By: A.J. Petix
Networking in today’s society has changed so drastically from years prior to the Internet. Sure, we’ve got social media like LinkedIn and Twitter hooking us up with the latest business gossip and quick, straightforward ways to introduce ourselves to people in the business world, but what about those of us just looking for friends? Does the Internet really cause people to become sheltered from real-world socializing?
Back in 2004, the Internet was still growing and the term “social media” was just starting to catch on with the dawn of MySpace. Back in those days, people gathered on message boards, or—as I would call them— forums. Minor side note: I’ve always been a bit of a dork and I have a bit of an obsession with a particular blue hedgehog named Sonic. You may have heard of him. When I was thirteen, I was what I would consider myself now a wild fanatic. I read the comic books, played the games, doodled his face on all my homework, and—you guessed it—visited Sonic the Hedgehog message boards.
This isn’t just a story about my crazy love of video games and message boards, I promise. This is about making friends for life on a pre-social media Internet.
It was on these message boards that I made some incredible friends from all over the world that shared my love for Sonic. The administrator, who I now know as Jared, owned and ran a Sonic news website called Sonic Planet. In that moment I was convinced I also wanted to create my own website and learned HTML later that same year. I found out that we not only shared an interest in Sonic (which we still discuss on Facebook from time to time), but we also enjoy cars and technology. To this day, I still talk about his Mustang with him and go back and forth about the latest Android and iPhone devices.
Now here’s the cool part about making friends on the Internet: suddenly you have people in your network who are willing to house you (or split the price of a hotel) if you ever travel anywhere. Another person I met on the Sonic message boards was a girl by the username of “freaky_kiwi.” She and I were both 13 and had similar, wild senses of humor. We quickly discovered we were on opposite sides of the Atlantic and she and I vowed we would one day meet in person.
Fast-forward eight years to this past October. Keeley, my British friend of now eight years, took a month’s vacation in North America. She stayed with me for an entire week and we had a blast. She discussed her travels and I discussed mine. We were suddenly immersed in each other’s cultures even though I’ve never been to the U.K. We laughed together, attended a concert together (at which Keeley admitted that the lead singer of We The Kings is “the hottest man [she’s] ever seen”), and played Sonic games together. The experience was so surreal. Even though we’d never met in person, we spoke and played as if we’d been next-door neighbors for years.
So to answer the second question from the beginning of this post, I can’t help but feel like you can make the Internet even more social than real life. As a matter of fact, Keeley and I are living proof that the Internet has caused friendships to go global. She’s offered me a place to stay if I ever travel to the U.K. and also offered to travel around Europe with me. The learning experience of speaking with a person from another country makes for fantastic professional growth as well, because you adapt to their culture and they adapt to yours. Suddenly you gain a better understanding of the people around you because you share stories and experiences.
And to think, we’d never have met if Jared, Keeley and I didn’t all love a little blue hedgehog so much.
So where do people go to make friendships like this in 2012 and on?
Nowadays you’d probably find someone on Tumblr (I know I have) who shares similar interests with you. The best part about Tumblr as opposed to other social media is that people can still keep their anonymity. This means you can be yourself and find people who are willing to accept you for you without judging your appearance, location, or crazy love for a television show or video game series.
Art websites like deviantART also provide a great way for artists to network. Back when I was into drawing and improving my work, I was in love with art communities like deviantART. The best part about art communities is that they’re also anonymous. People don’t have to know your name if you don’t want them to. Expression and creativity flows easier when you don’t have employers reading your high school online journal entries and looking at that embarrassing drawing you did your freshman year. Most importantly, people discover the real you, and learn to love you for who you are, not who your family and real-life peers want you to be.
To bring things full-circle, I also want to mention that message boards, while rarely large-scale anymore, still exist. They’re the most tight-knit communities on the Internet and are highly specialized. If you find a good message board for an interest you have, you will make friends for life. I guarantee it. A quick Google search will expose you to just how many people out there are just like you, even if you think you’re alone in real life.
Happy networking, everyone.