Quarantine Has Turned Me Into a Social Media Stalker
I have a confession to make: In the past few months, I have become a full-blown social media stalker.
Along with seemingly every other yuppie on the Internet, I started quarantine with productive hobbies, like cooking Alison Roman recipes and using Nike Run Club. But if quarantine has taught me anything, it’s that all good things must come to an end. Alison Roman has been cancelled by the Internet, and running has been cancelled by me. Now, my hobby is checking in on people that I haven’t talked to in a decade. Not “checking in” in a way that might actually be healthy, of course, like picking up the phone. More of an anonymous check-in, where I speculate the details of someone’s life based on their social media presence. With the passion of an investigative journalist chasing down a story on Absolutely Nothing, I spend hours researching the lives of everyone that I have ever known.
To be fair, even under normal, non-quarantine circumstances, I’m already a fairly skilled and prolific social media stalker; my ability to gather intel from bread crumbs strewn across social media accounts is honestly concerning. Sometimes, I wonder if I could have been a useful member of the CIA in another lifetime (probably not).
But in quarantine, this stalking has become much worse. I start out wondering how a guy I knew in college is doing and end up scrolling through the profile of a girl I talked to at a party once. By the time I come up for air, I realize that I’m on someone’s mom’s Facebook, which is how I know it’s time to sign off for the day. I browse through social media profiles like it’s gossip from People magazine, except instead of Jennifer Garner, it’s a girl from my high school whose name I could hardly remember even when I was still in high school.
As it turns out, I’m not alone in my creepiness. I’m reassured when my friends confirm that they’ve been doing the same thing. Like Tiger King and quarandreams, this might just be another part of life in lockdown. Wasting time on Instagram is nothing new, of course, but while we used to stalk the influencer with the mesmerizing hip-to-waist ratio, now, we’re stalking the childhood friend who recently got engaged. When I ask one friend why he thinks he’s suddenly looking at the profiles of people from his past, he speculates, “I think quarantine makes me a little nostalgic and starved for connection.”
Indeed, the feelings of nostalgia and the need for social connections are stronger than ever in quarantine. Our Instagram feeds are full of throwback photos and videos from a time when we could freely gather in public spaces. We look back longingly at the days before life felt like an endless loop of doing dishes and trying to troubleshoot your mic on Zoom. Remember how it felt to talk to a real, live person face-to-face, without having to be punished by your coffee breath under your mask? When the present feels like it’s on fire, it’s easy to try to burrow yourself deeper into the past.
To me, stalking people on social media during quarantine feels a lot like eating junk food. When you’re really hungry, you know how a greasy slice of pizza sounds better than a salad? Or how, when you’re dying of thirst, an ice-cold Coke sounds better than water? When you’re starved for connection, stalking someone on social media sounds a whole lot easier than actually picking up the phone and engaging with someone. It’s empty calories, and you’ll be full of nothing, but it’s instantly satisfying.
The reality is that three hours of Instagram stalking is not nearly as nourishing as a fifteen-minute phone conversation with a close friend. And let’s be real, you absolutely do not need a “Where Are They Now?” child star-esque update of your high school’s mean girl. Brianna is probably doing fine, wherever she is. If you haven’t talked to someone in close to a decade, chances are, it’s because you don’t actually care about them all that much.
For those of you who have already realized this, congratulations on being much better than me. But for those who have found themselves spending too much time going down the rabbit hole that is social media, I’d like to invite you to join me in a challenge. Next time you feel the urge to do some social media stalking, phone a friend instead.
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