So one of my new favorite after class activities
is walking a ridiculously long route home. I’ll grab a large house milk tea with boba from Bubble Cafe downtown if I feel like I deserve the treat, and listen to a podcast. Even if it’s an hour-long episode, I’ll stretch out my walk home and wander through the park in my neighborhood, stopping to watch a leaf float down the river or a squirrel climb a tree, making the twists and turns necessary to listen to the whole episode before I make it to my door.
Recently, the podcast that I’ve been listening to on these walks is by one of my favorite authors: Jedidiah Jenkins. Now, I could do a whole other post about how much I love Jed, but I’ll keep it simple and say that his two books, To Shake the Sleeping Self – a memoir of his 7,000-mile bike ride from Oregon to Patagonia, Chile, and Like Streams to the Ocean– a collection of essays on topics essential to humanity- changed my perspective on life.
His podcast is called “Question the Self.” Now, I despise ultra-pretentious-coffee-shop-millennial-hipster-faux-philosopher names like this, but I make the exception just for Jed so much that I plan my day around taking my walk when a new episode comes out.
On Wednesday, a new episode came out where Jed talked with Nada Alic, with the lengthy title “Parasocial Relationships (one-sided internet relationships) and Scaring a Physic Healer with Writer Nada Alic.” They talked about what it’s like to have a private and public persona, a side of you that everyone knows, and a side that only your closest friends know. They discussed what it’s like to be canceled and when should someone be canceled.
Here’s the irony
Here’s this author that I love. I’ve read both his books, his parents’ books, and I follow him (and his mom) on Instagram. I relate to him in so many ways: we both grew up in a conservative, religious, southern household as the middle child (and we both have a half-sister from our dads), and have since become the most progressive family member. But here he is talking about how people who read his books don’t truly know him.
I know Jed. I understand the way he thinks.
I know his family.
I know about his childhood and how his parents’ divorce affected him.
I know that he’s an Enneagram 7 who enjoys coffee shops and craft beer and is annoyed by cynics.
But he has no idea I exist. He doesn’t know how I think or know my family and childhood. We’re not friends.
But it feels like we are. And that’s the essence of Parasocial relationships. When I read his books or listen to his podcasts, I laugh or cry or react like we’re having a conversation, because that’s what it feels like. I don’t think of Jed as a celebrity or a famous author, I think of him as a dear and wise friend.
I mean, I call him Jed for Christ’s sake! How many people do you have a nickname for that you’ve never met? That’s super weird, right?
But this is what digital media has created: an intimacy between creators and audiences. Jed talks directly to me in my ear when I listen to his podcast like I’m the only one in the world that he’s having a conversation with. Especially as a memoirist, his books dive deep into the personal details of his life and mind, for anyone to read. And on Instagram, I can look at what he posts every day, what videos he laughs at, articles he reads, and when he’s hanging out with friends.
The bond between famous people and their fans is unique because of this one-sidedness. And it’s something that we’re dealing with. Influencer culture, Charli D’amelio, Addison Rae, the Kardashians, YouTubers and Instagram models who get sponsored by brands and make money off their thousands of followers.
Even if you’re like me and think you’re above the craze of Kylie’s new line of makeup or ordering “the Charli” at Dunkin Donuts, you’re probably still in a parasocial relationship with someone.
Why is it always social media?
It’s ok, you don’t have to be ashamed that you aren’t above the influences of social media. Maybe that’s just me, but I really like to believe that I’m better than caring bout how many followers I have or how many likes I get on my posts (spoiler alert: I do).
But here’s the thing: I think even though we can’t deny the presence of parasocial relationships in our lives because to an extent we’re all influenced by other people, the question lies in who it is that we let influence us. Being mindful of the media we consume is vital.
Even though we can’t really stop being influenced or stop caring about what our favorite “friend”/celebrity is up to or what they’re saying, we can find ones that are saying positive things. Spending time listening to people who say meaningful things that challenge us to grow will be far more beneficial than those who try to exploit their following for profit or to grow their own brand.
So, question yourself. Next time you get on Instagram, take a look at your feed. Who are in parasocial relationships with? What are they talking about? How is it affecting you? What are you listening to? And who can you listen to that will influence your life for the better?