It was one of the regular weekend afternoons from pre-pandemic era—a zillion years ago. I was sitting at the WholeFoods Wine Bar in Venice, people-watching. Then I noticed a familiar face passing by. Where do I know him from? My eyes were locked on him. Oh, I know! He’s the actor from the Hangover. Even after I found my answer, my eyes were still stalking him. Soon he sensed my gaze and started staring back at me. Neither of us was smiling, though. We just kept staring at each other until he disappeared from my sight.
The word, “parasocial,” is getting lots of attention lately. Parasocial is a one-sided relationship. You feel as though you know the person really really well just because you’ve been watching them on TV. The more you watch, the more you learn about them, and the more you’re convinced you KNOW them. But in reality, they’re not even aware of your existence. I didn’t have a parasocial attachment to the actor at the WholeFoods, but I totally get what it feels like. If I see James Corden on the street, I may act like we’re long time friends. Will I??? Nah, I’m not that delusional.
Over the years, parasocial relationships have evolved because of social media. Between individuals and celebrities, relationships are not limited anymore. Bloggers, influencers, and gamers are thrown into the mix. When viewers get a “like”or reply from their favorite persona, their presumptions become more solid. According to the report by Bradley J. Bond, during the pandemic, parasocial thinking has evolved even more because our social patterns changed drastically. Isolation became unbearable. Craving for social interactions, people immersed themselves in social media more than ever. Soon, they started feeling close to those content creators much more than their actual friends. In fact, when my friend saw a YouTuber on the street, she started talking to him, believing she knew him. After watching his videos for months, she couldn’t tell what was reality at the moment.
Having parasocial relationships is not necessarily a bad thing. Parasocial interactions sometimes help people’s mental health. I often notice people sharing appreciation towards their favorite personas for helping them to get through tough times.
The other day, I attended an in-person storytelling event for the first time in a long time. When I saw my friend, I called her name . . . and realized that we were not “real” friends. I’ve seen her in virtual storytelling circuits, but it didn’t mean she knew of my existence. Fortunately, she had heard of me and we acted like old friends.
Is the definition of “friends” changing as the virtual world is expanding? Wait! Is James Corden my friend?