Social Media Has Made Us Feel Like We Know People We’ve Never Met. Why?
Two strange things happened yesterday, one was wonderful, and one was definitely was not.
The wonderful bit: I met Dawn O’Porter at her book signing for her new novel Goose at Piccadilly Waterstones. Dawn is someone I have been completely obsessed with from when I was a teen as someone in the industry who I have a total “career crush” on. I love getting a glimpse into her career and personal life through her Twitter page and her writing tone is such a delight to read with a cup of tea in the evenings. She is so refreshingly honest; sometimes I feel we lack some real uncensored honesty in the media world. It really was a lovely evening with brilliant questions from Glamour editor Jo Elvin, but it was also coated with sadness because of course it was also the night the world was told some seriously sad news.
The news that 25-year-old Peaches Geldof had died. My friend Polly was sat in Café Nero opposite Waterstones as I arrived for the event, she looked glum:
“I’m in shock. Peaches Geldof….”
“What? What? Was she in here..?” I said, looking around.
No. Polly showed me the BBC News tweet on her phone.
Along with the same reaction that the entire world had, I was totally shocked and saddened. Since I heard I’ve been thinking about it non stop. I’ve also been thinking about how Twitter and other micro-blogging platforms have enabled people to form real life feelings of admiration and friendship for people we have only come across online. How can I be feeling this sad, I thought? What gives me the right to be mourning her so much? But through following Peaches’ various social networks for years I actually felt like I knew her a bit. Of course it’s debatable whether that is actually true.
Before there was barrier between the readers and what the media brought to us. We’d never know the person behind the cover. Now with the power of the Internet we are starting to feel like we know people, even if we don’t really. When I met Dawn yesterday it was a weird moment of feeling like she was a really really old friend, as I follow her life daily via Twitter from the exciting (when her now husband proposed) to the mundane bits of her life (like off to walk the dog). It’s actually strange that I know so much about her. I wanted to ask her about her cat, the fact that her husband is in the play Of Mice and Men on Broadway that I’ve booked tickets to see, the fact that I loved her Internet dating book, the fact that I’ve been religiously reading every single article (on her personal blog or publication) for years and years. I blurted out last night that I actually wrote her an email when I was much younger asking her how to become a TV presenter. I also use to send her emails when at an old PR job and sent her freebies on the sly. I’m a total unashamed fangirl and Twitter has made us feel like it’s OK to “follow” people. Really we are just being harmlessly curious about their lives that they allow us to peep into them. Social media has allowed us all to have a little pry.
The Internet and rise of Twitter has definitely made that distance between fans and celebrities a lot narrower. We can talk to or receive a reply (or retweet) within seconds from someone who you will probably never meet. You can know intimate details about their life and see pictures of the ‘behind the scenes’ of their messy house or what they are cooking for dinner. Without the IRL (in real life) bit, you can essentially know the same about certain celebs/people in the public eye as your very own mates.
After hearing about Peaches I almost felt stupid or insensitive that I was posting words about how upset I felt on social media about her death. I don’t know her. I never met her. I’ve only ever followed her online and in magazines. But I felt a deep deep sadness as I grew up at the same time as her, and would look to her as someone I could identify with during my teen years, albeit she was a lot more crazy than me and dealt with issues whilst in the public eye, which I doubt she could control. We were born in the same year and there is something so incredibly tragic about hearing about a death of someone the same age as you.
I remember reading her column in Elle Girl, when she had peroxide long blonde hair and she looked so tough, she made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted to. Whenever I went up to London with my friends it was always such a big deal and we’d always talk about “going to KOKO in Camden because we might spot Peaches Geldof!!”. She was the person we all wanted to spot in the crowds, because she was an IT-girl in a non-conformist way and was always ahead of the trend and onto the next big thing. I remember seeing her last year at a British Heart Foundation charity auction event and I couldn’t stop looking at her. She was so cool.
I’ve been reading articles about her from her friends and people who knew her all day, feeling sadder each time and still as fascinated by her life as I was when I was 16.
Whether people think it’s a good or bad thing, it’s fair to say that social media has become an surprising outlet for dealing with death. Peaches’ Twitter account has grown by 90,000 followers overnight since the news. One thing cannot be denied and that is the relationship we have with the Internet is growing each day. I don’t know what to think about the fact that I’m finding myself crying in the toilets at work because of someone I never ever knew. And I don’t know think I am the only one either.
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