I was born in 1975. Which means that for the first 20 or so years of my life, I didn’t have the internet, or mobile phones, or even email. It genuinely feels like I’m talking about The Olden Days when I say that, but I’m still under 40. Time is moving very fast.
Anyway. Until a few years ago, almost all of my interaction with friends was through personal contact in pubs and so on, or sometimes phone calls or letters – letters! that takes me back – and then email started up and we all instantly stopped calling or writing to each other, which was a relief, because our handwriting was terrible and phone conversations are weirdly stressful. Hurray for email.
And then the world got virtual. There were message boards, which was very exciting. Then there was LiveJournal, which was like having access to the private diaries of everybody I knew, and therefore the best thing ever. Then social media exploded and now there is Facebook and Twitter, and tumblr and flickr and Spotify, and youtube and Linkedin and Google+ – Google+! that takes me back – and of course texting, and in the middle of all that I had two children and found I was staying in a lot more than I used to. And a lot of my friends were doing the same. But that was ok, because we could all still hang out thanks to the magic online world I now keep in my pocket on the thing I laughingly call a ‘phone’.
It’s odd how the popular trad-media view of Facebook/Twitter is of lonely faceless strangers spending their evenings typing away to other lonely faceless strangers – presumably bonding over their mutual lack of face. In fact, practically everyone on my Facebook friends list is somebody I’ve met in person, and I don’t think that’s unusual. The internet isn’t some separate weird thing. It’s mostly just real life translated into words and pictures. (And in any case, you can be friends with someone you haven’t met in person. But that’s another discussion.)
Anyway. The point is, quite a lot of my contact with friends is now via the internet. And it’s fascinating to discover what your friends are like when you mainly experience them as words on a screen. So, in a world where we experience our friends both as physical presences and as online personas, the question presents itself: is the online version of you ‘really’ you?
My theory about that is that the online version of you is you to the same extent that drunk you is you. In my 20s, when I used to go to pubs more, I also used to drink more.
But never that much, because being drunk just made me go on about how drunk I was (because it was a novelty) or feel sick and fall asleep (which is not a lot of fun at parties). I was therefore often sober when my friends were drunk, and able to notice that when my friend Jim became Drunk Jim he might change in various interesting ways.* Drunk Jim might be exactly the same as Sober Jim – some people can drink and drink and it just doesn’t show. Or Drunk Jim might be Giggly Jim. Or Suddenly Very Sleepy And Somewhat Sick Jim.
Similarly, Online Jim can be quite different to Offline Jim, while still being recognisably the same person. For example:
1. ILoveYou Jim. Some people react to alcohol as though it’s ecstasy. Tipsily clasping you to their bosom, or whichever part of themselves they can manage to clasp you to, they announce that you are the loveliest, kindest, most delectable friend/partner they have ever had, and they never want to let you go. This can be delightful or terrifying depending on how you feel about them, how drunk you happen to be at the time, and how much you enjoy the fragrance of Stella Artois emanating from someone else’s pores.
Online, ILoveYou Jim is usually a late-night phenomenon, and quite possibly involves the magic combination of alcohol and social media. It might be a Facebook post on your wall, or a public Twitter announcement, or a lengthy ramble on tumblr, or a sign held up and photographed on Instagram, but the defining characteristic is that they really, really like you a lot. The advantage of the online version is of course the lack of beery breath in your ear, but on the other hand there is the embarrassment of realising all your work colleagues, childhood friends and in-laws are witnessing the whole thing. Overall, this is quite sweet as a one-off, and less so if repeated on a weekly basis.
2. Hulk Jim, also known as Suddenly Very Argumentative (But Also Incoherent) Jim. This type finds that both alcohol and social media turn them into very angry people who cannot seem to get across the very clear and cogent points they are making owing to other people being too stupid to keep up. Some of them realise, when sober and offline again, that the problem was actually to do with them. Others never come to that realisation. Either way, if you’re in the mood, this can be fun to be around, although more enjoyable if the ire isn’t directed at you. To engineer a Hulk Jim, throw a party full of whisky and people with differing political opinions, or alternatively (and much more cheaply) update your FaceBook or Twitter status on a Friday night to claim that the Lib Dems are just trying to do their best in a difficult situation.
3. Applejack Jim. Applejack was traditionally made by distilling cider down until you got what was basically very concentrated and much stronger cider, best appreciated in small doses. Some people, when drunk or online, become the distilled version of themselves. If they were witty before, they become terrifyingly, sarcastically witty. If they were clever, they become intensely profound. This is often lots of fun, and this type of person tends to enjoy both alcohol and social media because they know they do it well. However, there are dangers. Applejack Jim may be so caught up in their performance that they fail to notice they’ve made several of their friends cry, run away, or defriend them and/or throw DVDs at their head. It should also be noticed that the applejacking process usually falls apart if Applejack Jim is both drunk and online, as then the concentrated wit becomes so distilled it’s no longer intelligible to anyone else, which is probably for the best since it’s almost certainly very insulting.
I like the drunk/online versions of my friends on the whole, but I remain Largely Sober Katy, because there’s only one thing worse than waking up in the morning and remembering your embarrassing behaviour at the previous night’s party. And that’s waking up in the morning and remembering that your embarrassing behaviour on the internet the previous night will be preserved as if in amber for ever and ever. Because friends don’t let friends forget.
*I do not know anyone called Jim. All the characters in this blog post are purely fictional and bear no resemblance to any friends I may have. Unless you clearly recognise yourself, in which case… um.