The in­ter­net isn’t real life. A lot of peo­ple need to learn that. It’s just in­for­ma­tion, words and pic­tures on a screen. Sometimes it does bleed over, but most­ly you can take or leave the parts of it you want to. You can just turn off the screen and walk away.

The in­ter­net isn’t life, but if you let it, the in­ter­net can en­hance your life more than you could imag­ine.

It’s prob­a­bly of no sur­prise to learn I’m a bit of a so­cial mis­fit, some­one who suf­fers with anx­i­ety is­sues and has a his­to­ry of de­pres­sion. I’ve writ­ten about it in the past, I’ve spo­ken about it pub­licly on so­cial me­dia and at length with some of you in pri­vate. The past three years since the pass­ing of my Dad and the lat­er break­down of some of my re­la­tion­ships haven’t been the eas­i­est.

Through all of this shit, the in­ter­net has been a sol­id, con­stant and a vi­tal out­let. I have en­joyed get­ting a pres­ence on so­cial me­dia and some lim­it­ed recog­ni­tion, I’ve en­joyed talk­ing to like mind­ed peo­ple — plus it does feed the ego to see your words and idle thoughts shared far and wide.

It can also be kind of sur­re­al, and at times it can feed the worst as­pects of your­self. I found the less men­tal­ly healthy I’ve been feel­ing, the faster my on­line pres­ence has grown as I fo­cused on it more for val­i­da­tion. That brings on­look­ers and peo­ple who will cheer you on for go­ing fur­ther and fur­ther into the so­cial me­dia shit‐flinging.

In ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the good and bad of what the in­ter­net had to of­fer, I’ve come to re­alise the most im­por­tant thing is the peo­ple who’ve stuck with me through all of it. Being on­line, we’re pro­grammed to wear ar­mour. We get on so­cial me­dia and beat the dig­i­tal shit out of each oth­er. Its good fun, but it re­quires a dis­tant ap­proach that makes real hu­man con­nec­tion dif­fi­cult.

Total para­noia can feel like a safer pol­i­cy on­line when there al­ways seems to be a creep or a cat­fish hid­ing around the cor­ner. There’s al­ways the fear of some­one want­i­ng to ex­ploit or hu­mil­i­ate you. It’s safer just to lurk or shit­post, to be anony­mous in a crowd and nev­er let that mask slip.

But since 2014 I’ve been slow­ly break­ing my own rules more. I’ve found the more I put my­self out there, and do the things I al­ways thought you weren’t sup­posed to do on­line for fear of ridicule, the bet­ter my ex­pe­ri­ence of the on­line world be­comes.

It re­al­ly start­ed with my join­ing SuperNerdLand, who’s reg­u­lar mem­bers have be­come like a fam­i­ly to me over the past three years. I spent an en­tire month in 2016 tour­ing the United States, and meet­ing many of them. It’s dif­fi­cult to get over the stig­ma of “in­ter­net friends,” part of me felt crazy for tak­ing that leap of faith. Some peo­ple thought I was crazy, that I was go­ing to get mur­dered or some­thing by weirdos who I didn’t even know.

But I did know them, I knew them bet­ter than most peo­ple I talked to in my every­day life. I’d spo­ken to them al­most every day for years. You can get a pret­ty good read on some­one that way, it’s im­pos­si­ble to keep those so­cial bar­ri­ers up in that en­vi­ron­ment for that length of time. If you in­ter­act with peo­ple who like and trust you, then you end up learn­ing a lot about each oth­er even though you’ve nev­er ac­tu­al­ly met in per­son.

I’m glad to say meet­ing those peo­ple only deep­ened those friend­ships — and gave me con­text to their lives. Lives very dif­fer­ent to my own with per­spec­tives I would nev­er have con­sid­ered if I had cho­sen to stay in­side the bub­ble of my rou­tine. Having met some­one on­line through a video game, so­cial me­dia, or a shared in­ter­est, then hav­ing that per­son be­come a close and per­son­al friend in real life is one of the most re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ences I’ve had in my en­tire life. You wor­ry about tak­ing that big leap into re­al­i­ty, but for me those in­ter­net friend­ships didn’t just work in real life, they worked even bet­ter there.

Without tak­ing a chance on in­ter­net strangers, and tak­ing the ef­fort to build those re­la­tion­ships, my life would be a lot poor­er. I’d have nev­er been able to couch‐surf around America. I’d nev­er have seen these places with a lo­cal guide. I had so many odd and won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ences on that trip: I paid for an ex­tra night in an AirBNB with a gui­tar les­son, I saw million‐dollar wa­ter­front sheds in Seattle, sun bathed in a swel­ter­ing January heat wave in San Antonio and rode through the ghet­to in Cincinnati.

I didn’t just go on a va­ca­tion, those peo­ple al­lowed me into their lives for a week.

The more I learned to ac­cept that my “in­ter­net friends” were my ac­tu­al friends, the hap­pi­er and more open I was able to be­come. People I didn’t ex­pect to have been there for me were, in ways big and small. People check on me when I’m seem­ing down, they send me birth­day gifts, they make me free art, and they trust me with their fears and hopes. There’s so many peo­ple I have to thank for still be­ing here, even if their sup­port is just in the form of a kind com­ment or thought­ful re­sponse.

I hon­est­ly don’t know where I would be with­out these peo­ple, some of whom of I talk to very rarely and some of whom I talk to every day. I know some of you have those peo­ple in your lives too; they’re you’re guild mates, they’re in your Discord, they fol­low you on Twitter, they’re that reg­u­lar com­menter on your Facebook posts, or the core group of peo­ple that sup­port your con­tent. Don’t ig­nore them just be­cause you feel weird about hav­ing “in­ter­net friends,” I’m cur­rent­ly think­ing about mov­ing to a new coun­try where my in­ter­net friends have been so good to me.

Previously I wrote about how so­cial me­dia can make us in­cred­i­bly lone­ly, but in the past three years its done the ex­act op­po­site for me. You find peo­ple, they find you. Grow those con­nec­tions, take the slow but sure road to a friend­ship. Those are the real won­ders of light speed com­mu­ni­ca­tion. The world is small­er, and that shrink­ing brings me clos­er to po­ten­tial friends.

I want to be able to use so­cial me­dia in a way that puts me in touch with peo­ple I can form a gen­uine con­nec­tion with. I’ve not yet had a bad ex­pe­ri­ence in meet­ing some­one I’ve con­nect­ed with on­line. If you’re able to have those tru­ly hon­est con­ver­sa­tions and take the time to get past the sur­face lev­el, then it’s a very good bet you’ll be able to main­tain and grow that con­nec­tion in real life. Being on­line re­moves most of those lit­tle so­cial dances we do. Rather than be­ing a hin­drance to so­cial­is­ing, the on­line en­vi­ron­ment can lib­er­ate us from our hang‐ups.

Ultimately the on­line ex­pe­ri­ence for me is about the peo­ple I can take with me from it. If you can find peo­ple you care about, and who care about you, then I think you’ll be okay.

The in­ter­net feels less like shout­ing into a void when you have peo­ple there who will lis­ten, tru­ly lis­ten, and take to heart the ideas you’re shar­ing.

JBL, What The Hell?
The Modern Board Game Starter Pack
The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent be­low.
John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long‐form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.