We don’t show up now. Not in the physical, realistic sense of the word but we are constantly present. Our friend tweets something golden. We re-tweet it. Someone goes on vacation. We like it. A family member has a baby and we pour over the five hundred pictures on Instagram. “HE’S SO CUTE,” We comment, “SENDING MY LOVE.” We are aware of one another’s every move, but not because we’re physically present. We don’t have to be.
We don’t need to show up now. Nothing happens in the real world anyway. When we get together we sit in front of TV screens and check our Facebook updates. “He didn’t answer my message,” We moan. “What does that mean?” We send Snapchats to our friends who aren’t there. “Miss you!” We caption. They send back a Snap from work. We flick through newsfeeds. “This is hilarious!” We call out to each other, “You have to see this vine.” We move over the other person’s couch. We laugh. We feel a bond. “This was fun,” We say when we leave. “Let’s hang out again soon.”
We don’t talk now. We check our friends’ blogs to see how they’re doing. One seems down. “Hey,” We PM them, “You okay?” They don’t respond. We make a point to like more of their posts. It seems they notice because they start to like more of ours too. “If you ever need to talk, I’m around,” We message. No response. We figure they will reach out if they need to. We keep scrolling.
Someone we love gets sick. “Hey,” We text them. “Want my Netflix login?” They do. We don’t check up on them again but we know that they’re alive because someone watched 25 hours of The Office on our account. We feel satisfied, as though we’ve done our job. “Thanks,” They text us two days later. “You’re the greatest.” We assume they’re feeling better. “Np,” We text them back, “Glad you’re OK.”
The next time we are sick, we lie alone in our apartment, certain that we are going to die. We wish desperately for a significant other to come make us soup, or even a best friend who still lived in our city. “I hate this,” We moan to our long-distance bestie over Skype, “I’m going to die.” She shakes her head, which pixilates then blurs. “You are not,” She says, “I’ll send you the movies I just torrented.”
“I love you,” We reply. We watch sixteen low-quality thrillers and get better, eventually, alone.
We fall in love. We want to show we care so we like all of their Facebook statuses and tweets. They like ours too. Eventually we get together, IRL. We show we love them by not waiting ten minutes to answer their texts anymore. When it gets serious we update our Facebook profile pictures to include them. “Adorable!” Our friends comment. “<3 You guys.” We watch the likes pour in. After two months they delete OKCupid and their sister adds us on Facebook. “Hey,” She says, “Thanks for the Christmas present. Let’s hang out soon.” We don’t hang out. But we like all of her updates and she likes ours.
Our friend goes through a break-up. “Boo :(” We text them. “Want me to come over?” They do. We help them go through their Instagrams and delete all the pictures of their ex. We debate whether or not to block them from Facebook. We decide that’s too deliberate. “You’re winning the breakup,” We promise them. We strategize ways to emphasize this. We compose pointed tweets and update profile pictures. We fix their hair, hold the camera and wait as they sort through 500 of the same shots. “That’s the one,” We tell them earnestly. This matters. We’re there in their time of distress.
We don’t need to check in anymore. There’s no question how anyone is doing because it’s all out there, accessible to everyone. We keep up with friends we haven’t seen in half a decade. We bump into acquaintances on the street and know intimate details of their lives. “How are you?” We ask them, but we already know. Their friend died and they’re reeling. “I’m okay,” They say. We don’t bring it up. We go home. We like their updates from behind the safety of a glowing laptop screen because it seems like they could use some love.
We still love each other now. We still feel care and devotion and empathy but we don’t know how to properly express it. We use heart emojis. Like buttons. We scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll, looking for who’s doing well and who’s doing poorly and who we need to reach out to in real life. We still care about each other now. We just don’t know how to bridge the gap between our digital selves and our real, live, breathing ones.
And so we scroll (and scroll and scroll and scroll). We come across a video, a status, an article or a tweet that we relate to. We share it on somebody’s wall. We reach out. We connect. And for a moment, we feel less alone.