There is a phenomena within modern media aptly titled Parasocial Interaction or ”PSI”. It was an idea put forward by Donald Horton and Richard Wohl in 1956 around the advent of major Media influencers and celebrities. The idea states that people develop a relationship with the People or Personas that they may see in media but have no actual contact with. They will feel emotional attachment to these celebrities, Actors, presenters ect. without any knowledge of their actual being or ever interacting with these people. Hence the ”Para” in Parasocial.
As the advent of the Internet has come around the term has taken on a whole new weight. Now we don’t only feel deep personal relationships with Celebrities or Media personalities but other people on the net. We can build relationships with people we’ve never met, people of which we don’t know their true nature but we still have a connection with. The Main reason you would feel a connection to a person online is due to one simple thing, Information. When we receive information from another person that instantly builds a level of trust and connection with said person. The problem that arises is what the Brain deems as useful information, the brain considers things that grant instant gratification or a dopamine response as ”useful information”. This is what triggers the Parasocial Friendship that one may feel to Celebrities or Media Personalities.
That however is not what interests me, what interests me is the relationship between two people on the internet. The reason this is more interesting is because both parties acknowledge each others existence unlike the one sided nature you would have with an influencer and the relationship comes about not through a dopamine response but builds not dissimilar to an actual friendship. This is especially strange because it contradicts the natural reasoning of why friendship happens.
Friendship in its most natural and basic form is a survival technique. This has developed and changed as we have over time of course but you can essentially trace it all back to that core tenant. Friends watch our backs, give us information and insight that may help us survive, they give us support in times of need; all of this is for survival. There is times though where people have been making friends that are actually a determent to their survival. A able bodied man being friends with a disabled person, being friends with someone notoriously untrustworthy or someone who isn’t emotionally supportive. There is actually a simple reason why one might become friends with someone who isn’t ideal for survival, Ideals and Ambitions.
This is what unites Subjects to kings, Soldiers to Commanders and Man to their fellow Man. Whence one shares an ideal with another they create an instant connection without any further interaction, now they may feel that because they now have a fellow man thinking in their mindset they can carry out that Ideal; this becomes Ambition. When you have others subscribed to your ideas or you are subscribed to an idea that many others follow it bolsters your ambition. It is also a case of approval, it reinforces your ideals, makes you feel like it is legitimised by the amount of people believing in it.
So, how does this relate to Parasocial Interactions on the Internet? It used to be that when men were united by ideas they would still have actual interactions with each other and build a real friendship. People who become friends or have a relationship over the internet are united by ideals but have no further interaction beyond the screen. They do not benefit your survival but they may offer some emotional support and the such. I think it cannot replace real interactive emotional support though. All friendships and relationships on the internet are Parasocial Interactions through inter-group similarity.
There is a dark side to this though, two in fact.
Due to the fact that these relationships aren’t physical you don’t feel that negative social perception is a survival threat as we do in the Real world. This means that some of us aren’t deterred by negative stimulus, put simply we don’t see negative emotion as negative. This may cause the issue of Obsession.
Obsessive emotions over someone online is something we’ve all heard about before and is all too common. These people don’t see the negative reactions that their object of obsession may have over them so they establish a fantasy that can’t easily be broken. This usually doesn’t go too far, no real harm comes to either party besides one of them getting spooked. Sometimes though this leads to violent and terrifying situations. The obsesser may blackmail, kidnap, dox or stalk their Object. This is our predatory nature being melded with the obsessive nature.
The Other issue is Using people. Due to the same process as stated above where some do not register negative stimuli online, they might take to simply using people for their own gain. It’s usually to gain information, we all are essentially fighting a spy war at this point and things like not leaving yourself exposed on the internet is a form of counter-intelligence. This implicates the use of toxic anti-social behaviour where others see each other as just tools to drain information from.
So how does this relate to Lain?
Within Serial Experiments Lain we see multiple instances of Parasocial interactions where Lain was the centre of it. I’ll take the most popular quote within Lain ”Let’s all love Lain”.
Why? Why should we all love Lain? Well it’s because within Serial Experiments Lain, Lain has become the object of the Parasocial like a media influencer or someone you’ve met online just on a bigger scale. People feel a connection with Lain built over the wired which has now spilled into the real world. It’s one thing having a Parasocial relationship become a real relationship but imagine having a PSI with what people have been calling a Deity or God of the wired now becoming a real relationship.
With the Knights they represent the two issues with PSI’s. A lot of them are obsessed with Lain even using her as a point of worship whilst others like Eri see Lain as a tool for information. See how Lain mentioned that she was talking to her friends on the wired but they were actually the knights. Lain built a Parasocial relationship with the Knights over the wired through Ideals which then developed into the ambition of uniting the Real World and the Wired.
When one takes a good look at the Wired though you can see the toxic behaviour of using people is Rampant. Within the Wired privacy is dead, information is king and currency, people backstab each other on a moments notice. We see the effect this might have on someone when Anti-Lain spreads the Rumour of Alice masturbating whilst thinking of a teacher at their school. Alice feels betrayed and disorientated by the fact that someone would do this to her but it also shows the effect on Lain. This was not the real Lain that did it but just because it looked like her and sounded like her then it must’ve been her, right? That’s the thought process that Alice and a lot of us have when we interact with people on the Internet. Who’s to say who’s who?
Lain undergoes a depression due to the fact that she’s been framed by someone in the wired and she’s now lost the one real friendship she’s had.
Alice is a symbol of true friendship within the show, as good as parasocial relationships may seem, as useful as they might be, as gratifying as they are; they will never replace or can replace the amazing phenomena of Real Friendship.
My Last Point.
It is possible to have a Parasocial relationship with a fictional character, hell most of use probably have feelings towards fictional characters but we know it’s not a relationship of true importance but what of Lain? Lain in fact does interact with us, there’s plenty of times where Lain breaks the fourth wall to interact with us directly, there’s times the fourth wall is broken by other characters to tell us to ”LOVE LAIN”. So is this a two way Parasocial Friendship? Did we have a PSI with Lain? Her effects on the real world and on real people may give credit to that thought, after all if something has an effect doesn’t that make it real?