I received an early Xmas present today. If I get a present early, I open it because delayed gratification is not my jam. However, I had permission to get into this one. In any case, I am utterly in love with it & the person who gave it.
That affection got me thinking about something I saw discussed on Twitter. The old ‘internet friends aren’t real friends’ debate. Obviously I don’t agree. This thoughtful, beautiful gift from a dear friend who I originally met online drove me to elaborate on that. I definitely think it is possible to be catfished (deliberately or not) into friendship online. You can ‘meet’ people with whom you have one thing in common & so can maintain an online relationship with, but it likely wouldn’t sustain an actual in person friendship. You can find people who purposely deceive or folk who are just able to portray a persona online that they can’t quite manage in life. Of course there are dodgy folk, lonely folk & even dangerous people who can use the internet to their advantage (& your disadvantage). I accept that’s all true. However, the flip side is all the wonderful people you might not ever have the chance to meet. This is were I come in.
Due to mental illness, chronic illness and working from home I have been perhaps more online than most folk. Or at least I’ve been more online for longer than a lot of people. As a result of that I have made genuinely good friends via the internet. I found understanding & acceptance from strangers on my computer when no one in real life really got my self harm. I’ve connected with a fat community that I would never have had access to outside of the web. Both of those groups changed my life. Networking with other freelancers has led to friendships along with work opportunities. I have been able to work with editors, organisations and publications via social media connections that have progressed my career. Beyond that I have met & built real relationships with people I have met through appreciating their art, respecting their activism or just firing them amusing online.
Those connection points have grown into really meaningful friendships. People I have gone on to meet and cherish. I have friends I consider an integral part of my life who started out as anonymous screen names. I think social media and the internet in general can generate valuable relationships. I also believe that the notion that those friendships aren’t real is inherently ableist and othering. Disabled and chronically ill people often rely on the internet for many things that others can access by leaving their home. In addition people who for whatever reason find themselves outside the norm can find like minded communities much easier online. The ability to do that is crucial.
All of which brings me back to that gift. My super talented friend Sarah created this wonderful digital portrait. It’s taken from my sister’s wedding and I feel so lucky to have it. I would never have met Sarah in real life. She lived far far away when we met (& even further now). Nevertheless, we have a shared history and understand of each other that is very special. So, thank you internet for bringing this woman into my life. And, thank you Sarah for this gift.
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