Sunday, May 15, 2016

Talking to Strangers (Online)

Title:Talking to Strangers
LBCC student Abe Richmond looks at his laptop in the courtyard. 

By my junior year of high school, I had gotten pretty deep into something.

It was, on the surface, a pretty straightforward thing. I had joined a twitter “follow-chain” from a forum centered on hip-hop. Basically everyone on the forum was given a hashtag to use, if they wanted to, By searching this hashtag on Twitter we could all follow each other.

To this day I’m not entirely sure why I did this; maybe I wanted more people to discuss the music I listened to with, but the more likely scenario is just that I wanted more followers. 

It's now clear that as the way we communicate becomes increasingly synchronized with the internet we are going to see more and more people who are not only products of where they spend their time and energy in real life, but online as well. And, despite what your technophobic aunt might tell you, is not necessarily a bad thing.
I found that some of these people, these complete internet strangers, had more in common with me than most people I talked to on a day to day basis. Some people formed group messages. When the right people were in them, some of these group messages led to the most deep and rewarding conversations I had ever had. This led to friendships. Communities.

Like minded people discussing things they were passionate about, or venting about their day. Topics went from insanely trivial to almost overwhelmingly weighty.

I know I’m not alone in this, all across the younger generation people are having the same experience. Growing up with the internet we, or at least I, conceptualize it differently. It’s seen as a place just as real as the physical world we live in, just another place to grow up in. 

This separate place to grow up in, along with wherever you happen to live, is affecting our generation more than might first be apparent.

Connor Kearns is a student at LBCC who is active in the Hip Hop Heads community on Twitter.
He said without his experience connecting to the more diverse array of cultures online, “I would be very close-minded. The Internet allows me to readily see other points of view that I wouldn't get otherwise. I wouldn't know anything about the world outside of Albany… Being constantly bombarded by opinions lets me step outside of my ego and connect more with humanity as a whole.”

Online communities have given him a perspective that he would have had no chance of getting in a world where the internet didn’t exist.

It’s ironic that some people correlate online communication with a decline in empathy, because as Kearns said, “I wouldn't have become a fan of rap, or been around for BLM (Black Lives Matter), which have both helped me empathize with people of color,  and see the corruption that's rampant in our government and police forces.”

Sydney Roberts reports the same thing, we were friends (in real life) in high school, but she’s since left Albany to go to college at Duke. While there she’s been involved in radical leftist activist movements, including a week long sit-in in a Duke administration building.

In a world where she didn't have access to the internet, especially the resources found in online social justice communities, Roberts probably would be a completely different person.

She said, “If not for the internet I would have probably been a moderate democrat. We now have access to things like Malcolm X’s biography and all these really informative leftist thinkers… Before, if you weren’t living in a metropolitan community, the access you had to things was so limited. People can go out and seek information they haven't been able to seek before.”

Both Kearns and Roberts have had experiences online that I absolutely can confirm as true. And not small, insignificant experiences either. Their internet activity has changed the way they’ve grown up, shaped what kind of humans they are now, permanently shifted the course of their lives.

I met a guy named Joey Molina online too, even though we’ve never met I’d consider him a good friend.

As of right now he is a producer with 11,000 followers on Soundcloud. Normally a pretty shy person, he talks about the internet, specifically the DIY community based around making and sharing music, as being one of the best things that’s ever happened to him.

“I would be a lot less confident with myself because I feel like my music success directly helped with my self esteem. It made me feel like I mattered to people and pleased them non directly in a way I wish I could do in real life but didn't know how,” He said.

And, according to Molina, it changed more than just the way he looked at music, “It helped my confidence and that just led to me being a bigger person in general”

I have my story, and the stories of others to corroborate this. And they a give a little peak into the internet subculture that has come to represent such large swaths of youth. Whether it's learning about different cultures, gaining confidence in their art, or simply having the tools to learn about the things you’re passionate about, it’s pretty clear to me that the internet has blown the old restraints way off.

At A Glance
-Tied to the evolution of the internet is the evolution of memes, an interesting concept on it's own
-Many people I talked to mentioned depression as one of the reasons they went online to find common interests. This is actually growing trend.
-Get to know Connor Kearns Joey Molina and Sydney Roberts by following them on Twitter, if you want.

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