When I was in Grade 6, MSN Messenger was starting to become really popular among my classmates. My head is still recovering from the incessant whines of, “Do you have MSN? What’s your MSN? You should get MSN!”
No. Don’t tell me what to do. And don’t shove an 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper in front of me so I can add my name to your “list”. What are you doing, going grocery shopping?
I didn’t quite understand MSN at the time. Why would I want to go home and then be forced into an internet conversation with people I barely talked to during the day? I’d rather eat olives. And I did. I ate olives. Olives are good.
Apparently having a lot of friends on MSN was worth bragging about.
I didn’t get MSN until Grade 9. I only gave in because I had to do a group project for my religion class.
Who has olives and fewer MSN friends than you? This guy.
I’m not some olive freak. No offence to olive freaks.
Over the years, I grew to really like MSN. But the early days were a nightmare.
When I finally saw what MSN was all about, I realized it was nothing more than an obstacle course, which started as soon as you declared yourself to be online.
Get into as many conversations as you can and try to end them as fast as you can. That was the challenge, right? The mission. The modus operandi. My reason for existing.
I think one night I had to go for dinner on four separate occasions, in four different chats. Well, that’s what my excuse was at least.
“Sorry, gotta go for dinner. Bye.”
Worked every time.
I was inundated with useless messages and abbreviations. Everyone wanted to know how I was or what I was up to. As if I was on life support and could be lost at the chomp of a potato chip.
“Sup? Watchu hav 4 hmwk.”
I remember that message. It was from a girl who had her friends ask me if I liked her. I never replied to the message because, at the time, I only spoke English and not whatever language she was using. I felt bad.
MSN was a safe place. I only spoke to people I knew. There weren’t any strangers or people on the other side of the world who wanted to know more about the upkeep required for a Canadian igloo.
It wasn’t a dangerous place, like the rest of the internet.
Maybe I watched too many episodes of America’s Most Wanted as a kid, but it felt like the internet was full of people claiming to be someone they weren’t, with the sole purpose of luring others to a location.
Actually, that’s exactly what the internet is!
Little Paul: boy genius, adult
So, growing up, I stayed clear of chat rooms, multiplayer online games, or anything where talking to strangers was a possibility.
Stranger rhymes with danger. There’s a reason.
So when I started this blog, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how this worked. I assumed that I would post my thoughts on the internet, some people would read them, spit at their screen, and then carry on to a more interesting website.
I didn’t know there would be comments, followers, or people who would look forward to reading my next masterpiece. It was all sprung on me like a surprise party and I did my best to act like it’s exactly what I wanted.
I got my first blog comment and cringed. What was the proper protocol? Do I reply to the person’s comment, or do I report them to the authorities? It was a coin flip, really. I didn’t know. How dare they try to interact with me!
It was a very, “Stand back! I have…uhh…olives…and I’m not afraid to use them” scenario.
I never replied to the comment.
Slowly, my wall came down and I started to be friendly with other bloggers. I started to understand how this world worked.
One of the first friends I made on here, if not my first friend, asked to add me on another social media site and I froze up. I didn’t know how to tell them “no”, so I said “yes”. And you know what, it wasn’t so bad.
That was my first legitimate internet friend. We’re still internet friends.
But still, it felt a bit strange.
It’s not a coincidence that I only go by my first name on this blog.
Anyone in the world can read this blog. Why do they need to know anything other than my first name? And if I didn’t even give my first name, would it matter? I don’t think so.
Is Paul even my real name? Discuss amongst yourselves.
Over the three and a half years (they grow up so fast) that I’ve had this blog, I’ve developed friendships with other bloggers. A lot, actually. And I don’t say that in a “I have 103 MSN friends” way either. It’s just the truth.
Some of these friendships have transferred over onto other social media platforms. Platforms where I’m more personal with the things I share.
I must say this though – I’m picky about who I allow that access to. And if that offends you, just know, I’m not sorry about it.
Which leads me to this:
Lately, I’ve found myself in a group chat with three other bloggers: Chris, Jess, and Meghan.
I’ve known Chris for about 73 years, so we don’t really qualify as internet friends. We qualify as
life partners old. Though we do do (ha, do do) most of our communicating on the internet. Maybe we are internet friends.
I’ve known Jess and Meghan for about a year and half, I think?
Anyway, a few months ago, Meghan posted on her blog an idea of a group chat that included bloggers. It would be like a neverending comments section, except somewhere else.
You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.
Meghan and I were already tight like wiring on a fence, so within the same day, we started a group chat and
lured invited Jess and Chris into the mix.
Starting that group chat has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I really don’t know how I lived without it for so long.
Every morning I wake up and know that there will be an early morning conversation between Meghan and Jess that I’ll have to read through before throwing in a witty remark of my own to mark my presence.
Chris is the ghost of the group. At some points he can be in there like swimwear, and other times, he can be missing for days. No one knows when he’ll show up and enlighten us with his short, but powerful, comments. But when he does, we all
pee a little giggle with glee.
The conspiracy theory is that I’m actually Chris and live a double life on the internet.
What makes this group chat unique is we’re
all born in the same year actually a bunch of weirdos who don’t have to pretend to be cool in front of each other. Though there are many laughs, jokes, and GIFs to fill a 24-hour day, there are also some serious discussions.
I think we have all asked each other for advice, or ranted about something, or in Chris’ case – posted an emoji and leave.
This is the part where I delve deeper into the topics we discuss every day, but I’m not sure if I should start at “Slides for adults” or “Dinosaur-shaped chicken fingers”.
And it’s not scary. The word “stranger” does not rhyme with “danger” in this group chat. It rhymes with “manger”, as in the place where baby Jesus lay. A safe place. This group chat is a safe place.
As an introvert, I’m not the kind of person to say, “Hey y’all, let’s get together and go down to the county fair this weekend, and then awkwardly stand in a parking lot trying to decide where to eat dinner. My horse, or yours?”
Give me a couch and I’m there. That being said, this group chat is perfect for me.
In preparation for this blog post, I asked each person what the group chat means to them. Here are their responses.
Meghan: “This group chat is happiness and sanity. It makes my day to see random messages from you guys.”
Jess: “5 o’clock at the oaaaaaaaasissssss.”
Chris: Chris couldn’t be reached for comment.
Those responses should tell you everything you need to know.
When I talk it out and say to myself, “I met these people on the internet, but I consider them friends”, it still seems weird to me.
But then I’m roped into a discussion about caterpillars and I’m reminded that real friendships are supposed to be weird, especially ones that are formed on the internet.
Have you developed friendships beyond the comments section? Do you like olives? Which kind? What are your thoughts on caterpillars?