Internet Friends

Depending on who you ask, the internet has either doomed us to hell, or is the only force capable of saving us from an inevitable apocalypse. Hot takes be damned, the internet is beautiful and scary, both can be true – like a stranger offering you free candy. If it’s more proof that the internet is scary you’re looking for, you’ve come to the wrong place.

I’m here to talk about * * the ** !++ beauty :) ++ 🖤# * of internet friends.

Like every great writer, the first place I checked for a proper definition of “internet friend” was Urban Dictionary and I hate them all. So let’s start with Ryan Dawidjan’s definition of what he calls “modern friends.”

Modern friends are those relationships that primarily originate and develop through digital channels (forums, email, reddit, twitter, etc).Modern friends typically discover one another via shared personal interests, “professional” (personal development) collaboration or friend-of-friend introductions.

Before diving into internet friendships, it’s important to remember how people (millennials and older) have traditionally met people in real life – let’s call them “IRL friends.”

At some point before you can remember, your parents decided to put down roots in the same place as someone else’s parents and then one of a few things happened that lead to your earliest friendships: you lived on the same street, attended the same school, played sports together, or your parents met another set of parents they could tolerate before you were articulate enough to express an opinion about their offspring.

As an adult, you typically make friends by working together, moving to a new city and meeting a friend of a friend, or you have kids and decide to put down roots in the same place as another set of parents you can tolerate who also have kids the same age as yours.

But internet friends! It’s specifically the “shared personal interests,” from Ryan’s post, that are the nucleus of internet friendships. By definition, to meet someone on the internet, you have to be hanging out in a place of interest. However, it’s not just shared personal interests that make internet friends.

Probably my favorite thing I heard last year was that friendships should be “high intimacy and low maintenance” (from Jackson, an internet friend I’ll share more on a bit). In most cases, internet friendships are low maintenance ✔️. The absence of physical connection with your internet friends results in less plans made (and inevitably canceled) and less doing things you don’t like to do for the sake of being social (perhaps you read last week’s reading rec on cool bars).

But internet friendships are also typically low intimacy ✖️. If you’re lucky, or try hard enough–but not too hard–you may create high intimacy internet friendships as well (try explaining that phrase to your grandmother).

One of the rare settings where you can be distracted from the stresses of everyday life, internet friendships are the epitome of staying present. Your internet friends and you exist in the moment, focused on what’s trending in your place of mutual interest.

People who do not have internet friends will often find your internet friendships weird (nerd!). Less often, they may be curious as to how they can make internet friends. For the curious, here are some examples:

  • I met Chris Wilson in 2010 on Twitter, he had just got his first iPhone and wanted some app recs. I recommended Words With Friends and we played a decent amount. A couple years later (we had stopped playing Words), Chris helped me through my college golf recruiting. We’re hoping to play a round together this year.
  • Speaking of Words With Friends, my mom met random opponent “Levula” on Words With Friends, also in 2010, and they’ve played many games per day, every single day, since.
  • Two of my friends met in a music-sharing group I created last year and are now dating. A separate two met up to do mushrooms and listen to music IRL.
  • In 2015, I met Jackson on Twitter. I was a college student working at Product Hunt and he was a college student working at Lowercase (🎵 can I make it any more obvious 🎵). Jackson temporarily moved to SF in 2017 and introduced me to Brenner (they also met on Twitter). Aside from maybe one or two people, there is no one I have deeper, more honest conversations with about life. We’ve been to Burning Man, concerts, camping, Austin, Oregon, NYC, LA… all incredible experiences. And yet, the internet version of our friendship is just as good.

If you have any friends who met their significant other on a dating app (me, for example! shoutout Rachel for designing the Just a Thought logo), you’re familiar with the little disclaimers and slight embarrassment that come from sharing that origin story. The same is true for internet friends, except with a less obvious end-game. But once you get past that and start to make real, live, virtual friends, life gets better. In speaking about this post, a friend put it really simply:

Don’t make friends on the internet to advance your online presence, do it to find people who make you laugh, better, challenge your world views etc.Being yourself on Twitter leads to more intimate relationships.

In a year where most of your friends became internet friends, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my friendships – both IRL and internet. And, while this is mostly an ode to those internet friends, I must point out the obvious: internet friendships certainly lack in some key areas. There are less “people don’t forget” moments and with that, for better and worse, there is less personal history that defines our richest IRL friendships.

In 2019, I gave a best man speech at a friend’s wedding. I followed the maid of honor, who opened with a story of when they met in ninth grade, 10 years before the wedding – a long time ago! Then I was up, telling stories about the groom from as early as Kindergarten – a friendship with a history deeper than any internet friendship.

So, if there’s one takeaway from this post, it’s to put yourself out there more in an effort to diversify your friendships. Express yourself online, get outside, meet new people in both places. Life will be much better off because of it.

I find that the people I stan the hardest for are those that are successful creatively and can write. Chef Gabrielle Hamilton is definitely in that category and so is The Hundreds founder Bobby Hundreds. He just wrote a piece on Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) that I understand partially but appreciate fully. Basically, NFTs are a way to establish ownership of a digital object by minting it using blockchain. While I may not understand the mechanics of how it all works, the story does force you to think about what value and ownership means in an age where everything is a copy/paste away from being “yours.” It’s yet another example of how Bobby is able to remain true to his roots in hardcore and skateboarding while still maintaining a curiosity and open mind when it comes to “what the kids are up to.” And how’s this for a kicker: after minting the essay, Hundreds sold it for $3,500!-Justin
Before Kelly Slater became surfing’s GOAT, the horns rested on the head of Tom Curren. As a kid, I think I just appreciated the fact that Curren won three world titles and had those sweet Channel Islands boards with the black rails. It’s only later that I’ve been able to understand the depth of Curren’s surfing style. And it’s amazing to see how that style endures at age 56, as exemplified in this edit from Curren’s longtime sponsor Rip Curl. It’s also fun to see Curren’s quirkiness on full display. He seems to have embraced his inner Gonz and I’m here for it. -Justin