In Defense of the Internet Friend
The year is 2017 and the internet IS your friend.
Turn back the clock to ten years ago and I, a young teen, am talking to a friend. This pal has just joined Live Journal, or maybe even tumblr, and they’re telling me all about the great people they’ve met online.
"Wow, that’s great," I say, half-heartedly. 'Interesting that so many people are on there."
While I voice this unsubtle judgement-soaked statement externally, my internal monologue is, effectively, branding this friend as a weirdo. Someone who is akin to the image of the middle-aged man, living in his mother's basement, sitting in the dark covered in Dorito crumbs with the only light coming from his 3-5 computer screens parked in front of him.
I’m thinking to myself "What loser is so bad at making friends in person that they need to turn to the internet to help them?"
Today, it’s a different story. A not insignificant portion of people I speak to regularly I met through various forms of social media. Some of them live on different continents and yet, I consider them close-ish friends. Not through Tinder, but through Twitter, I met my now long-term boyfriend. Even as this article gets published, I’ll share it on a couple of channels to hoover up praise from communities full of people I’ve never, ever, met. I’ve become, in just a matter of years, the millennial equivalent of the sad scene I would have described at the age of thirteen.
However, I’m not here to shame myself or brand myself a weirdo too, but instead say that my adolescent/early teens self had it wrong. I’m here to make the case that friendships forged online, AKA Internet Friends, are not only great, cool, and fulfilling, but it are also completely and entirely normal.
On the former, according to the Pew Research Center in 2015, over 57% of teens have friends they met online and even so far back as 2011, people who used social networking platforms had, on average, twice as many friends online than IRL. Fast forward to 2017 where we have sliding into DMs, spam-liking Instagram selfies, and trends like #WeMetOnTwitter, it’s easy to see that things have even progressed in the last two years, let alone the last six. Now, if you don’t have cyber friends you met online, you are outside the norm.
But it’s not just that the Internet Friend is normal, it’s also educational. One of my favourite friends I’ve met online is from Brazil, a country I knew (and ultimately still know) little about. But just through knowing her and knowing about her life in Rio, my world has expanded massively and, without maintaining this untraditional friendship, I would never have had the chance to know about it. The things that make the internet good are what make the Internet Friend great: getting access to otherwise unavailable/hard to access information, but this way through intimate fulfilling friendships.
And that’s what I would argue is the best thing about making friends online. With quick access to all kinds of people, regardless of A/S/L, the process of finding people eerily similar to you becomes streamlined. Think back to how long it took you to find friends you liked at uni, for example. Trying out different societies, clubs and teams, sifting through your friends you spent time with out of convenience, and trying to make friends through your different courses. All of that effort, over so much time, to find a few close friends versus the process of, let’s say, joining a Facebook shitposting group for your favourite TV show. With little to no effort, you’re able to find a pool of like-minded individuals who you’re more likely to see eye-to-eye with.
The same goes for romantic relationships. Two of my Internet Friends were Internet Friends themselves meeting on Tumblr and ultimately began dating transatlantic-ly for over a year before meeting for the first time. Despite being an internet relationship, they are one of the best couples I know and have such a solid foundation that they already have plans for tying the knot. Really great relationships that exist today, both romantic and platonic, needed the internet to exist. They are yet another case for why meeting online is actually good, if not often better, than meeting people lazily based on geographic location.
Of course, we all have wonderful friends, partners, etc that we met thanks to good old luck and shared location and those are not to be devalued. However, my case is this: Internet Friend-shaming is over, and the case for starting friendships with your acquaintances online is strong. Join the mainstream of 2017 and make an Internet Friend, it might go better than you think.
- Words by Sarah Manavis.
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