The internet, ehhh. This is a classic Simpsons line, for those old enough to remember the best of the best. We can extol on that later. But let’s dig in on the reason the thing we all use this thing, for everything and maybe what that existentially all means. Nothing. It really means nothing but for posterity let’s pretend it does.
I had my first home computer, that I bought myself in and around …. 2001. I think I’m sure it was that because the big-ticket item for Y2K was getting a dog. I know he came before the computer. It was an Apple iMac in the turquoise. Honestly, it just took up space on the desk. Using it for news or as the go to source information was still in its infancy. When I did use it, the dog hated it, and would sit right underneath you and make it known this weird stance of sitting and not paying attention to him was not on. He really hated it. There were a few sites I went to and most of them were just for information. You certainly, or I wasn’t at that time using it for connecting to other people and the outer world. Lots of people were, but I just didn’t. I didn’t know how and was just far too shy I think to drill down into more of what was out there. I still read the paper, religiously for heavens sake. Who am I kidding, if a newspaper is around, I’m still reading that religiously. It’s like a hardcover book. The smell, the texture, the endorphins … I digress.
It wasn’t until I got a laptop that, wow; there are people here on the internet that are communicating with strangers, and making friends and doing cool stuff. Even when I tentatively discovered that, I wasn’t venturing very far from shore. I was all voyeur. The lurker. The observer. I sound like a demented romance novel character – the aggrieved woman. I wasn’t that of course, I just thought everyone seemed so cool and sophisticated extolling on their thing. There were sites for cooking and fashion and books, though not as thorough as today’s iterations they were still offering a lot of people outlets for self-expression and identity. I didn’t even have a MySpace, I remained identity-less (is that a word) for a long time. But for the most part it all seemed very quaint and even publications now posting on said internet wondered, is this thing here to stay, maybe we’ll bore of it. What a silly, cute thing to think in the early to mid naughts.
My internet world changed, a lot, when I discovered a website that was speaking to me where I was at the time. No, it was not a Mommy blog – if you’re into those, if they help you, if you enjoyed hearing you were doing it wrong, when in fact that wasn’t the case, I’m happy for you – for me, my initiation in finding a voice for the one in my head, was on a site that shared my passion at that time. A soap opera. Yes. A soap opera.
Growing up my sister and Gran would religiously watch my Gran’s ‘stories’ after school. During the summers we could voraciously catch up. General Hospital was I think my Gran’s favourite and my sister and I, to this day, keep a back handed eye on it. Just in case something gets really good, or you know, to complain about something. The site I stumbled upon, merely by accident, talked about the show and our mutual love of a never really paired couple. It was so exciting to me to see others talking about just a hobby. Just a tv show. In every way it was rather gentle. I remember laughing a lot at posts. I remember how excited I got when someone said they liked something I wrote. Someone saw me, even from inside their own computer. Amazing. Over the years as the online world evolved, so did the site and eventually became an echo in the lives of its former posters. Which is fine. I don’t rue any of the time I spent on there because it was wonderful and cathartic and healing and often just a lot of fun. And fun could be lacking when during that time I had a small child at home. It was a release.
The internet world had changed and evolved. How people interacted with it changed. The big and dominant forces changed, but not always for good. Not always serving their own core values. Content and interactions could be fraught and messy and unkind. Clearly, disinformation, because anyone can write anything at anytime and get enough people on board motivated by feeeeeelings, to believe something not fact, is the space we’re all occupying now. But it’s still giving back to me in ways I never expected. The interwebs and those corners of fandom and nerdiness gave and continue to give me what a lot of what I might be missing in life. Sometimes big things, like intimacy or even love; sometimes comfort and mindless innocuous jokes. The data nerds and GenXers (yes, the internet is built by us with boomer money) who built a god, gave a lot of us something else too; namely, friendship.
Without the access to what now is like a second appendage to my kid, the online world made up of sequences of numbers, created friendship. Even if it’s disingenuous when I want it to be more. If it oft was just one sided. Even if it wasn’t meant to be a lifetime connection. Even if everyone thought I was daft. I have gotten more than the sum of its digits and sequential mathematical invention. No, I can’t always hold those relationships in my hand. I can’t always have them near. But I can still place value in what the ether provides – a sense of belonging.
So much of our day-to-day relationships can be cloaked in decorum, politeness, the sanctity of putting the brave face on. Over and over again there is no doubt that holding up our end of what is polite society can wear on us. Hence, the freedom of being online. You can be who you want – you can be who you are – because everyone else is looking to be who they are too. Are there perils, most definitely. Are there risks, absolutely. But the upsides do seem to outweigh the negative. Most of us have become adept at weeding out and not engaging, on instinct, those not out for a sharing of mutual humanity. That there are so many not wanting to share in that is quite shocking. But it remains their loss.
I get to decide, up front, what I want to engage in and with whom and the friendships in those spaces are liberating. They can most definitely be more honest. They can and do cry with you when you need it, they can lift you up when you are down, and you get to decide on your own terms, over and over again, how things play out. When done right the dark void of the unknown and the people sitting at their computers, on their phones, tablets, wherever they are in the world are relationships of active consent. All the time. It’s the sexiest space to occupy; freeing you to learn more about who you are. You get to take that newfound empowerment out into real world scenarios. Decidedly there are many things I have done that are a direct result of knowing the people I know who live inside my computer. Who let me into the small spaces of their lives and let me reciprocate that trust by striving to be more. In the sense the online engagements and group texts and late-night DMs on book boyfriends and arts and crafts, are nonphysical hugs. And I’m not a hugger, naturally, by nature. I’ve had to work up to be that in my real-life relationships (for reasons I can get into another time). I thank them for that.
I’m a huge dork. Geek. I think geek is the one I got called the most. It tracks, quite honestly. And growing up nerds did not yet run the world, but were *running* the world, I just didn’t know it. Us tweedy, bespectacled, hunched over, quiet and shy loony tunes didn’t know we’d get the chance to run the world. We didn’t know our love of Star Wars and Star Trek would carry us out of basements and dark closets into the light; a light that shines bright every time some kid doesn’t feel so alone but they found a forum online for their love of fx makeup or collecting teapots or out of circulation stamps. And all of those spaces exist. They’re there and offer up like mindedness in a real world that will still try to single you out as being different. The dichotomy is jarring. Online we can be more of home than a physical one. We can feel loved when unloved. Can explore when exploration is unaccepted.
There is also much to deplore about being online; namely the corporations that seem to not so subtlety own it; the bottom feeders punching up trying to bring us down; and well, general crime. However, there is much more good on the internet than we give it credit for. It’s enriched our day to day lives, it’s brought us closer to closed off parts of the planet, it’s slayed real life dragons and is changing younger generations to do the actual stuff only dweebs were dreaming about. It can change lives. It does.
At the end of the day, I love the internet. It’s given me so much. It’s given me so many wonderful people I get to call friend. It’s given me comfort when I needed it most, it’s been a cheerleader when I was down. And even if you didn’t know the person who one day online told you to have a nice day, it made a difference to you, whether you knew it at the time or in the moment. Those little pieces add up to make us better people, to be able to turn to the person next to us on the bus and say good morning. To see the person who serves you your coffee. To get to know a coworker beyond the water cooler. Our virtual lives and persona are us and we need to free our tactile lives from the confines of just trying to fit in or coast along without being noticed to truly elevate our quality of life. I’m hopeful we’re getting there.
I’m still a geek. A huge one. I’m awkward and clumsy and blurt out things after trying to be quiet for too long. Inside my phone the internet people (like Children of the Corn but everyone is less bludgeony) told me those things were ok. And I believe them. So, now I live them more and more. It doesn’t make me for everyone, but it makes me for someone. Hey, maybe even you there, reading this now. Let me see your light shine, I promise it’s not the blue light of that iPad I’ll see, it’s you.
Wanna make tea, show me your thing and hear about mine? Let me tell you about this General Hospital.