Online Relationships: To All the Internet Friends I Have Loved Before
There are so many relationships one can form online: A friend? A fan? A follower? Maybe your boo? And all the things in between.
People who you follow don’t necessarily have to be your friend now. The whole idea of following someone isn’t a construction of the internet, but its implication are new. How? Well you can join a cult or a group and you do not have to step out of the house. This would sound impossible to some a few years back but now it is as common as people now going and raiding the infamous Area 51. (Pun intended)
Isn’t it funny when you think how years before talking to complete strangers was just not safe? Was just not possible? Then On October 29, 1969 at 10:30 PM, internet history was made, as it was born with the transfer of one simple message. The computer scientists at BBN Technologies who created ARPANET, which eventually developed into the Internet we know today.
Our family, friends and people we know lived miles away from us and we used to wait days to get a telegram or a phone call. And the phone calls were oh so expensive! That we had to make sure we kept track of time so that our phone bills do not sky rocket. Then came in Facebook, this was a breakthrough for internet friendship. Since then everyone, regardless of their age started using the internet. And hence people who were miles away from us, on the other side of the planet became so accessible. We could call them anytime, message them and talk to them and yes, even see them – that is where video calls came in handy. Though blurred the calls made us happy.
This is when long distance relationships also came into existence. A couple who was far away from each other could talk, see and text each every day. This was a boon and also a bane. People couldn’t stand being away from each other. They were so close yet so far. This resulted in frustration. A lot of people couldn’t take it, their loved on was right in front of their eyes but yet they couldn’t touch them, feel them. For some internet brought them close but for some it just grew them apart.
The complicating and uniquely internet factor here is that most of these online people you don’t know and might never meet. (Although, you’ll probably direct message since mutuals are usually people you share interests with.) It’s an emotional affair of sorts, and when this happens over a number of years, it starts to acquire the luster of real friendship. What does it mean to know about the mundane details of someone’s life, watching it at a remove but starring in it anyway?
The lack of boundaries of the internet has enabled all kinds of connections, a lot of stories now start online. Earlier when the whole idea of growing up and the idea of a worldwide connective tissue was still strange and new, there was the idea of stranger danger! And what does that mean? It means that you’d be hurt more by a stranger from the internet than by the people closer to you. Making internet friends then felt like a fraught endeavor because what if they weren’t the person they said they were online? Of course, many of them were, and many fears were misplaced.
And isn’t that the main problem we all face today? There was famous movie called Sierra Burgess where a normal ordinary looking girl – Sierra takes up the identity of a bully. This bully happens to be a very beautiful girl. And she starts talking to a good-looking guy with a false identity. Eventually the guy comes to know and the bully takes Sierra’s side and the guy ends up falling for Sierra because he loved who she was as a person. How ridiculous can people get? Clearly this is called catfishing. Imagine that happened to you or your close friend. The whole relationship started on a false note and you were cheated! That is what is happening, people create fake accounts and fool people. And movies like these ‘GLORIFY CATFISHING’ and raise false hopes to teenagers that it is ok to do such things.
And as time passed, as posting about your life went from the exception to the norm, the danger of strangers evaporated or, at least, people aren’t as afraid anymore of meeting other people they’ve only interacted with online. Online friendships only really work if someone’s presence carries some degree of the real person within it. We’re not strangers anymore. Partially, that’s because of online dating, which is where the idea of meeting a random person you only knew about based on what they put online was normalized. The fear of being alone, as it turns out, is more powerful than most of the others. Partially, we just live online now.
That it’s now mundane to have and meet internet friends suggests something deeper has changed in today’s life, something related to how we befriend people now in the first place. A common refrain about getting older is that, as you grow up, it becomes harder to make friends. There are simply fewer spaces where speaking with a new person is sanctioned, and sometimes life can be too busy already to allow people in. Although the internet can be isolating, it has also allowed people of all ages to bond over their shared interests without the burden of having to be in the same place at the same time. It’s a shift from the old narratives of lifelong friends being neighbors or those college or high school people you’ve kept up with. It’s liberated friendship from the nuclear family narrative.