Back when I was living in the States, I was playing a Korean online game. After a heated gaming session, a user from my games started to make conversation. I apologized for my poor Korean, explaining that I lived in America because my dad worked here. My dad was behind me, watching the conversation unfold over my shoulder, and he scolded me saying that I shouldn’t be sharing any personal information online. A sense of horror shot through me; I immediately removed the person from my friends list, logged off, and uninstalled the game. I did everything I could to compensate for my grave mistake and its dire consequences.
Of course, such consequences never happened.
In my teenage years, I made a Facebook account. The sign-up screen asked me for my information: from the basics like my birthday, hometown, and school, then onto my favorite artists, movies, and books. I embellished my profile with so much information that I was adding films and shows I’ve never even watched. I interacted with many people while discussing music, movies, or religion online — one of them was an immigrant who lived in Korea. He invited me to hang out. So the next time I returned to Seoul I willingly followed this man — who was nearly double my age — to his house…
We had pizza and played Resident Evil.
I was never in any actual danger. He wasn’t just some stranger I followed from the park, he was a friend that I had interacted with for a long time. I knew him. He shared with me the frustrations he experienced while living in Korea, and I shared mine. Despite our clear differences, we were able to relate to each other. His views were highly enlightening for my angsty juvenile self. He was more of a friend than most of the kids at school.
He would be the first of many online friends I’d go on to meet up with in real life. I must confess there is always an innate element of suspicion preceding such meetings, but the danger seems to be greatly exaggerated. I’d argue that nowadays the people you meet through the Internet could also be the most reliable. People prefer revealing their addresses and getting in strangers’ cars to riding a regular taxi if an Uber driver is highly rated. People can follow strangers to their homes and expect very good odds that they won’t be murdered if the place has enough Airbnb reviews.
Still, many of my peers (including me to an extent) still maintain the somewhat antiquated mantra that people online should never be trusted. We are able to trust products online, but not people. We simply deem meeting people online to be suspicious or unnatural. We are given the tools to find people worth connecting with as well as the tools to actually connect with them, yet we somehow find a way to convince ourselves it’s too sketchy to be worth pursuing. It’s just a damn shame.
I, too, find it incredible that some people can commit themselves into long distance relationships with people they’ve never met, or that Tinder is now recognized as a fairly legitimate source for finding relationships. However, this just goes to show how rapidly the world is changing. Maybe the stigma will die out completely eventually as personal lives become more intertwined with technology. After all, the current generation of toddlers may grow up being more familiar with dialogue that is online rather than offline. But until then, the best friends we’ve never had will always remain a few clicks away — worlds apart.
Friendship is rare, but it’s worth trying to find. Having the support of someone else, having someone that can empathize, or having someone to simply kill time with could be life-changing. Social media is so often blamed as the culprit behind social isolation that sometimes it seems we forget that it is the cure. The paranoia that was once relevant during the infancy of Internet access is now holding us back in the safer and more regulated environment that exists today. For all the progress we reap and expect from technological advancements, maybe the true treasure was the friends we made along the way.