21 years ago I sat together with my sister, chatting with strangers, by the family computer in the hallway of our downtown apartment. We had finally gotten a computer with internet after moving to this new city! It was amazing in spite of the ping being terrible and the modem disconnecting every five minutes. When our parents begrudgingly paid those sky high telephone bills, they had no idea what a good investment it was in my personal life.
IRC was big in my home town and everyone* was on there. In the computer labs in my teens, me and my classmates sat chatting on lunch breaks and I met hundreds of people IRL on meets and parties. Some of them stuck, most of them I have forgotten or nod to when I see them around town.
When I moved back home three years ago, after six years in regional exile, the ones greeting me back were the people I got to know through IRC all those years ago. My now best friend in town was the friend of my first boyfriend. I met him while chatting through the nights as silently as one could with old keyboards and modems that made actual noises while dialing the internet.
18 years ago I sat perched on an old computer chair that was covered with a rag carpet because the stuffing in the chair had begun fleeing out through the hole in the light green fabric, in my mother's living room. My use of the internet centered around IRC (before the great hacking of DalNet in 2001, that doozy) and Collegeslackers.com while that was still a forum, and a couple of communities where new and old connections mixed.
On Collegeslackers I made new friends, some of which I'm still friends with today albeit on Facebook because we live on different continents. If I ever visit the states I'm gonna check to see if they're en route, for sure.
15 years ago I started my first blog, after steadily reading a couple myself. And I'm still at it. It was just two years ago I met with someone I'd gotten to know through our blogs, IRL. You're thinking, why am I reading this? I'm sort of getting to a point, hopefully. You guys know that I'm sentimental about the good old days of the internet. Don't worry, I'm not gonna get into that too much, just hear me out.
The whole thing has been rubbing me the wrong way for a long time. If I'm not happy with the e-socials nowadays, why don't I just quit? Opt-out for reals? Quit the blog and delete my social media accounts and just move on with my life, with my old and new IRL friends?
I talked to my partner about it the other day, over dinner. With bubbly in our glasses, a fire lit in the fireplace and a tasty dinner consisting of like, chili with more chili on top, I questioned why I even bother to think about the internet so much. I don't miss anything in life really, so why is it bothering me? My partner is already happily mostly-out so he twisted and turned the arguments of both sides with me.
I've put my finger on it;
If I opt-out of social media, it means that I'm officially putting
a stop to a means of meeting new friends
The internet has always been a social place for me. Somewhere to connect and stumble over new friends and take part in their lives. Hear from people I would never meet otherwise. I’ve met some of my very most close friends in school and in social situations, but I would never want to be without the ones I’ve met online.
It's not as much fear of missing out right now as it is fear of missing out in the future. I know that's a sort of inconsequential difference, but it is a big one. Hadn't I blogged those years ago, I wouldn't have made a number of my friends. Hadn't I chatted, I would have missed out on three of my closest friends and 20 of my less close ones. Hadn't I communitied (hey, at 3 AM you're allowed to make up words), I would have missed out on connections and at least funny stories about terrible three-night stands that we still laugh about.
Hell, half of my old romances stem from the internet. My partner, the man that I am living with, I met online. We should have met organically seeing as we have like 50 mutual friends and acquaintances and were invited to the same BBQs, but we didn't.
I have a social life and meet new people which is more than enough but having used the internet as a social platform for over 20 years, it's a weird feeling to go back to 1997 before the possibility even existed. Even if I think Instagram and the fast media are hollow compared to earlier forms of communication on the internet, and even if I really feel I don't belong there, it's still so hard to imagine just letting it all go. I know the party's taking place elsewhere, and I'm choosing not to go.
The grating feeling I have regarding social media today is in stark contrast to how meaningful and adding to my life the social internet has been for my life, for so long. I'm not gonna lie. I'm a grown-ass woman, and it's still hard to take to heart.
I don't have any answers on what I should do, but at least I know what the gist is? It may scatter my insecurities around blogging, because blogging in itself gives me great joy, so why stop? The rest… I don’t know. We’ll see.
*When I say everyone I mean like having people logging into our city's channel (the teen culture was strong in our 90k town) and I was able to identify and chat with at least two boys I'd been eyeing IRL for a long time. "Breakdancekid-86 just joined #town."
"He has a breakdancer style AND is born in 1986, maybe it's him!".
It was. Good times.