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Parasocial Relationships and Watch Culture

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at McMaster chapter.

It’s no secret that with the rise of technology, people are spending more hours watching YouTube and Netflix, fulfilling some social needs voyeuristically. Connecting with people demands a level of vulnerability, and that is scary. Why put yourself up for potential rejection when you could just watch someone on the Internet give advice, play games, or hang out with friends instead? 

Unfortunately, parasocial relationships are just that, parasitic. In a study by Matthew Lapiere in the Journal of Adolescent Health, it was found that loneliness and depression symptoms in teens rise with cell phone use and dependency. Most teens spend at least an hour watching YouTube every day, with nearly eight out of ten Gen Zs in America feeling lonely in 2020. For many teens, watching content provides an easy and entertaining enough way to kill time and escape from daily hardships. However, time spent investing in superficial connections is time not used to build up more fulfilling, mutual relationships. 

Your favourite Twitch streamers are entertaining and may be the good people they seem to be on screen, but they can’t provide true support as they do not know you. People understand that logically, these relationships are one-sided. However, this phenomenon of feeling attached to someone you watch or read about is real! One example is how the masses reacted to Princess Diana’s death. People across the world mourned for her, even though most had never even spoken to or seen her in person.

Nonetheless, watching content is unfulfilling and is a “short-short” activity. This means that while watching videos, time seems to pass quickly, but when looking back on the experience there is not much to recall. This has been coined the “TV-paradox.” This is unlike spending time with mutual friends, where time passes quickly when you are having fun, but memories of the experience feels fuller, a “short-long” experience. Your perception of time changes with real connection. Thus, watching content should just be for easy entertainment; some time for yourself before you go on to invest in mutual relationships. 

There is no easy answer to building a support group or nurturing a connection. Investing in a relationship requires work and has tangible outcomes. Hard and daunting, but that’s par the course! These investments may be risky, but when the friendship is returned, the payoff is great. They say fulfilling relationships are a two-way street, this fact never more glaring than when we see the unhappiness parasocial ones can bring.

Jennifer Zhu

McMaster '24

Jennifer Zhu is in her third year studying Chemical Biology at McMaster. She writes about how it feels being a modern day consumer of the Internet, spending most of her free time watching YouTube, cooking, and drawing.