Friday, January 03, 2014

Hello Stranger

Baby boomers have struggled for years with hypocritical "don't use drugs!" warnings to their own children, when in fact they themselves have almost no recollection of the late 60s and early 70s. But what about the standard message to avoid 'strangers'?

I've had online friends since I was pregnant with my son in 1994. Then, when I adopted Kelso in 2003, I joined a forum for other greyhound adopters and connected with people there. I started this blog in 2005 and have maintained online relationships with many other bloggers and readers of this blog. With VERY rare exception, I have never met these people and don't even know what their voices sound like, what regional accents they have, how tall they are. I don't think of them as anything less than my friends. Yet, when my son recently talked to me about some of the 'friends' he plays a video game with via Skype, it took every ounce of muscle control to keep my eyeballs locked in place. "They're not your friends!" I wanted to shriek, followed by "Don't smoke pot!"

Then I thought about my online people. People who supported me through all kinds of family drama, divorce, death, a myriad of illnesses as well as sharing in the many joys in my life over these years. I feel completely and totally connected to them, their families, their children I've watched grow, marry and have children of their own. I've felt crushed for them when they've lost someone close: human, canine, feline or even reptile. We've made contributions to each other's fundraising efforts, supplied votes in online competitions and in one case held an online memorial service for a woman who died after having her baby...and then each made one square for a quilt for that baby to keep. She'd be almost 19 now, like my son.

Sure, there have been jerks. There have been 'catfish'. One of those catfish fooled a LOT of intelligent adults with 'her' blog. This is something I did teach both of my kids...that you don't have to be stupid to be duped by someone online, that people who do this are very very good at it. If they were good people they'd be Oscar-winning actors. And believe me, I still think it's dangerous for children to interact online with people they don't actually know.

But for me, if I were to subtract all of the people I've met online since 1994 from my life, a big hole would remain. Even my doomed foray into online dating gave me fodder for a pretty funny blog post called "Dates with Nuts". The internet has forced us to redefine a lot of things not the least of which are the words 'friend' and 'stranger'. And maybe even family.