If you’re reading this you are probably at least somewhat savvy about the internet. As I write this, I have my Facebook, Twitter, Pineterst, Gmail, Tumblr, and personal website all lined up at the top of my lap top screen. Ok, so maybe I have a *little* problem with closing my Google Chrome tabs. Sometimes I refer to myself as an internet tabs hoarder (for the record, I just looked this up and this is an actual thing)! The fact is, by choice or not, everyone in society today—particularly us #quarterlifers — is literally drowning in technology that brings us “closer together.”
I recently came across this video, which warns us that all of these tools that we use to keep ourselves connected to one another are, in actuality, making us lonelier.
Beyond the illusion of closeness with people we know, shows like Catfish and To Catch a Predator warn us about the dangers of revealing too much about ourselves online to strangers. We are taught that any new person that we meet online is either out to make fools of us, molest us, or con us out of all of our money. They are also probably obese, or have acne problems, or are 80 years old. How an 80 year old manages to work a chat room I don’t know, seeing as my 60 year old mother can barely work a DVD player.
Yet usage of social media and related instant communication tools like texting, Snapchat, Vine, etc show no signs of slowing down. With all of this varying propaganda, it seems that using types of tools to an extreme is something akin to treating yourself to Taco Bell after a hard day at the office—something that everyone does but is ashamed to admit, and will readily berate anyone else for doing.
I will readily concede that messaging your address to a stranger on Facebook is probably not the best idea. Similarly, I’ll agree that texts and picture messages with friends can’t take the place of face-to-face interaction with someone. However, does that mean that people who regularly use these tools should be led to believe they are inherently lonely, shallow, inauthentic and seeking substitutes for real relationships? Should people who prefer these modes of communication be, in a sense, shamed for the way that they communicate best and most comfortably?
Time for a bit of honesty here.
Not the sort of shy you would normally notice, especially if you get to know me. But the sort of shy that when I meet anyone new, I immediately withdraw into my shell and don’t say a word because I’m running over and over in my head what I should say and by the time I figure it out the conversation has already changed directions. And then I just smile or laugh or tuck my hair behind my ear and wait for an opportunity to use the line I’ve already crafted in a different context.
I remember one time in early elementary school wanting to invite a friend over and my mom telling me, “Call them or it won’t happen.”
I cried. Like legit sobbing. Begging. “PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME CALL. I’M SCARED.” I never did make that phone call. Even after overcoming my phone anxiety I still had troubles making calls on my own. In junior high when I had a crush on a boy I called my friend, and then three-way called the boy and would make my friend ask if he was home. today, when I’m in a meeting at the office I am much more likely to be the one sitting, listening, and taking notes rather than offering up my opinion on something even if I think I have a good idea. Even as a young (and fabulous) twenty-something I have trouble shutting off that voice in my brain that makes me second guess everything that I might want to say.
Through the use of the internet, however, I’ve been able to explore my own strengths (and, at points, weaknesses). I’ve, both personally and professional, truly been able to express all those awesome parts of my self that seem to run for cover when I’m in an in-person situation
As a youngster I knew that I was much more myself when I could write things down. I was a mainstay in my elementary school’s annual literary magazine and could write a mean haiku about dolphins. I started using AOL instant messenger probably around 3rd or 4th grade, back in the days when the only website I visited was Nick Online. Online though, people listened to me. I could strike up a conversation. I could finally say what I was thinking without stumbling or being too nervous to say it in the first place. I was confident. Instead of listening intently to peoples talking, hoping and praying for something to come up that I could speak about, I could talk in real time and have an actual conversation.
It wasn’t like I was trying to be someone else— even though some people did and still use the internet for that purpose— I was being the ME that was locked inside me but couldn’t come out because, for whatever reason, society favors articulate, graceful, self-assured people, even if people who aren’t those things have great ideas and important things to say. In the workplace, it is such a relief for me to be able to Skype and Email co-workers, clients, and partners where I can get all of my thoughts out, instead of bumbling around like some inexperienced intern, just because I need more time to think things through before I speak. The rise of internet and social technology has improved both my personal and professional life immensely.
About two years ago, I found myself an online community of amazing, hilarious, and wonderful people. Understandably, because of time, distance, and the fact that the internet is the venue where we met, we spend a lot of time communicating with one another via social media and instant communication tools. Using these modes of communication, my new friends are able to show me every part of themselves. Because we’re a community of seasoned users of these tools, when I speak to these people via text, AIM, G-Chat, we banter back and forth as if it’s in-person. Through the use of face-to-face, and voice chatting tools (Google Hangout, Skype) it’s ALMOST like being in the same room.
I can’t speak for all of my online friends, but I feel like if I asked them what keeps them coming back to these modes of communication and this community, I feel like many of them would feel like I do. The online venue allows expressions of otherwise hidden parts of ourselves. As a result of being able to speak our minds and show these previously absent parts of our own narrative, my friendships with this group of people are fully authentic, multi-dimensional, and in no way “fake” or “shallow.” No edits.
Even further, these relationships serve to improve my relationships and interactions offline as well. Being able put these previously hidden parts of ourselves into practice with real relationships with real people, allows us to bring these aspects of our personality to the forefront, thereby becoming more comfortable, more confident, and more in-touch with ourselves. This self-knowledge makes it easier to build connections with others and go into situations with the same ease as online interactions. It is precisely BECAUSE of my friendships that I’m able to, on occasion, speak up during that meeting, or make that important phone call, or make the maid of honor speech at my best friend’s wedding.
Maybe my friends and I are in the minority and these throngs of #millennials are just searching for ways to escape who they are and become someone else. Or maybe they do want nice, clean, edited versions of themselves. However, my friends and I are not like those people that you see on Catfish, afraid to meet in-person because we know that we are just leading a fake existence online. Instead, we make regular trips to visit and come together. Just like your friends from college, we hang out, we party, we have awkward crushes on each other, we make bad decisions, we reminisce and make fun of each other…. And are in no way different then how we present ourselves online.
I don’t believe that there should be a natural selection process to weed out shy, dorky, or awkward people, or people who just prefer a bit more time to think their thoughts. Why should we keep them from meaningful relationships, good jobs, and being the best of themselves. Similarly, I believe that we all have stories to tell, and that as people we should be able to seek out communities and opportunities to tell them.
Check out these people. What do you notice? Anything besides we’re foxy as all get out? Probably not. Besides the fact that they send me deluges of notifications to play Candy Crush (seriously guys, stop), we could be any group of college, high school, or work friends. We aren’t lonely. We’re real. Our friendships are real. And they are whole.
So to sum up, I’ll just leave this here: 26 Undeniable Facts About Having an Online Best Friend.