The online world is becoming bigger, wider, and more accessible in many places across the globe, and increasingly so for teenagers. Especially in this pandemic, humans have really traversed the web for schooling, passions, and hobbies whilst in quarantine and self-isolation. I know that I myself tried out many interesting activities and hobbies during this time, wanting to busy myself. Probably the biggest way the internet is now used is for communications, and in fact, most computer scientists now call it information and communication technologies. So, I'm here to give you the scoop on one of the most misunderstood and misconceived aspects of the online world: friendships.
They're often remembered to be ingenuine, scary monsters leeching off your information... heard of them? Yeah, most people have. But, while all of these statements are true in some cases and should definitely be watched for, there is a completely different and bright side to meeting new people online and sharing experiences through social media. Once again, in quarantine, socializing happened almost entirely through an occasional text conversation or a video call.
For those who struggle with social anxiety or awkwardness, relying on these friendships with people whom you have not spoken to in real life can be easier. However, for those who may not chat online much and prefer in-person hangouts, it's a very different experience.
For many in 2020, the internet has been a haven for emotional, mental and physical assistance (some of those video workouts are super helpful!). So let's dive into why these relationships are important, and share how meeting people online has helped me gain so much knowledge and understanding.
The Internet Is Changing As We Know It.
Whilst schools and workplaces were frequently visited places in 2019 and prior, there was much less desire for interaction once we arrived home in the afternoon. Usually, that was time for a breather and for us to get our usual 'me-time'. This is in contrast to now when spend most of our days staring into a screen, listening to ongoing lectures, lessons and meetings. Now, once the day is over, there are no friends to visit and fewer leisure activities to do with our families. Other than the internet, what else can we spend time doing, and how can we boost our energy like we used to?
Most people get stuck on the endless scroll on TikTok, Instagram or other social media apps. Prior to 2020, this sort of scrolling wasn't used out of necessity but more boredom, and nowadays people tend to interact frequently with posts and shares. This is not only out of response to the countless events occurring around the world, but the future we are beginning to watch unfold:
Climate change and global warming, civil rights, wars, sexism and so much more... Where can we all discover and speak about these issues powerfully with those whom are our age?
Why Are These Friendships Important?
To me, online friendships can be the most genuine. You always hear about the catfish story, but behind the scenes, so many people have healthy and thriving online friendships (myself included), that contribute to our mental health. If on Twitter, Pinterest or even some more popular sites such as Instagram, you don't necessarily see these people's faces or bodies. For some, this can eliminate tiny biases or exclusions, giving voices to people who were for so long ignored.
The use of hashtags and themed accounts particularly on Instagram provide a more secure place for friendships and connections made over topics; even movements. There are many LGBTQIA+ accounts and pages for those in the community to connect and discuss what is important to them. These communities can truly be some of the most inclusive that I have seen, and open to so many perspectives — something I believe becomes increasingly important throughout the continual growth and development of society.
In addition, these groups and individual voices have reached corners and crevices they may have never reached before — a clear example of this is the recent US election. I am from Australia and still in high school, yet the sheer number of people locked and hooked onto the results of this election prove that as a generation, we have bypassed barriers of oceans, race, religion and more by creating such strong relationships online. We have used our voices to pitch movements and create an effect which helped, in this case, to achieve the results we may need for a positive future for us and generations to come.
How Else Can They Benefit Us?
Almost 2 years ago, I came across my online friend for the first time. We connected through some fandoms and hobbies; both of us were writers with a love for Marvel and so on... Through this, we developed a world of characters which now are situated in the dystopian/fantasy world of our novel series. Considering she lives over 17 hours away by plane (yes, that far), I learnt so many things. I hadn't realized just how many slang words Australians had until she replied to my messages with “?? What does that mean?” I also learnt a great deal in regard to culture, tradition, and the religion of Islam.
Not only this, our writing hobbies brought about countless lessons for me, and made my life so different to what it had been before. I wonder what it would be like without these characters in my mind. All characters represent different races, cultures, backgrounds and grew into beings with diverse tastes and stories, and that is something I will always be proud of, and will always owe to my online friend. As a result of this, I met someone who understood my love of reading and creating literature of all kinds, and accepted that my way of expressing myself and my messages was through the art of creative writing.
My Pros and Cons List!
— Meet people who you wouldn't have the chance to otherwise, gain insight about other cultures and traditions
— Gain insight into topics you thought you may never enjoy
— An easier way to a healthy friendship if anxiety is a struggle for you in person more than online!
— Someone you can rely on to be as least biased about your appearance and/or beliefs
— An escape for when things are tough in real life; sometimes things are tough and drama occurs, and provided your online friend is not aware of this, there are many topics open to discuss and potentially distract you.
— It's an eye-opener when talking about a common interest with someone from an entirely different perspective
— Possible exploitation, unsafe online environments if improper precautions aren't taken (Precautions could include; not sending images of you or your location, keeping account page private, turn off location sharing and services, and always being thoughtful when sharing personal information)
— Missing out on actual social discussion (unless you know them well enough to call/voice chat)
— Different timezones, busy lifestyles which could mean drifting apart
— Potential ingenuity, lying about who they are and/or what they enjoy
There will almost always be a stigma to online friends, and this is for many reasons that are just as vital as some positives of these relationships. However, it's important to stick to your gut feeling in all situations and consider each action you take. The internet has become more accessible and brilliant as a technology, which also means more people to meet and more hate to experience. This sort of thing is unavoidable, but if looked out for, the internet is truly worth more than the credit we give it, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.