So, how many times have we heard this in our life? If you’re a 90’s kid, like me, you have probably heard this a million times over. Don’t trust people online, don’t give them details about yourself, that person in the chat is OBVIOUSLY a 65 year old male looking for a young girl. Profiles are fake, people lie etc. I grew up honestly believing the worst in people, especially those who are online. And while I may not have been online a whole ton during my childhood, I still was aware of the warnings. Only being allowed to play Neopets online; and only after my sister had done it first, giving the approval that yes I would ONLY be using it for games.
My first facebook account was hidden from my mom, which I felt so guilty about I immediately deleted and than asked her if I could make one and she relented. Talking to people online was such a foreign thing to me, like I still thought that I had to seriously protect my email because if the wrong person got a hold of it then someone could know everything about me. Chats were a huge no and you can forget about connecting with people at all besides calling them on the home phone or talking to them in person.
I was also of the generation that grew up with the introduction of cell phones into all of our daily lives. I can remember picking up the oldest, crappiest flip phone from a free box at a garage sale and all my friends thought I was literally the bomb.com because I had a (unserviced) cell phone. I was 12, this was the life that I grew up in.
But slowly, we all got phones and we all got facebook. My Facebook dates back to 2008 so I was one of the firsts. Not super early I know, but I can remember when facebook became a thing. After being released to everyone, it was thrilling to be signing up for something that could instantly connect me to all my friends, plus some people that I knew but had never actually talked to. I wasn’t quite old enough at the time to have had a myspace, nor was it really that popular like facebook has become.
But the warnings still stayed, even when society began changing. My mom constantly asked me who I was talking to. Who I was chatting. “Who are you texting” she would ask. much to my annoyance because I was not about to tell her about the cute guy I liked that week. I wasn’t about to tell her about my friends conversations, I was not about to tell her any of the conversations I had. Not because they were particularly bad, but because I grew up in the generation that NEEDED to protect who they talked to and about what because then we would get the “lecture” and we grew up hearing it so we didn’t want it anymore. I was constantly questioned about who I was talking to; their age, gender, what their family was like, siblings, parents, did they go to church? How do I know them? I remember my mom getting so mad one time because upon this intense questioning about one of my close friends I mumbled a very annoyed “I don’t know” or a blasé one word answer. She had told me “when I was younger I knew everything about my friends, I knew all about their family, I knew what they liked and I even knew how long their parents had been together.” saying this in a very matter of factly, and judgmental, sort of way. It wasn’t that I didn’t know, but I was sick of being peppered with a million questions because somehow if I knew the wrong person I would end up dead. If I talked to the “wrong” person, was associated in anyway or was friends with them, that could mean life or death. And while I can understand the fear of this in any parents eyes now, as a child it seemed a little too much to have to tell my mom every friends whole life story.
So, when I got to college, things really changed. I had a taste of freedom that I had not had before, especially with the internet. Not drastically mind you, but that warning began to fade from my mind. My first room mate was assigned to me and I got to know her through her facebook. Although facebook did a poor job, mainly because you make facebook what you want it to be. That was my first lesson in the reality of online.
I began to grow my twitter, chatting with people over twitter threads about how awesome Buffy the Vampire Slayer was. I’ve had twitter almost as long as facebook, thanks to a certain high school blocking facebook and not twitter; all the kids at my school signed up for one. This was my first taste of the friendliness of strangers on the internet. The warnings all but faded in my mind at this point. I mean my mom never really spent that much time warning us so much as banning us from really chatting with random strangers online. And while she had interrogated the crap out of us, or at least tried, about who we were in contact she didn’t have to continually tell us to be wary of the internet. The times she did say it, combined with the need to know every thing we did, was enough to put the warning in our head.
So, when I decided that college wasn’t for me, and I left the big ol city of Chicago to travel back to dreary old Iowa I had (in all reality) nothing to do. I had snagged a part time on call job at the time and had whole mornings free. I was not used to this, I had no class, no tests, no social life anymore. I really suck at making friends and all the ones I had made I had left back in Chicago. So I made use of my library, using the online catalogue. I remember that this was about the time that John Greens “The Fault in Our Stars” came out. I read it, I loved it and I wanted more. Somehow, I had stumbled upon the depths of youtube “book tube” community. I found a fan music video for TFIOS and instantly fell in love. When I realized that there was this whole community making videos solely dedicated to books I was thrilled. I wanted to be a part of this, I wanted to join in. So, I sat down and filmed a review on my phone of enders game. The video (and my channel) has long since been deleted. I filmed it wrong, the quality sucked but I was hooked. I began to follow book people on twitter, talk to them about their channels. Have discussions over different books. And my life changed.
This certainly wasn’t the first time I had chatted with people online. I constantly frequented Omegle, and many friends I had made from camp were strictly online. Although Omegle was a little more risqué. You had to be pretty careful when on Omegle. But Omegle was good for a chat when you were bored, or for a nice troll once in a while.
I began to “meet” people online, we shared the same interests and we got along really well. I had never been wonderful at making friends so to be quite honest it was mostly me talking to people on their stuff they posted and them responding. But a few people actually stuck around. And some people I even talk to today. I remember I met one of my friends in the book tube community. We both made videos and both enjoyed it but did not have the major passion for it that others did. We don’t always talk every day or even every week but we still communicate and that friendship means a lot to me. Pushing past those warnings and boundaries, proving that not every single person online is a pedophile.
I met another friend over Game of Thrones, and we chat on occasion as well. While we haven’t exchanged personal information I do consider us to be good friends. We share a lot of the same views, and a huge love for game of thrones.
And just recently, I joined twitch. I have had the best conversations with people over video games. I have no fear telling people about myself now. Heck I run a blog where I try to be as open as possible. You can truly meet some really amazing people online, and while the warnings we received as children held some truth we also live in a very different world now. We live and thrive in an online world. People make money from youtube. People Stream them playing a game, and as weird as it sounds, you meet some really solid people on there.
And to be quite honest, the people online have never really hurt me quite like the people in my real life right now. All of my best friends are “online” or texting friends. Mainly because I made my best friends in Chicago and then moved. I also really suck at keeping friends apparently, and have somehow made the ones who live close to me mad. So I love my online friends. I love my gaming buds, my bookish peeps, my tv show pals, I love my dearest best friends who I have to text because they live 6 hours away.
And while I still interact with real life people, in the real world, the online ones just connect with me more. They mean so much, and maybe it’s because we share interests or maybe because I communicate better online or maybe I just come off as less annoying online. Who knows, but what I do know is that these friends stick by me while the ones in my life don’t really do that. And I could be holding up a huge standard for people in my life to meet, but when it becomes apparent that the people online will make an effort to talk to you, to read your stuff or watch your streams but the people in your actual life can’t text you back or hang out or support you in any way as a friend it’s not hard to realize why I like my online friends so much.
I’m also not saying that all people online are golden either, I have definitely met the worst of some online. People who get mad when you say a simple statement, who abuse you for having a certain view. It happens a lot in the book community actually. Someone likes a book and the whole community shuns them because that book is “bad” or there was the time that I pointed out that no matter how terrible a book is said to be it’s morally wrong to purposely go to Goodreads and give them a bad review without even trying to read the book. And same goes for reviewing it very well if you haven’t read it. Online, it can be a mess sometimes. Theres sucky people everywhere. But at least online you can control what you see a little bit more.
But really what it boils down to is finding people with similar interests who you can get along with. Wether thats online, or in real life. And take the internet warning with a grain of salt. Be safe, sure but don’t think that every single person online is a terrible person just out to get you.