Photo by Sergey Zolkin

Online Strangers

Grandpa is going to ramble. Give him a few moments, won’t you?

Fine. Thirty-one years on Earth isn’t enough time for me to be a grandfather of anything it’s true. Despite this I can’t help but sit back in my comfy chair from time to time and think about how I ended up here. Not physically, but in an online sense. After using the Internet for multiple decades I’ve realized that my own “history of it” has become very tangled, and sometimes extremely difficult to pin down.

My very first interaction with an online community started on GameFAQs, a place for gamers to congregate and read about the latest guides and cheat codes for just about any game you can imagine. Previous to this my only option for learning about these things was through books! I still have very intense memories of the disappointment some teachers would express when I would order a cheat booklet at school instead of some author’s work of fiction. Mom generally offered me the freedom to choose my own reading material though. She must of recognized that reading, any kind of reading, was better than no reading at all. But I digress. My interest in cheat books and game guides lead me to GameFAQs, and from there my life was forever different. Instead of relying on my old outdated books I now had access to a living, changing world of information. If a new detail was discovered about my game the online guide changed. My books didn’t. Then something happened.

There must have been a point when I discovered that I could now interact with the authors of the guides I was reading. Who was this GameGuy9 and how did he know to press buttons in that sequence? Where did YoshiFan and Cuberz1 find those easter eggs? It became an addiction to know these people by their screen names and avatars and their words on the screen. And it was easy too, although a bit scary at first. It was difficult to navigate the landscape of the Internet at a time when the media was pushing the dangers of talking with strangers online. But with practice and good habits it became second nature.

Years are starting to go by at this point and I realize something: my online relationships are outpacing and outlasting my physical relationships in the real world. Social media connections I made with my friends in high school once meant that we were friends in the physical world too, but that’s not the case anymore. They have now transitioned to being an online stranger. But with a big difference… we don’t share any interests now! After high school I added work colleagues to my social media. And then again at post-secondary. And then again at my next career! I am presently subscribed to a feed of over 1,000 strangers telling me about what they are eating, what clothes they are putting on their kid today, and what products I should be trying. Like, huh? Why??

This has brought me to a nice conclusion this year. 2021 is the year I have returned to message boards, only and exclusively. No Facebook. No Twitter. Interacting with strangers online was only fun when we shared a common interest; a game we play, a show we watch, a tinfoil theory we want to talk about. The Internet made being friends with strangers exciting and I want to rediscover all of the reasons why that is true for me this year.

Grandpa is done reminiscing now, go about your day!

Photo credit to Sergey Zolkin @ https://unsplash.com/@szolkin

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