I’ve always had access to a computer. There was one in the living room downstairs, each of my brothers shared one, and I ended up having a desktop in my room. At first I heeded dad’s warning about Internet security and identify theft. He helped me set up an email account and he downloaded The Sims 2 for me. I asked for his permission before signing up for Neopets or creating an AIM account so I could talk to friends after school, since I’d always run out of minutes on my phone.
When I turned 14 and was too cool to listen to my parents, I joined multiple online chat rooms and forums. I never used my full name when creating an alias to log into servers, because stranger danger was something drilled into my brain. A few that I did use included “Shy-Girl,” “Short-Folk,” and “Emerson.” I tested the waters of online friendships.
No lasting friendships as a teen, but I do remember Michelle, who friend requested me on MySpace. We’d send messages back and forth, but by the time I turned 15 or 16 I detached myself from the Internet to forge “real” relationships offline. That was a good idea, because I missed out on a lot of opportunities to hang out with my friends and family.
More recently, I’ve gone back to making friends online. I’ve been involved in an online role-playing community for over a year now. This is where I met Felicia. We write giant walls of text and gush over our favorite Bioware love interests. We’re friends on Facebook, and I have her number. I sent her little trinkets from Japan, and she managed to get two of my favorite voice actors to sign something for me. Then there’s Jillian, who founded the website that I credit all of my opportunities to. She’s kind and supportive, and encourages my writing. I’ve mailed her thank you cards and send her friendly reminders on Tumblr. That’s just scratching the surface, though. I Skype with my Twitter friends, and I Snapchat a couple mutuals from Tumblr.
I’ve met so many wonderful people online, and I feel privileged to know them. It’s important to clarify, however, that nothing can take away from the relationships that I’ve forged offline. The friendships that I have in “real life" are just as important to me as those that I’ve made online.
I use the term “real” very loosely here. When I log on to speak to my Internet friends, everything is genuine. The laughs are real, the smiles are real, and the conversations are real. Just because I can’t interact with them physically doesn’t diminish the impact they have on me.
—Follow Emma Kidwell on Twitter: @EmmaKidwell