Most people have a lot of ‘friends’ on social media. At least over 100. And then there are other people who have massive amounts of friends. One woman began contemplating the meaning of friendship while she was writing a letter to a friend deployed in Afghanistan while instant messaging another friend in Indonesia.
She became obsessed with technology and friendship and the way that online relationships work. She began to wonder if the friendships and connections she made online were as real as the relationships formed in real life.
This is when she decided to find out. Upon realizing that she had 626 Facebook friends, she decided to start an ambitious journey. Her plan was to reach out to all 626 friends, spend time with them, and photograph them.
She shared her journey online, calling her project ‘Are You Really My Friend’ and the entire thing was incredibly interesting. Check out some of the awesome portraits!
For five years now, Tonja Hollander has been traveling the globe to meet her Facebook friends. She wants to make connections with them and to take their photo.
She traveled for two weeks every month documenting her travels on Facebook and Instagram, slowly gaining a fan base.
Her trip ended in 2016 and at that point, she had been to four continents, 12 countries, and 34 states and ended up in Israel. During that time she had been welcomed into over 400 homes.
Hollander explained how she found herself crawling on the floor playing Legos and reading books with children she had just met. She’s been shown so many cool things and shared meals with people she had never met in person.
‘I have been shown urban gardens, admired chickens, and off-the-grid cabins,’ she wrote. ‘I saw a bee sanctuary being built in North St Louis, I shared a bowl of gumbo in New Orleans with a friend I hadn’t met in real life.’
She explained how she had toured the West Wing in Washington, D.C., with a friend who was a staff photographer for President Obama.
Of course, she’s listened to several stories of family tragedy and strength, as well as the difficulties with surviving in this economic climate.
As her collection of photos grew, Hollander started speaking at lectures and events and she began a tradition of asking people to write their answer to the question ‘What is a real friend’ on post-it notes.
Some of the responses were on the wittier side such as ‘A real friend holds your hair back when you’re drunk’ and others were more profound such as ‘a real friend sees you at your best when you’re at your worst.’
As well as creating an incredibly interesting series, Hollander learned a few lessons on the way. ‘I learned that people come in and out of your life for different reasons,’ she explained.
‘There is value in relationships that are fleeting and ephemeral.’ She explained that there are some friends who will go with her to a concert but not a museum and that doesn’t make their relationship any less real.
She also learned that there is no difference between online friendship and offline friendship. She explained that there are some people she communicates with more online and vice versa and that’s okay.
All of the portraits can be found on Hollander’s blog. As well as working on the post-it note project, ‘Are You Really My Friend’ is coming to the small screen as a movie produced by Hollander herself.
This final step to the ‘Are You Really My Friend’ project will really bring all of Hollander’s images today and will give viewers a better idea of what she experienced on her journey.
‘There isn’t a difference between online friendships and offline friendships,’ she said. ‘It’s something that weaves in and out of everything we do, from work to friendship, literally.’
What do you think of Hollander’s series? Do you think if all of your social media friends would welcome you into their home and let you take their picture?