I was always the quiet girl growing up – the girl who said few words, who never spoke up in class. If I had a thought or opinion, I never shared it, not because I didn’t think what I had to say was important but because I lacked the confidence. I was also extremely shy and didn’t always find it easy to make friends. I had a hard time standing out, too. I was just another face that faded into the background.
I remember when my family first got the Internet. It was AOL dial-up. As long as nobody needed to answer the phone, there was a whole new world open to me. When in real life I seemingly had nothing special about me, on the Internet I could spend hours personalizing my various online profiles to make them stand out – from coming up with my own AIM screen name to choosing a cool and flashy buddy icon. And don’t even get me started on Myspace. There were blanks to fill in my About Me section pertaining to crucial information like who my heroes were and what books I liked. There was choosing a cute layout. Not to mention a ton of other cool things you could add to your profile, like customized cursors and graphics, and even a song that you could have playing in the background whenever anyone visited your page (Bubbly by Colbie Caillat, thank you very much). In real life, it wasn’t always easy to express myself, to open up and let people see who I was. But on the Internet, that was all possible as I crafted digital self-representations of who I was.
The Internet is also where I learned that friends aren’t always formed in real life.
It was the summer after graduating high school, and now that it was all over and all of my peers were beginning their own lives, I couldn’t have felt more alone. That’s when I found Xanga, a blogging site where you could connect with different groups and communities based on shared interests. These groups could be titled anything from “Fall Out Boy Rocks!!!” to “Dog Lovers Unite!” and people with similar interests would flock, join the group, and begin making friends. Among these groups, Xanga also had a sort of “survey community,” made up of people who enjoyed creating and taking those Myspace-esque surveys that had questions like “What’s your favorite season?” and “Who was the last person you texted?” People would create these surveys and pass them around, and others would copy/paste and fill them out and post them to their feed. Everyone would casually read each other’s answers as they filled these surveys out, and soon, people gradually got to know one other. It was here where I found a small circle of survey-takers who would come to be my online friends.
We all had something in common: we all had this place where we could pour out everything about ourselves and our own lives.
These surveys became our own diary entries – embedding parts of ourselves, our days, into our answers—and we trusted each other with our secrets. This little circle was so important to me, because whatever was happening in my own life, I knew that at the end of the day, I had a place to go to where I could vent, and others who would listen and lend support. Through the years, we grew closer and were there for each other at different points in each other’s lives. Even when Xanga announced its possibility of shutting down, we found a way to stay together as we migrated our community to LiveJournal.
Fast forward to my two years away at college. It was my first time really being on my own, and I was severely depressed. I knew absolutely no one, and I’d never felt so lonely in my life. While I tried to stay connected with my online friends, the workload and mental strain of college made that impossible. Alone in my dorm room, I would sit on my bed with my laptop, and I would go on Youtube and watch people like Tyler Oakley and Grace Helbig, who made me feel like I was spending the night in with a friend. When you’re all alone and have nothing, that presence means everything. As long as I got to watch these videos, smiling and laughing the whole way, I could be all right. These Youtubers reassured me that I am never truly alone.
In a way, watching Youtubers also helped to get me out of my shell and feel more comfortable about who I was.
They allowed me to see that being awkward wasn’t just okay, but that it could be fully embraced and turned into humor. And with that, they helped transformed this awkward, timid girl into something of a self-deprecating yet more confident human being.
If Youtubers were my friends on a lonely Saturday night, ASMR was my therapy. The first time I watched an ASMR video, I was completely entranced: the gentle movements, the soft manner of speaking, the intimacy and personal attention. I immediately felt a sense of calm, like the little voice in my head had become personified into this person in front of the camera, helping me to forget all of my problems for just a moment and just relax. Every night, I learned through ASMR the importance of self-care. ASMR creators would soothe in my ear that it was okay, that I would be all right. One of my favorite ASMRtists made videos centered around coping with depression and anxiety, and I would listen as she reassured me that I am not alone in how I feel, listened as she would guide me through coping mechanisms and positive affirmations, telling me that whatever I was going through, it would not be permanent.
Self-care is one of the most important things that the Internet has given me, something I hadn’t realized I needed until I found it.
It reassured me that I was never alone, that there were others out there who understood exactly what I was going through. It taught me to understand that I was not the sum of my failures, that I was doing the best I could, that I should count every one of my small victories and not compare myself to others; I was a work in progress. It reassured me of so many things while also emphasized that my main priority should be my happiness and taking care of myself. It helped me to establish my own self-care regimen, to rewire my state of mind, and to see that happiness is a skill, one that I continue to work hard toward to this day.
As of writing this, it has been a year since graduating college. As I come to terms with post-grad life and the unknown, I continue to practice self-care. I listen to the stories from others online about their struggles with post-grad life, living in their twenties, and grappling with adulthood, which remind me that I am not alone in this scary new chapter in my life. The summer after graduating college, I also discovered the book blog community, which has become such a warm and positive place where bookworms like myself can all come together and connect. I feel like I’ve found my niche, both on the Internet and in life as I’ve been able to get back to center and realize what I truly want to pursue in life, which is book publishing. In one way or another, the Internet has been there through different points in my life—and will surely continue to be there—and I thank it for all that it’s done.
So no. In case you’re wondering, I have no plans of getting off the Internet anytime soon.