“Nice to meet you, I’m—”
“I know who you are, we follow each other on Instagram.”
This back-and-forth happens way too often for me. At social gatherings, I’ve had friends introduce me to people whom I was immediately able to match to an Instagram handle.
Though most people would probably take that as an indication that I should spend less time on Instagram and start looking up from my screen, I prefer to think of it as representative of the fusion of our online personas and true identities.
I hadn’t even known them personally prior, but I’d seen or even went through their profiles out of sheer boredom. I’d probably stumbled across their profiles through my friends’ comments or tagged photos. A few years ago, this may all have sounded like stalker behavior, but it seems to have become the norm. When my friends bring up names with which I’m not familiar, I often ask for their usernames and try to find them on Instagram and Facebook, try to determine our mutual friends.
Nowadays, we don’t just do this with our mutual friends, but even with potential first dates. We look up their friends online, going through their Instagram posts from the past few months or even years, wondering why they still have so many photos of their ex-girlfriends, if their friends’ inappropriate comments should be concerning, or even if the cringeworthy Instagram caption they wrote back in 2014 is a dealbreaker.
Our online personas are carefully curated. We decide what we post on Instagram, what we tweet; even our Tinder bios are crafted to intrigue others. We post photos celebrating with friends at a post-midterm dinner, but we wouldn’t post about having a full-fledged breakdown the night before exams. We tweet jokes that fit new “meme formats,” and we’d delete them if they didn’t get any likes or retweets after a few hours. We spend hours rephrasing our Tinder bios, and we’d never lead up with our emotional baggage. We voluntarily publicize this information and allow others to look at our past, all while we are so afraid of being judged.
Even as a writer who shares really personal details about my life online, I have control over how much of my life people see and I am aware of the judgment they may cast upon reading what I have written. It is relatively easy to make people feel like they know you from what you disclose about yourself, but in reality, nobody can truly know who you are from just looking at their screens.
“I just met you, yet I already know you” used to mean something genuine: when you first met someone and instantly clicked. It was based purely on human interaction and chemistry. Now, the same phrase is built on preconceived notions and prejudices we’ve crafted based on their Instagram account.
This is a reflection of how closely intertwined our physical lives and social media have become. We feel like we know someone just because we follow each other, even though we’ve simply been given a fraction of a life they have constructed for the outside world.
But let me be clear: I want to still be able to say “I just met you, yet I already know you” to people genuinely, to still be able to build human connections of which the facade of social media has robbed us.