Yesterday, I Skyped a girl I have never met, yet a girl I have been speaking to every day for four years. She lives in England and is starting her first year of university this month. She occasionally sends me sparkly stickers and British jewelry, and I whimsically mail over cards covered in amateur doodles of cartoon animals.
I watched as she picked out a prom dress, I listened to her rants about her qualms and insecurities, I told her dumb jokes to alleviate the stress of exam season. She taught me a bit of Welsh, dragged me along on her European vacations, gave me a tour of her British life and customs—but all through a web camera.
She helped me fall in love with a culture I’ve never experienced firsthand, yet one I feel immersed by each time I speak to her. I can honestly say I love her—in the most platonic, yet endearing of ways.
We met four years ago, in an online Harry Potter forum at the height of my high school obsession phase. Though I slightly cringe at the idea now, finding this group was exactly what I needed at the time.
Growing up with skepticism surrounding online chat-rooms and Internet stranger-danger, I knew I was treading against the culmination of a lifetime of warnings. I was initially extremely cautious, as I feared my story could be the next Lifetime movie about murder through online recklessness. I would become that “dumb girl” with “no common sense” that everyone berated all the time.
First, it was simply chatting casually with strangers online, all of us behind the username of a Harry Potter character. Then, it was adding each other on social media as our real identities—and the questionable “What if they are actually 60-year-old predators and not the 16-year-old girls their profiles say they are?” As we slowly gained each other’s trust through our conversations, video chats, and heart-to-hearts, we realised that this was something so very real.
We shared parts of our cultures and customs of our countries. I learned about the English schooling system, a few classic British recipes, and an adoration for cities I’d never heard of before. I butchered some Australian slang, while my new friends tried on “the ‘Murrican accent.” I felt myself becoming more cultured even though I sat isolated behind my laptop.
This seemingly trivial—even silly—Internet community left me with lifelong friends and a candor toward new people on the web. Finding this outlet was what I needed to overcome the trying tribulations of adolescence, the raging fear of the future, and the desperate grasp onto my receding childhood.
It is often comforting to speak to a profile picture that accepts our confessions without a face of judgment. Sharing across a screen allows for an unbiased empathy that we cannot always find in real life. We can divulge our weight of qualms, insecurities, idiosyncrasies—and not receive a look of unrequited understanding.
On the web, our scope of friends is not only limited to the people physically tangible to us, rather expanded to a world of others with common interests and mutual life struggles. We find ourselves in compatibility with people we haven’t even met yet, and people we may never meet.
Through mediums such a Youtube, Twitter, and blog forums such as WordPress and Medium, the network of ideas is vaster than others. It has become increasingly simple to reach out to writers whose articles we admire, build relationships with content creators we follow, or simply connect with individuals with the same interests and opinions.
The Internet now allows us to love people we’ve never met and places we’ve never been. Progressively so, what used to be a hyper-cautious ‘beware stranger danger’ online, has evolved into an openness toward people who are potential friends, simply bounded between computer screens.
*A special thanks to K, L, A, and TSP.