Many many years ago, a young Shikagoland randomly saw the first season finale of a show called “Smallville”. Intrigued, she sought out all the information she could find about the show and stumbled upon a group of like-minded individuals. Eventually she was invited to a birthday gathering of one of the people she met and on that night of southern food, lots of liquor and improv comedy she unknowingly forged friendships that would last for years. Through that small group she met dozens of others. Over the ten years (omg jesus fuck) that followed this group of friends has been through marriages, births, deaths, divorces, jobs, cross-country moves, career changes, and all the little events that mark the passage of time. Some became best friends, some became distant memories (like that broad who…never mind) but a core group has stayed tight all this time.
The kicker? I’ve never met most of them face to face.
I’m in the age range of people who knew life before internet but also managed to grow up with it. I remember paying for internet by minute (AOL discs for the win!), getting kicked offline when my mom picked up the phone, and dipping my toe into the scary/exciting/ASL check world of online chat rooms.
Back in those days, parents around the world became convinced that the internet was full of perverts (it is but so is your office/grocery store/frat house) and that there is no reason to ever meet people you chat with online. The thought of a person going out to meet with someone they’ve only chatted with brought to mind visions of “missing” posters (and a soundtrack of Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” if you were a teen in the 90s) and episodes of “To Catch a Predator”.
However, with the advent of sites like Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, etc the internet became more about reconnecting with people you already knew once upon a time. Social media turned the internet into a never-ending high school reunion (and provided fodder for many a quarter life crisis) instead of the shady alley it was once thought of.
Although there was that one time I came home from a trip out-of-town to a gathering of girls with a cd of gay porn but whatever.
But while its nice to re-connect with people you used to pass notes with (paper ones, for you young kids. We totally used to write things on PAPER and pass them with our HANDS. I know right? Oh god…don’t cry. It’s not that bad), restricting your online interactions to people you’ve known in a past life does very little for the person you are now. In my “real” life I don’t have anyone to squeal about the Olympics with, or who understands that your mother asking you what fan fiction is is one of the most terrifying situations you can ever find yourself in. Luckily I have a “real” friend who loves kpop
but she stans all the wrong people and I simply CANNOT with her (jk!) but most people I know would probably think me a bit sad for getting worked up over the changing hair colors of rich 20something Koreans I’ll never meet. Whatever. Some people play fantasy football, I get my jollies elsewhere. DON’T JUDGE ME, BRO.
The simple fact is that as we get older, the natural spaces for making friends fall away. The college buddies move away. Your happy hour work friends take new jobs. The friends you met up with every Saturday night become people you see two or three times a year for brunch after six rounds of cancellations and re-scheduling.
That core group of buddies I mentioned earlier were initially found via the Smallville forums on Television Without Pity. That lead to me getting a Livejournal account (back in the days where you had to be given a code by a user to make an account), where I spent many happy years posting endlessly about nonsense. However, with the exception of brief resurgences of frantic posting brought on by my love of Winter sports and discovery of kpop I’ve mostly left the daily personal blogging behind…in favor of 140 character spouts of genius/madness on twitter.
Most of my followers on Twitter are people I know from the Livejournal days, mixed in with some kpop folks, “real life” friends, and some random people I’ve picked up along the way. I’m pretty candid with my life on twitter and I think that most of the people I interact with are being themselves as well. Given that I stop being polite and start getting real, I’m more than ok that my follower count is low. Frankly the less people who see me screaming about how much I hate my job or how much I want to shag Ryan Lochte senseless, the better.
But outside of being an outlet for my crazy, Twitter has given me yet another opportunity to meet all sorts of people who I would never encounter in my normal circles and some of these “strangers” have added more to my life than those Facebook friends I’ve known since I was a teenager with bad bangs and Harry Potter glasses.
I’ve been lucky enough to connect with a group of people who live in my neighborhood (#albanyparkassholes represent!), and while I’ve only had chance to hang out with some of them once or twice at the most, that didn’t stop one kind soul from coming to my apartment at 10 on a random weeknight as I sat on my couch screaming (and tweeting) in fear because there was a mouse in a trap in my kitchen…who was also screaming (but not tweeting). I had resigned myself to suffering the long night waiting for the damn thing to die but she came over and put both of us out of our misery. Thats friendship. No matter how it started.
I was reminded of that event this past Saturday when I was attending Lollapalooza and it was evacuated due to an approaching storm. As I was reasonably sure that the festival was going to re-open I was reluctant to leave the downtown area…but I didn’t have any place to go. I tweeted about the situation and a twitter friend who attends an art school in the area swooped in to offer to sign us into her building to wait it out. I’ve never actually met this person before. We “know” each other through other people we “know” via twitter. I didn’t even know what she looked like. But due to her kindness I passed the storm watching it through the windows in their student center while remaining dry and comfortable in the air conditioning with sustenance provided by vending machines. I could have been sweating it out underground in the Millennium Park garages, crammed into a fast food restaurant, or out on the street like these
It was while sitting and waiting out the storm that I began to reflect on the impact these friendships have had on my life. Despite the fact that I consider myself a friendly person, its very hard for me to make friends. Just like everyone else I get into my ruts. I rarely deviate from the path of my daily life but I’ve manged to make friends of all walks of life, people from quite literally all around the world, people who I have absolutely nothing in common with on the surface yet we’ve bonded all the same.
So to you crazy internet people, whether I found you via TWoP, Livejournal, Tumblr, or Twitter, I thank you all for being a part of my life. I can’t imagine what it would be like without you.
And for those who might think this weird? You’re reading this. On the internet. Which makes you a weird internet person too. Embrace it.