husband like he is Jack Pearson (may he RIP), and I talk about my kids like those stay at home moms who clearly don’t have television or internet and think child rearing is America’s best form of entertainment. I get it. We are all just one IG post away from being spitballed off of someone else’s timeline.
We should try harder to make sure the people we are online, is consistent with the people we are in person. That way when I fangirl over my husband, you already saw it coming. And when you say that some countries are crap, I can better connect the dots. You believe that people should always stay where they came from. In which case, I motion now that we build a wall around your two-stop light hometown because you should never want to escape that cornfield. Why would you want to anyway? That MUST mean you think it’s a horrible place. Isn’t that how this works?
You can go ahead and unfollow me now. But please still come to movie night.
Editor’s note: This essay was first published by The Spilled Milk Club.
Heather Thompson Day is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Andrews University. She is the author of five Christian books, including Life After Eden, and writer for The Spilled Milk Club. Facebook her, or check her out on Instagram.
Photo by saturnism