From URL to IRL: To the friends we made in the digital age
Dominic Bui Viet pens an ode to our forgotten cyber pals.
Most internet-aged youths would no doubt be aware of the wild and wacky niches that exist in all corners of the web, and the even more wild denizens that occupy them. While parents may have thought that the internet was the ultimate anti-social vice, we were interacting with people across the globe, fuelled by the perfect combination of adolescent awkwardness and anonymity. From Tumblr to Habbo Hotel, these forgotten internet friends had an extraordinary impact on how we grew up, though they are now lost to the binary ether. Like the early dial-up internet of the 2000’s, these interactions were fleeting, easily disconnected and made weird noises when the phone rang.
Claire reminisces about what could have been:
‘[He] had a very well-respected Sirius Black themed blog’ she begins. Inquiring as to what made this blog so well-respected, I was assured that he had ‘a gazillion followers and made a tonne of good edits’.
“I met him through twitter and we used to tweet jokes at each other, [which] was the extent of early internet friendship to 13-year-old me.”
“But one day he wanted to meet up and this was back when I was more observing of the whole stranger danger thing so I was certain he would axe murder me and never spoke to him again.”
“Years later, there were pics of him [online] totally jacked with better groomed eyebrows circulating Twitter. I clicked on his profile and he had like 2,000 followers and no mentions of Harry Potter or anything similar.”
Wondering if Claire regrets not ever meeting up with him, she remarks “I’m glad he wasn’t crushed by my ghosting and is doing well.”
Sometimes, the seemingly harmless escapism we engage in online can give us fruitful insights into ourselves and the nature of others.
Eric sets the scene, “I was 9 and played a female Cleric on Maplestory. Under the guise of being 16, I met a guy, apparently aged 17 through a party quest, and I promptly joined his guild. We hit it off and added each other on MSN—chatting until early morning light without ever going on video.”
In a twist that exemplifies gender performativity better than my untouched Judith Butler readings ever did, Eric continues “After a few months, he confesses that he is a she: a lesbian who was using her male Dragon Knight to meet other women and come to terms with her own sexuality. My 9-year-old gay self, full well knowing that I’ve also been duplicitous, responds “Oh, that’s okay”. She never discovered the truth. We haven’t spoken since.”
But for all the impermanent exchanges, something truly unique can be found: moments of friendship unbound by distance and unconcerned by the social striations of offline life.
Elijah reflects on his time as part of the exclusive Vampire Diaries fandom.
“I didn’t have too many friends [in real life] at the time so I guess I just started to make friends with some of the people on my dashboard… It was mostly Aussie [Vampire Diaries] fans who chatted about the show.”
“After a while I started chatting there every day… and it was my first exposure to real friendship”
Recalling a moment that stuck with him to this day, Elijah continues “One of my friends… was this American girl. Her background was Iranian; I remember her teaching me about Farsi and stuff.”
“I logged onto Tumblr… after three years and I saw a message from her saying “Hi Elijah it’s Sara, I don’t know if you remember me, but I thought about you the other day. I hope everything’s good.”
The people we meet online can provide us with a valuable, but brief, respite from the narrow range of acceptable social currency. Unrestricted by what is ‘cool’, we’re free to revel in our most niche of interests, and to express and experiment with our passions in our formative years. We may never see them, hear their voice or even know their real names but to all of those who have left their mark on us in the strange world of online communities: thank you, and I hope you’re doing well.