How the internet changed the way I cope with social anxiety
I still remember the day my dad gave me my first boxy, beige desktop and connected me to the router in his office with a thick grey cord. This was long before Wi-Fi, and the dial-up tone was the sound of connection. I covered the sides of my monitor with Lisa Frank stickers I’d saved for a special occasion such as this one and made a picture of Rilo Kiley my background image.
My friends and I chatted after school about everything from Buffy (we live-tweeted episodes to each other before that was even a thing) to what we would wear the next day (almost always thrifted t’s and jeans we’d tapered ourselves). We crafted vague away messages with brooding Death Cab For Cutie lyrics; every other letter was to be capitalized, oR eLsE.
I also remember the first time I talked to my most notable crush from school online. When he’s scribbled his screen name in my notebook and I saw that it was a nod to Harry Potter, I knew I was crushing hard. I stayed up all night in the glow of our chat bubble, and learned quickly that the slight separation provided by our screens actually allowed me to be more open; though I was typically shy and quiet at school, online, I was funny. I was bold and quick. I learned to use that extra millisecond you get with Internet communication (especially if you’re a fast typer) wisely, to make those edits that you just don’t get to make IRL.
Once I was able to let my guard down in the realm of emoticons, lols, and brbs (for those moments when you just, yknow, need a moment), I was able to let my guard down around him in person. We dated on and off for two years, which is practically forever in the lives of high-schoolers. Though our mutual crushing didn’t last, another crush did — my crush on the internet.
I’ve met some of my closest friends in digital spaces, and many of these friendships have blossomed IRL. I do much of my work on the internet, both the work I do for a paycheck and the unpaid work I do that could be called a “passion project” (though I personally find that term kinda squicky and would never call it that). I spend a lot of time on the ol’ net, and I benefit greatly from it — both personally and professionally. Yet, lately, there’s been a lot of criticism floating around out there about this practice.
In recent months, there’s been an uptick in the number of op-eds that caution us against the dangers of our collective dependence on the internet. These pieces are usually accompanied by highly stylized photos of millennials staring dead-eyed into their smart phones. Ironically (or not?), I read these pieces on my smart phone, my dead, millennial eyes glaring at each one.
I push back against the idea that we are becoming disconnected from reality every time we “plug in.”
You see, part of my reality (and the reality of many others) is this — I deal daily with various social anxieties, come-and-go (but mostly come) depression, general introvertedness, and a fear (or perhaps, simple hate — let’s call a spade a spade) of small talk. For these reasons, the internet is a godsend. Or, a goddesssend. Or a secular all-knowing beingsend. Whatever.
The internet gives me a platform to talk about my ~feelings~ and connect with others who feel the same. The internet also lets me research those feelings, and gives me all the information I need to know that I’m not alone, and how to potentially find relief. The internet gives me the slight barrier I sometimes need between me and other people, so that I can recharge, or come up with the best response to sticky situations or things that are overwhelming. And the internet has all the gifs of corgis cuddling I could ever ask for.
So yes, maybe I — and other people like me — am too dependent on the Internet. Maybe I’m too dependent on the distance it gives me from reality, but it’s only because that slight separation from what I would otherwise find overstimulating and anxiety-inducing makes it possible to actually connect. And connect I do, over Facebook and Gchat, through sharing articles and retweeting tweets, through Instagram and Snapchat and everything in between.
[Image via FOX]