Back at school, in my Year 5 I.T. lessons, I remember the first rule we were taught about being safe on the internet: don’t talk to strangers online! That was almost twenty years ago, when we all referred to it as the World Wide Web, the dial-up tone was the most aggravating sound imaginable and it took almost five minutes to download a picture of Justin Timberlake’s frosted tips. Nowadays, I challenge you to find a person who hasn’t used the internet to chat to a stranger. I know I’ve broken the golden rule hundreds of times over.
It’s probably a really geeky thing to say, but I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t have the internet. I’ve always been a wee anxious soul, so instead of meeting up after school and going to parties at the weekend like a normal person, my evenings were often spent on MSN, MySpace, Bebo and eventually Tumblr. It was a good way for me to be social on my terms, and to be a bit creative — I spent hours teaching myself how to HTML code and designed a new personal theme for my Tumblr page pretty much every week. Maybe that sounds sad, but I genuinely preferred it to meeting up with groups of people and feeling like a spare part.
Tumblr was also the platform where I met some of my best internet friends. First was Molly — we first started talking when we first started sixth form, as a result of mutually following each other’s blogs and chatting through each other’s Ask boxes! Soon we were sending each other long handwritten letters and care packages, and she was my go-to friend to text at sixth form when I was sat on my own in the common room or eating my lunch in the Head’s office because all my friends had gone home for the afternoon. The fact that she lived a three-hour train journey away didn’t matter at all, and within a year of getting to know each other, we met up in Birmingham (with my mum in tow, and our parents having spoken to each other on Skype) and spent a day at the aquarium and mooching around the Bull Ring.
The care packages and penpal letters continued well into uni until studies got in the way (I’ve got one taped up and ready to go on my dressing table right now, though!), but we always made time for each other. We visited each other at uni, and she was there for me offering a bed, a very drunk girls’ night out and a lot of takeaway pizza when I went through a particularly difficult time and needed some time out; and I hope she knows I’m here for her and always have been through all the difficulties she has faced herself. The last time I saw her was when we first got Merl, and he is almost three years old now — so that is way, way too long! However, I know she’s got my back and I can honestly say that she has been one of my best ever friends growing up from a teenager into a grown woman.
Another wonderful person who I met on Tumblr is my absolute babe Alastair who — shockingly — I have no photos with?? To be fair, we’ve only met in person a handful of times (I could literally count them on one hand), but we’ve spent hours and hours on Skype to each other, on the phone, waxing lyrical about life and talking about plans and hopes for the future, and all those other cringey things. I’m not even sure how we started talking but I’m glad we did. He’s one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met — for a long time he was the person I’d call in the middle of the night when I was having a mental breakdown, and he was the one who’d help calm me down and put things into perspective and generally be amazing. He’s invested so much time into reminding me that I’m actually a decent human being and that everything’s gonna be okay and honestly has a heart of gold. I’d marry him at the drop of a hat because he’s that brilliant.
It honestly amazes me that these two wonderful people would never have come into my life if I hadn’t fancied myself as a bit of a pretentious knobhead on Tumblr.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are so many people who I met on Tumblr who I have never actually met face to face, but are still a part of my daily life. People like Alice, who I first talked to on Tumblr — I’ve ‘known’ her for close to seven years now, I think, and even though we’ve never met in person, I feel like we’re still genuine friends! She’s so funny and we regularly tweet each other and even have each other on Facebook! I feel that if we were to meet for the first time, it wouldn’t be remotely awkward.
I’ve moved on from Tumblr now, but obviously not very far — I’ve literally hopped from one blogging platform to the next! When I first started my blog, I didn’t realise that I’d be falling into an entire community of bloggers and I was oblivious to it for such a long time. Eventually I spied a uni friend of mine using #thegirlgang hashtag, which led me to discovering Jemma’s (a.k.a. Dorkface’s) little domain of bloggers. Through using the hashtag on Twitter and joining in with Twitter chats, I began talking to other bloggers all over the country and the world, and in turn discovered more bloggers who live near me in Nottingham.
One of those bloggers was Robyn, a.k.a. Midnight & Lace. I started reading her blog pretty much religiously and I just thought she was so cool and funny that I had to interact with her posts and Tweets. We eventually met at a beauty event at CaBella in Nottingham (our first ever event!) almost a year ago and instantly clicked with each other. She’s now my go-to girl for a messy night out or a cosy movie day and I feel like in our one year of knowing each other, we’ve developed a really lovely friendship based on mutual respect and understanding. I’ve been round to her family’s house for Sunday dinner, for goodness sake! She’s generally a really awesome person, she’s so inspiring as a person and without knowing has taught me a lot about being true to myself and taking no notice of what people who don’t matter think about me. I’ve really loved our first year of friendship and I sincerely hope that there are many, many more to come!
Even though we’re from the same city, our paths probably would never have crossed if it wasn’t for the ability to make friends on the internet.
Even with the increasing ease of meeting people on the internet, I’m fairly sure the stigma of doing so is alive and well, particularly with things like online dating. It’s one of those situations that’s a bit of a juxtaposition, because there’s such judgment around it and yet everybody does it at some point?? I think for a lot of people, the image of someone who talks to strangers on the internet is something akin to a sad loser with fingers covered in Wotsit dust hunched over a greasy screen in a dark room in the middle of the day with the curtains drawn or – worse – the kind of person who tricks and lures youngsters into unspeakably dangerous situations.
Those things do happen, and I would never advocate for anyone to meet up with an internet friend on their own in a secluded area, regardless of how absolutely you trust them. If I found out my little brother was talking to strangers on Xbox Live, for example, shit would hit the fan. Stranger danger is a real thing.
I just think as an adult with a full understanding of what is safe and what isn’t, the internet can be a wonderful tool for meeting and talking to like-minded people with the same interests, something which is particularly difficult today in a time where the presence of social media is only getting bigger (isn’t it ironic?).
I love my internet friends to pieces, and they are just as real and valid and important as real life flesh and blood people (creepy, sorry) — because they are real, they’re just in a different part of the world!
Tell me about your internet friends!