Strangers in the streets, buddies in the Tweets

by Hunter Harris / Beacon Staff • April 21, 2016

I have a running joke that I need new friends. The ones I have now are great, of course—a lot of beautiful women with great taste in books and a few guys with bad taste in rap music. But they knew me freshman year when I bought a handle of vodka to celebrate Nelly’s birthday (spoiler alert: this was not a good idea) and managed to love me through it. Our group text is one extended drag of my life, my schedule, and the one time I wore Vineyard Vines. I love these friends, of course, but sometimes it’s fun to pretend that I don’t. 

The other day I met a new friend, one that I’d technically made before. He’d long followed me on Twitter, favoriting jokes I’d made about President Obama’s final State of the Union and commentary I’d shared about Kanye’s best work. Soon enough, in a Cambridge living room, we were catching up on each other’s lives. He asked me about going to the Sundance Film Festival in January; I asked him about a particularly clever comment he made the night before about the Lakers. Suddenly I’d become an active participant in a friendship that had only existed in the spectatorship of the online space: on Twitter and Instagram, but never in real life, at the school we both attend on Boylston Street.

Not soon after, something similar happened again—the simultaneous expansion and contraction of my social interactions converged. A co-worker was on the Green Line, where he happened to peek at a complete stranger scrolling through my tweets. “This dude I was on the T with was perusing your Twitter,” he said. “Out in the open,” he added, sending a picture of my face filling the screen of the anonymous man’s phone. If my life were a Nora Ephron movie, I mused, this guy and I would be moving in together by the end of the week. He sent me a message online appreciating my joke. He’s a Boston Globe reporter and we’ve worked in the same building—I might have even unknowingly stood behind him in line for pizza at the cafeteria—and somehow here we are, already more familiar than the person I sit next to in my 4 o’clock class. 

And so now I’m thinking about the nature of friendship, and what it means to really know someone. I’m better on the internet. Twitter is peak me on colored people time, where cheap, pithy jokes like “I'm so happy we live in a world where Three 6 Mafia won an Oscar before Leonardo DiCaprio” go over with perfect pitch. Online, I’m smarter and sexier—my Twitter feed is my highlight reel, my Facebook profile is the glossiest version of my life, and this holds true for many people I know.

I question the nature of these virtual friendships or understandings because they feel predicated upon the same rickety reality that also plagues fame. It was fascinating to meet someone first online and then in real life because I expected disappointment. We’re all edited on the internet, copying and pasting, cropping and deleting until we craft some kind of online persona that constitutes a Gatsby-esque platonic ideal. I’m guilty of this—I’ll untag myself in a photo where the light hits a zit a little too well, or delete that weepy Facebook status I made when I was 17 and sad that my high school football team lost almost every game. 

There’s an intimacy to riding an elevator with a person that you know just got their dream job or failed their midterm, information gathered from just being Facebook friends. For four years I’ve been sanctimonious and sensitive in my op-eds for this paper, but I’m playing myself if I think that I’m somehow closer to someone who reads my work than the best friend that approves drafts of a text message before I send it to a cute boy. The closeness we feel to followers and virtual confidants isn’t real because it has no air to breathe, only a heart to “favorite.”

So often we become obsessed with the hyper-controlled images of our lives and our work, selecting and sharing our highlight reels. Of course I prefer the Hunter Harris who tweeted that she’ll walk down the aisle to DMX’s “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem.” But that person is both me and not me, known and unknown. Our lives exist in the imperfections, and we ought to start sharing these seams.