Jay was sick of the superficiality of his online life – the five thousand friends on Facebook, the ten thousand on Twitter, the seven thousand on Instagram. Others were envious of all these numbers, much in the same way that grade school friends were impressed with his large Topps baseball collection. But these were not baseball cards. Collecting acquaintances online made him feel stupid and lonely.
“It’s all an illusion – this internet friendship thing,” thought Jay.
Jay tried using Dunbar’s Theory as a basis of his online life. Dunbar was a famous sociologist popular in internet circles, who theorized that one can only maintain one hundred and fifty serious interpersonal relationships, whether the subject lived in a big city like Hong Kong or a small town like Podunk.
Jay created a list of only a hundred and fifty close friends and chose to only follow them online, but even the daily lives of a hundred and fifty were too much for him to handle. Every day, another friend’s child was getting bat mitzvahed or a beloved family dog grew ill, and Jay would sit by his laptop, tears in his eyes, needing to give someone a congratulating handshake or a hug. But before Jay would even get a chance to write a heartfelt response, the scrolling lifestream would flow on, like an endless river of pathos.
There was only one solution to all these meaningless connections. He would do Dunbar one step further. Jay made the decision to only follow ONE person on the internet. This way, Jay would finally be able to enjoy a true, satisfying bond with a single individual online.
Jay closed his eyes and picked a name off of his lengthy Facebook friend list. His finger randomly fell on the name of Karen Springer, an online friend that Jay didn’t know very well – she was the visiting sister of an acquaintance that he once met at a Twitter meet-up at a bar in the Village but never got a chance to say much to her other than, “Can you please pass the pretzels?”
Now was Jay’s opportunity to get to know Karen, as a friend.
Facebook gave all the necessary background for Jay to catch up with the basic details of her life.
Mother of two.
Resident of Nashua, New Hampshire.
Writer of the blog “The New Hampshire Momma.”
Monday, the first day of Jay’s social media experiment, was a joy. Unburdened by the useless links and demands of hundreds of needy “internet gurus” hawking their dull blog posts, Ted presentations, and artistically-bereft Kickstarter campaigns, Jay connected with Karen one-to-one, the way God intended — by reading her blog.
Jay didn’t just skim Karen’s latest blog post, spitting out some ass-kissing comment, but read Karen’s writing as if it was a prize-winning memoir. On Monday, he read the ENTIRE ARCHIVE, every post she wrote since 2007! In one swoop, Jay learned about Karen’s previous struggles with her infertility, her tense relationship with her overbearing mother-in-law, Rita, and even her favorite brand of vibrator, Doc Johnson’s Ultra-Realistic DM3 Dual Density Large-Sized Vibrating Cock, proving that a sponsored post CAN be written well.
On Tuesday, Jay explored Karen’s social media presence. Previously, his fast-moving Facebook and Twitter streams gave him anxiety, but now, by just following one person, it was as relaxing as a Zen Garden. Jay felt as if he was in an intimate conversation with a close friend. Jay dug deeper into Karen’s online life, even examining her well-organized Pinterest boards, which showcased her eclectic range of hobbies and interests, from “Retro Kitchen Appliances” to “Knitting Patterns” to “Sexy Firemen.”
The first bump in the road occurred on Wednesday. Jay expected Karen to be offline in the morning. After all, she did mention her busy day on Facebook the previous night – her daughter’s class trip, the extra shift at the hospital, and her early lunch with Barbara, an old friend from junior high, visiting from Cleveland. But by 2PM, when there was still no word from Karen, not even an Instagram photo of Barbara and Karen together at Applebee’s, Jay begin to worry.
Normally, Jay might have never noticed Karen’s absence. There would be others online screaming for his attention, as if each believed he was the sun in which the world revolved. Jay remembered that unfortunate incident last June when one of his Facebook friends DIED in a boating accident, and Jay didn’t notice this tragedy until five months after the funeral, and by that time, writing a “my condolences” update on his friend’s “In Memory Page “ seemed to be in bad taste.
But Jay was not following five thousand strangers anymore. Jay had a real friendship with Karen, one which involved concern for her safety and health.
By evening, Jay was deeply lonely. When you follow five thousand friends on Twitter, there’s always SOMEONE online with a witty comment about Kim Kardashian, even at 3AM when the Australians take over the airwaves, but when you’re following just ONE PERSON, if they aren’t online, that’s THAT. It’s only you, buddy. Jay’s social media stream was blank.
Jay thought about re-reading Karen’s blog archives, but since she rarely replied to outside comments, and the last comments were all his own, it seemed silly to reply back to his own self.
Jay grew despondent. He was about to shut off his laptop, the first time in a week, but then – Eureka! Is it possible….?
Yes, it was possible. Armed with Karen’s email address from Facebook, the name of the hospital where she worked in New Hampshire, and a few well-placed Google searches, Jay was able to pinpoint Karen’s home on Google Maps, and even determine how much the house was worth if put on the market today!
The next morning, Jay was on a Greyhound bus to Nashua, New Hampshire. If there was a problem, Jay could offer assistance. That is what friends are for, after all. And if his worry was misplaced, well, his arrival would just be a pleasant surprise!
Jay was relieved to meet Karen at the front door. She was looking happy and healthy, and wearing the same blue sundress that she wore in that Flickr photo as a volunteer at the hospital “fun run for childhood diabetes” in 2011.
“Surprise!” Jay said, one good friend to another.
Karen seemed rather shocked at Jay’s appearance, not rushing and hugging him as he expected. But then Jay remembered that he was in New Hampshire, and was reminded of the traditional stoic mannerisms of those born and bred in New England, such as his Aunt Mildred, who seemed stern and unfriendly on the outside, but was loving and fun once she let her guard down.
Jay learned that Karen had a good reason for not being online all day on Wednesday. Besides her chores, she was having a problem with her laptop’s battery. Jay immediately volunteered to come inside of the house and help her with the problem, being a amateur computer hobbyist, but she insisted that she didn’t want to impose on Jay’s time.
“Roger,” yelled Karen, calling for her husband.
Jay smiled. Karen was such a gracious host. She wanted her husband to meet her dear online friend.
The next day, Karen wrote a post saying that she was closing down her blog, and deleting all of her social media outlets. Jay saw this as a positive step for his friend, Karen. Clearly, over the last week, Karen discovered the true meaning of online friendship, and would NOT go back to the status quo – the superficial online life where numbers and influence were more important than a real relationship with another person. Karen had seen the light and for her — there was no turning back the clock
“More power to you, my friend!” Jay wrote to Karen on her feed, his last comment to her before she deleted her Facebook account.
Jay beamed, feeling a sense of accomplishment, as if in a small way, he had just started a revolution online, and then returned to his Facebook friend’s list, closing his eyes as he picked his next one friend.