About ten years ago, if you told someone you had a friend and they asked where y’all met, and you said, “Online”, that person would squint their eyes with suspicion and warn you about not getting too friendly with people you’ve never seen in real life. In the age of Catfish and online scams, you can never be too careful about who you make virtual acquaintances with. Yet, millions of people still take the plunge to make connections with others in different countries, cities, and continents. The Internet allows for it, so why not?
People — the type who like to complain about things in a way that makes you think they’re envious or just salty to a fault — lambaste these types of relationships because they believe a bond shared by two people can only exist and be true, if those two have seen each other a couple of times. “It’s not enough to know what they look like. How do you even know that the profile picture is really them?” I guess it’s not easy to tell; catfish are getting crafty these days. But for me, I just know. Catfish wouldn’t bother me; I constantly front about being broke, I live too far from anywhere to be seeing anybody, and I LOOK like an unpleasant person.
I have a bunch of Internet friends, plus a lot of people who follow me on Instagram that think I’m cool (*shrugs*), and hundreds of ghosts. The people who I interact with on a weekly basis are friends to me, because we talk like friends would. And I care about them. I’m not exactly good at executing a good DM conversation, but I am always there with a comment and a like. I stay engaged in whatever they post.
I may not know them very well except what they show on Facebook and Instagram, but if one is going through a rough time, I show my support. Someone would think I’m putting too much effort into maintaining a friendship with people I’ll probably never meet. But as long as the Internet is a thing, they’ll always be close.
I have a friend who I’m so close with, I talk with her regularly on WhatsApp (an app that is a necessity to me). She lives in the Eastern Cape, we wanted to make a date to meet but my mum, believing I’d already fulfilled my quota of ‘going-out’ days that week (One. I only went out one time.), said I couldn’t go. Thankfully, my friend was understanding.
I have two friends who, if I actually knew them in real life, would make up, plus me, a dope African girl squad. I don’t have a squad like that, or any, but I would like one. They are so fly, the epitome of #CarefreeBlackGirl, I vibe with them on levels I didn’t know were possible. I love these girls. I live for their comments on my posts, and always enjoy sharing their disdain/disappointment with the cis-normative patriarchy.
I have a friend who is forever posting memes. He is where I get my ‘pettyspo’ (petty inspiration) from — when I will ever apply this petty theory, who knows. I don’t remember how I found his Instagram page, but I am better for it. I find my mouth dropping open, struggling to contain my laughter and running to get my sisters to show them what he’s posted.
I am still not over the video he posted, of the owls singing New Edition’s “Can You Stand The Rain”. I was inconsolable.
I have a friend who I can only describe as a smart, strong sweetie pie. She has chronic illnesses and posts about them often, plus other illnesses. It’s from her that I learn about these things, and if it wasn’t for people like her on the Internet, I wouldn’t know that there are people for whom pain is a default. She has big dreams and she’ll cuss your ass out. I want to Skype with her, but my lack of connectivity at home would prevent that. I’m glad that she has people in her immediate life who support her, especially her boyfriend (I lowkey hope they stay together foreva).
I have people who I may not be friends with, but I respect them, like them and wish them overflowing happiness. Sometimes I may not see their faces or know their actual names, but I know their usernames and when they post something, I pay attention. I value what they say, especially if it’s something I may not know about. People don’t know this much, but the Internet is where you can learn to read, listen and open your mind to experiences far removed from your own.
A lot of the people I interact with on Instagram in particular are younger, most in their teens. I was a loser as a teen, and I’m quite happy that a lot of youngins are socially aware, brilliant and astute. If I may say it, 14 to 22-year-olds on the Net are pioneers, using social media as their weapon and haven. Even memes themselves have evolved to greatness since those weak “I can haz cheezburger” days, because of the youth. A simple picture can become a meme: anything can become a meme. The faces my son makes are meme-able.
Of course, there are asshole young people who contribute to making the Internet a cesspool, but who gives a shit about them?
Seriously, who? If your favourite Internet haunt is 4chan, I’m judging the hell out of you. What a waste of life activity.
Because I’ve found friendships with people online does not mean that the people I live with at home or who I’ve known in my life are unbearable or not giving me enough attention. I love my mother, sisters, my son, my boyfriend and his family and the friends I made at university; me having Internet friends takes nothing away from them.
Every person in your life has a purpose, they may mean something in particular to you. For as much as one’s family means everything to them, Internet friends add something that a person never knew they needed. I didn’t know I needed someone to make me laugh daily the way I do, I know I need people I can learn from, but the type of knowledge I’m getting from this person is something I wouldn’t have learned from anyone I know personally. I never knew that someone being fly with their bad self, and seeing their confident selfies and body snaps would delight me and make me think “They look so good, they really know how to put a look together #bless”.
In a convoluted way, my Internet friends help me come out of myself to be more. I am usually quiet though I can talk with my sisters for hours, but my online friends understand what it is to be introverted, they understand that people can be multi-dimensional, they at least understand or are aware that not everyone lives the same type of life, and the way I am is good enough for them. They don’t tell me how to be, we come together with all our differences and still somehow gel.
So, to my Internet friends, I love you folks, and I appreciate you. There was a time when my Facebook feed and Instagram timeline was not as popping, but it is now, thanks to you.