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How can we be friends if we aren’t even “friends”?

Are you more apt to catch up with friends over a cup of coffee? Or a Facebook page? (Elinor Hitt)
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Every other Tuesday, I rush through dinner and bed/bath/books with the kids to make it out to my women’s church group (don’t judge) where we share deeply personal details about our married lives and our own feared shortcomings as parents. (We also eat chocolate chip cookies.)

The five of us have supported each other through cancer scares, the challenges of caring for aging parents and the grind of daily life with small kids and demanding work schedules. These women know me—and my secrets—and I’m certain I could call on any one of them in a crisis.

And yet I often feel like I don’t know them at all. Because none of the other Church Ladies are on social media, and every time we meet, we stumble through stilted “So what have you been up to’s?” as we reestablish what it is that everyone has been doing and how they are.

And there’s so much I’ve been up to: my kids ran around the kitchen in their old Halloween costumes which made for hysterical photos, I concocted some killer raw cacao snack balls and posted the recipe on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and then I took part in that heated online discussion about that trending parenting article—But oh, wait, my non-social media friends weren’t there for any of that. And this era of bountiful, instant information, it just seems like too much to recount.

I’m not here to argue that today’s media overload isn’t negatively impacting our lives. I’ve read the stats (we’ll be up to 15.5 hours of media consumption per person per day by 2015, people). And I do sometimes pine for a time where we weren’t all plugged-in all the time.

But I like social media. There. I said it. I like it for all the usual reasons, such as keeping in touch with far away family and friends, creating a well-curated newsfeed with content from my preferred news outlets, and because it lets me check up on ex-boyfriends. And I like it as a tool for getting to know people. Because after all, we are our online personalities and if I don’t know yours, and you don’t know mine, well, do we really know each other at all?

Back when I was in high school, I used to create a form letter while I was away at summer camp. I’d Xerox it and send a copy to all my friends and family (maybe with some personal words to my parents at the bottom near my signature). Once I started sending Christmas cards after college, I included a year-end summary letter that listed my year’s highlights. Looking back, I guess I was always into figuring out ways to distill and share important (well, important to me) nuggets from my life. Call them early status updates. Which is why when I get Christmas cards today finished off with just a signature—no news, no recap, no tidbits of information—I find them a total let down.

It’s true that social media has blurred the lines between private and personal—and that’s not necessarily a good thing. My kids think we’re friends with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and his wife Jools because I follow them on Instagram, and their personal, family-oriented photos of their home life are indistinguishable from the same types of photos posted by my actual friends. That is weird, but it also offers a previously rare and totally fascinating look into other people’s real lives—and debunks some of the mystique of celebrity. But it makes me a little sad that I know what Jamie and Jool’s son, Buddy, looks like sleeping in his crib, but yet don’t know what some of my closest friends are doing with their own families since they’ve opted out online.

If I friend you on Facebook or follow you on Instagram/Twitter, it’s because I want to know what makes you tick. Sure, I guess you could tell me all that in a conversation, but I like discovering it little by little from what you post and share—and also from what you don’t.

Are you an Oversharer who checks in via Foursquare at every place you go during the day? (No shame. I am, too, sometimes.) Or are you a lurker, who accepts friend requests and maybe ‘likes’ a few things here and there but never posts any content (hi, Mom!)? Are you a Realist, chronicling parenthood’s hardest moments and looking for support? Or are you into selfies that are only from your best side, every time, on frizz-free hair days?

I populate my own profiles with a mix of zany things my kids say, random photos of cool stuff from around the neighborhood, plus links to stuff I care deeply about (positive media images of girls and women, Bikram yoga, raw food recipes I’ve tried at home).

In my posts, I try to be real—not to create an idealized, glossy simulacrum of my life that’s nothing like my reality. I think of them as snapshots from my perfectly messy life—and a reflection of me. And I want to know the same about you.

Don’t get me wrong: I like and value interacting with people in person. If I had to choose between authentic and online communication, I’d most likely opt for the real deal. But since these days connections are made in many ways, I honestly feel cheated—like I’m only acquainted with part of you—if we don’t interact online.

So go on, follow me…and I’ll follow you back. And maybe we’ll end up being BFFs.

Audrey D. Brashich is the author of All Made Up: A Girl’s Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype and Celebrating Real Beauty.
Follow her on twitter @AudreyBrashich.

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