Tens or maybe hundreds of friendships were formed in the early days of the Internet following this innocuous question. “Age/Sex/Location”? was the most pressing piece of information you needed after entering a chatroom or joining a message board (your other shared interests already made public by whichever website you were on).
A long time ago, before the Internet became as ingrained in our everyday life as it is today, before Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and Tumblr and all of those places existed, the Internet was the weird hobby of a select few. (That would be me.) Admitting you had met someone through the Internet could only be done in hushed tones. “So where did you guys meet?” “Uh, we met * whisper* online *whisper*” And depending on how close you were with the person who asked you that question well, you may have immediately been at the receiving end of a weird look paired with the slight angling of a head—the kind of look wondering how a seemingly normal person could hide such sordid leanings.
I made my first online friend back in the late ‘90s, as a frequent poster on the message board belonging to the “alternative” band Hole. (Alternative was a thing back then.) I posted on the message board for a couple of years, and when I moved from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia for college, where I didn’t know anyone, an “online friend” offered to take me out to dinner. I was nervous, but did not actually think that she was going to murder me. Plus, I really didn’t know anyone else! We had dinner and then watched movies (”But I’m A Cheerleader”) at her place before I made my way back to my dorm. We never hung out again after that, but I guess I had entered the weird online friendship world.
By the mid-2000’s, I was part of other message boards, whose origins I was never quite clear on, even though somehow everyone knew about them. You posted a picture of yourself and had space to write a profile, which inevitably meant listing your favorite bands, maybe a quote from a book if you were particularly highbrow. (I recall a quote from “The Little Prince” being one of my standbys.) They sites had names like Lipstick and Cigarettes, and Makeout Club; someone had to invite you to be able to post, or otherwise people voted on whether or not to let you in depending on your picture and profile. Grueling stuff. Of course, once you were in, you could discuss things like the weather, post pictures of your cat (the Internet has always loved pictures of cats) or whether or not something was “a pizza.” Online friendships gave way to meet-ups: “PHILADELPHIA I WILL BE INSIDE YOU THIS WEEKEND!” someone would post, and everyone would meet up for drinks and a good time. There was nothing weird about it.
Throughout this time, computers started becoming more common, and then things like Livejournal and Friendster appeared. Friendster begat MySpace begat Facebook begat Twitter begat Instagram begat Vine begat Snapchat begat Meerkat begat Periscope and god knows what else will come. And just like in real life, where you make friends and make friends with your friends’ friends and then make friends with those friends’ friends, we all started making friends on the Internet.
Now, with the exception of a literal handful of friends that I met in middle school or college, most of my friendships began online. There’s my friend Kara, who I communicate with via email multiple times a day. We met in person once, through mutual friends (who I had also met because of the Internet), and a post on her Tumblr prompted me to email her, and I guess just we never stopped. Our friendship remained e-mail based for the first year, our discussions ranging from love, to jobs, to episodes of Sex & the City. We have since taken our friendship to “real life,” but our main mode of communication continues to be via e-mail. Then, there’s the crew of girls whose friendships were born out of following each other’s blogs in the mid-aughts. Commenting on each other’s blogs led to following each other on Twitter and Instagram, which led to Facebook friendships which led to meeting and hanging out all the time. There is still nothing weird about it.
And the lack of weirdness comes the fact that in these modern times, we just live our lives online. We can easily find people with our similar interests, and instead of having to take a shot of whiskey at a party to gather the guts to introduce ourselves to a stranger, you can just favorite a tweet, or leave a fire emoji under an Instagram. As much as people complain that there is an inherent inhumanity to the Internet, that it lacks the same warmth as human-to-human contact, our online interactions do not actually replace things like getting brunch on Sundays or doing karaoke. They simply widen the playing field of available friends. In no world is making new friends seen as a bad thing. Well, except for maybe Drake’s.