Can we officially call for a moratorium on thinkpieces about how technology is killing our ability to interact with one another?
And, yes, I myself have used social media to make an ass out of myself, so we can all acknowledge that I am maybe not the most objective when it comes to these topics.
But seriously, as someone who spent her formative years learning how to skirt AOL's Parental Controls, this perennial pearl-clutching about how we're all going to die fused to our screens and with our lower halves slowly deflating like dampened papier-mâché never fails to make me roll my eyes.
I'm not only talking about Internet friends, though as we all know, those magical digital unicorns are often equally as important to us as people we meet in line at the Save-Mart. (I've actually only recently started to make friends online whom I'm probably unlikely to meet soon in person, and it still feels exciting and surreal, like I'm Living In The Future!)
I'm saying that had it not been for the ready presence of the Internet, a hell of a lot of my closest friendships would look dramatically different.
And most of all, he would have never caught my eye across a packed freshman quad two nights before class and screamed "KAT?!" as we both dashed away from our befuddled new dorm friends to hug each other frantically. Sometimes it makes me genuinely sad to imagine the alternate Internet-less universe where we just give each other the nod across a crowded lab classroom and then never speak to each other again.
Somewhere between then and now, though, we somehow grew to be the kind of codependent dickbags who write each other porn on Valentine's Day. For some reason or another, a hell of a lot of that bonding took place on the Internet, sometimes while we were sitting right next to each other.
A lot of it was due to the ensuing increase in communication, which is what most people cite as one of the Internet's greatest strengths in relationship-makers. And, to be sure, now that she and I are living basically across the world from each other, having the other basically within a minute's reach through our various shared social media is pretty invaluable.
More often, we'd be reading the exact same article that one of us had sent the other, usually about Middle Eastern politics (her) or gender theory (me). She'd shift irritably, starting, "OK, but—"
"Yeah, but you're not—"
"Did you get to the part—"
"Yes, yes, OK, I'm sending you this other thing, then we can discuss it."
And then silence again.
I'm sure it was totally obnoxious to onlookers, but there was something incredibly cozy about it. At the time, it didn't feel individually isolating at all; in fact, it felt sort of intimate. At this moment, you could be the only people straddling these two dimensions in this way: both the public, seemingly boundary-free digital one, and the limited, personalized real-life interaction of two people who enjoy each other's company.
It's as if the Internet is a ball humming with static electricity—as long as you're both touching it when you're holding hands, neither of you feels like you've been shocked.
This hasn't just been the case with her, though I think she was one of the first. A lot of my real-life friends spend a strange amount of time together just idly grazing the Internet, the same way a lot of us read together or smoke cigarettes together or, hell, watch a movie together. It's the same feeling of easy, quiet togetherness, and acting like one activity is some kind of recipe for social disaster while the others aren't is a fallacy of the most unnecessary order.