“I don’t understand why you are so sad about someone you know from the internet.”
You don’t need to know the whole conversation. But that was the last line of it, spoken by a coworker.
It didn’t matter to her that I had met Julie. She was still from the internet. And you know, it didn’t matter to me that I met Julie, either. I know and care for many people I have yet to meet.
It’s so very hard to explain the concept of internet friendships to people who don’t understand them, because they have a mindset that only allows them to see the internet as a thing; a source of information, Facebook games and pictures of kittens. What they don’t see is the communities that exist within. They don’t see the people.
Last week, Mike asked if we think of the internet as a thing or a place. The person who did not understand my grief for Julie would think of it as a thing.
But for me, and probably most of you, it is a place.
The internet is a bar, a living room, a kitchen table, an all night diner. It’s a gathering place where people meet to talk about sports and politics, about life and love, about music and art. It’s a place to tell jokes, to laugh, listen, learn and yes, love. We forge relationships in this place. We make friends. We meet people we intend to spend the rest of our lives with. We take those relationships and sometimes bring them into a physical space, meeting in groups or couples and when we do that, it always feels like we have just moved the conversation from one space to another. It doesn’t feel weird. It doesn’t feel different. It feels as right as talking to friends always feels.
The internet is a place. It is a hospital waiting room where we pace awaiting news of a birth. It is the pub next door to the funeral home where we gather to swap stories about someone who shared their life with us until the end. It is a graduation party, a wedding hall. It is a stadium where we all watch the same game at the same time, it is a convention center where we sit down to watch and talk about a Presidential speech. It is an auditorium where debates are held. It is a cafe after a movie opening.
It is, indeed, a place. And the people in this place are very real.
I lost a friend last night. It does not matter where or if I met her. It does not matter that the first time I ever saw her was in the hallway of a hotel in Chicago, where she was standing in the open door to her room in a robe, with a towel on her head and she recognized me and we hugged like old friends because we were. We were old friends. Before we even met.
Because the internet, it’s a place. Real people exist here. We make friendships. We start relationships. We share our pain, our joy, our happiness and sorrows. We make each other laugh, we help each other in times of need. Sometimes we travel to other states or countries to meet each other for beer and food and fun. But we never have to travel far to be with each other.
Because we are here. In this place. In this vast living room called the Internet.
This is not something you can explain to someone who sees the internet as a thing instead of a place.
At least I have somewhere to go where people understand.
I could not have said this better than Michele did; I know because I’ve tried.
I don’t have anything to add besides the fact that I look forward to finally meeting her when I visit NYC next weekend.
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