by Michael Coghlan on Flickr (edited)
As children, we are told over and over, “Don’t talk to strangers.” We are also told to not take candy from them. Then, they send us trick-or-treating… Thanks mom and dad. As we grow older and our independence grows, and these rules seem less important. Social media has played a huge role in our communication between “strangers”. Sometimes bonds form, and these people, once strangers, become friends. As someone whose friends live all over the world, I can tell you that it’s painful.
It’s also the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Honesty & Connection
When speaking to someone online, there’s a sense of openness that I have experienced nowhere else. Not in the way of endangering oneself, but pure honesty. It’s a genuine relationship, and a connection like no other. In addition, those with social anxiety may find it easier to form relationships online. Perhaps it’s the ability to delete your words before they’re out there. Perhaps it’s the lack of ability to see the other person’s face when you admit something shameful you’ve done. Regardless of what or why, each interaction attaches a string between you and the other person, intertwining you. Then, one day, you find yourself looking up the cost of airline tickets to wherever they live.
Acceptance & Hope
Everyone has seen hate on the internet. However, nobody seems to pay any attention to the abundance of acceptance, which isn’t too hard to find if you’re looking in the right places. For example, many of the people I’ve met don’t conform to the gender binary. Often times, said person’s family is unaccepting, to the point of the former escalating into suicidal thoughts. Sometimes their online friends are the only ones keeping them going with their love and support.
Friends give you hope. Sometimes when your direct surroundings are too much, there are very few things to keep you going. A simple conversation with someone, even if they’re halfway across the world, can save a life. There’s hope of meeting them one day. Sometimes you do, and it’s incredible.
The things we learn in school are limited. Knowledge is second-handed. When your friend lives in another place, you can learn so much– and not just what we’re required to memorize for a test. Different food, different holidays… It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s easy to not realize the extent of your knowledge until you know a Jeopardy answer.
So close, yet so far
The closest you can get with a friend far away is video chatting. When a friend is hurt, or scared, the natural instinct is to comfort them. When your friend is a thousand miles away… What do you do then? It’s the middle of the night and you’re sleeping… but it’s the middle of the day where your friend lives, and they’re struggling. It hurts everyone when you can’t be there for someone.
It’s also difficult to maintain an online relationship. Most people see their friends at school, work, on the weekends. When your friend lives across the globe, it isn’t so easy.
Regardless of all possible precautions, it is very difficult to determine the identity of who resides behind a screen. We’ve all heard it- “The person you’re talking to is really a middle aged pedophile!!”
Thanks. I’ll write that down.
Sure, there are some creeps. Of course there are. There are creeps all over the world, it’s just easier to hide it on the internet. I’ve met a few. One I never would’ve doubted. He molested at least two girls. Another blackmailed many girls into sending nude photos… for years.
Even though not all people on the internet are creeps, many parents are unsupportive of any type of relationship with “strangers”.