Splendour in the Internet

Hi there, from an unofficial poster girl for URL -> IRL communities!

You’re probably wondering what that means. Essentially, I’ve revamped my entire blog to explain. This blog was once a jumbled collection of thought pieces and mysterious poetry. But now its purpose is to tell interwoven stories of How I Met My Online Friends in Real Life.

Believe it or not, “the front page of the Internet”, otherwise known as Reddit, transformed my social life from the URL to the IRL when I moved to New York City in 2021. And before that, the “Chat for Communities and Friends”, also known as Discord, filled my life with the deep connections I was missing in 2020. Apparently, I wasn’t alone in finding comfort online when offline relationships paused. According to GlobalWebIndex, 64% of online community visitors said in 2020 that they were participating in these platforms more frequently than before the pandemic.

Buuuut… those are stories for another time.

Today I’m taking you back to my dreaded teen years, because something really special happened to me during that time and truly changed my life forever.

One Saturday afternoon when I was just a high school student with no clear vision for her future, I found my parents in the family room watching an old movie from the ’60s on cable (back when that was still a thing people paid for). I recognized the lead actress, Natalie Wood, but couldn’t remember her name.

“Oh, she played the little girl in Miracle on 34th Street,” my mom informed me with a smile. My passion for the written word and classic films is all thanks to her, unsurprisingly.

I sat down to join them and was instantly mesmerized by the intense, emotional plot about a teen girl struggling to please everyone, from her parents to her boyfriend to her classmates. I resonated on such a deeply personal level with this girl that I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Being shy and quiet made me the target of many “mean girls” during my childhood in rural Alabama; and watching movies was one of the few activities my parents and I could partake in without arguing.

In the final scene, when Natalie Wood’s character, Deanie, recited the title poem by William Wordsworth, I was moved to tears. The message is about reminiscing on your childhood and bravely embracing the bittersweet reality of aging, yet never forgetting the lovely and painful experiences that made you who you are today.

Suddenly, I needed to find people other than my parents who cared about this movie just as much as I did!

Enter Reddit. This is when I truly began delving into communities on what is now my favorite website. There I was able to not only find communities where other like-minded people shared my thoughts and opinions on Splendour in the Grass but also subreddits on various topics that appealed to me. I was able to make friends I could connect with on a deeper level, and support in their times of need. I also met people I could learn from; whose insights into the world differed so much from mine but provided me with a broader perspective on life.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my passion for virtual communities would someday also fill my life in the physical world with warm, meaningful, and lasting friendships.

According to a GlobalWebIndex survey in 2021, 36% of online community users said that they believe they can have meaningful conversations online, 28% said that they feel respected online, and 24% said that they feel like they can be themselves online.

Gen-Z may have been born into and grown up with more technology than the Millennial generation, but I look back fondly on my childhood. My memories are a hybrid of stretching the imagination with neighbors on trampolines and swing sets in the sun, as well as chatting on instant messenger with virtual friends from behind a magical screen.

My childhood discovery of online communities continued into college and beyond, as I relied on the Internet for the sense of belonging I couldn’t always find in Alabama. For that, I’m so thankful, because without platforms like AIM, Reddit, Discord, Steam, Omegle, Tumblr, and IMDb, I would have sometimes suffered in silence and wondered, “Am I the only one who thinks or feels this way?”

Some of you Millennials (and older generations) may wonder why I didn’t mention Myspace in the above list. The answer is simple: what made Reddit and the other platforms so special for me was the autonomy. And as an insecure fourteen-year-old, the freedom to be anonymous gave me the strength to truly express myself. For me personally, Myspace was just a virtual school yard where I was rarely picked to be on anyone’s Top Friends list. But Reddit was a place of wonder without judgment. Yes, people there will call you out and disagree with you from time to time, but I never felt like I didn’t belong. That’s the beauty of the Internet, and – as I’ve since discovered in adulthood – sincere and mature friendships.

Because I struggled with finding “my people” throughout my adolescence and time in the South, I’ve made it my personal goal in life to ensure that no one I meet – online or in real life – ever feels as lonely as I once did. I believe in the power of friendship and have learned some hard lessons along the way – like the fact that no, not everyone will like me or even want to be a part of my life. And there will be people whose energy I need to distance myself from, as well.

In fact, if you’re reading this and you’re feeling lost, I want you to know that somewhere out there in this crazy, confusing world is a welcoming community just waiting to meet you, whether in the virtual or physical world.

If you haven’t joined Reddit, consider giving it a try with an open mind, and you truly won’t be disappointed. With more than 130,000 communities, there’s quite literally a place for everyone on Reddit. Some of my favorite subreddits include r/CasualConversation, r/offmychest, and r/wholesomememes.

Or if you’d like to chat with me, feel free to leave a comment below or send me a note. 💗

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