Why some of your closest friends might live in your pocket
By Rebecca Peterson, Humour Editor
Children of the late ’80s and ’90s might remember cheesy, somewhat-terrifying PSA videos on the importance of “cyber safety.” These films would often detail the importance of never giving out personal information online, never speaking to online strangers, and for the love of God, never putting any photos of yourself up on the terrifying high seas of the “world wide web.”
This was before Facebook was invented.
I was an avid believer in the terror of the Internet, in that I was certain there were predators and scary men in moustaches hiding behind each web page, just waiting to snatch me up. I never spoke to anyone on chat boards, and I never interacted with anyone on even child-oriented sites like Neopets. I mostly explored Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter fansites, or played snowboarding flash games on MiniClips—when that was still a thing people did.
It was only after I found myself on a blogging site—okay, I’ll admit it, it was Tumblr—that I started talking to other people on the Internet. I was shocked to find that most people were not scary strangers wearing ’90s-styled sweaters and large moustaches, but rather were people my age, who shared similar interests as me. In fact, I was shocked to find that I was making friends, friends I’d never met before, and, judging by the oceans between us, might never meet in person.
I think as a society we’re slowly starting to move past the idea that relationships started online are somehow less “real” than the ones that happen organically in our physical day-to-day, but the stigma still remains. For people who are not on the Internet as much as some, the idea of having a close friend that you’ve never met before might sound a little bizarre. Maybe even a tiny bit sad. After all, can you actually have a real connection with someone you don’t know in person?
I argue that you absolutely can.
The person on the other end of the conversation, after all, is a person. They have their daily lives, stresses, dreams, interests, likes and dislikes, just like you do. In fact, the distance can often help a relationship between two “strangers” deepen—people are often much more likely to open up in writing to a sympathetic ear who is not sitting directly across from them. Presence can be intimidating, and distance allows both parties to weigh their words carefully and take words at face value, for the most part. But a good friend on the Internet doesn’t necessarily have to be someone you vent to about your life. It can be comforting to know that when the politics and drama and daily stresses of life threaten to overwhelm you, there’s someone on the other side of a messaging screen who just wants to talk about Dragon Age for a little while.
Obviously, there is still a concern about safety on the Internet, one that shouldn’t be understated. However, I think the value of Internet friendships should be fully recognized and appreciated. We live in a world where we can make friends and learn from people all over the world—a world where we can have close friends in New York, in Tel Aviv, in Perth, in Singapore. Why not celebrate this? And why not marvel at the fact that we can send a hug across the globe to someone who might need it, even if it’s in the form of a GIF of two cats cuddling.