BEYOND: Opinion: Online friends connect the world more than ever during pandemic

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Photographs courtesy of https://locallove.ca/

When a pandemic pulls you away from all of your friends and many of the people you appreciate in life, you quickly start finding ways to fill the gap. It can’t be overstated how fast things can change, especially in our modern world. In the space of three weeks in March, I went from enjoying the ups and downs of senior year at Ball State University in Indiana with my best friends to being ripped away from those friends and stuck at home in the Chicago suburbs for months on end.

            With so few people to interact with, what did I do? I took to the Internet and started striking up conversations with people and months later, I’ve lost count of the number of friends I’ve made since then. In spite of everything, the world feels closer to home than ever before. Make no mistake, the pandemic has incurred significant costs for all of us…not just for our economy, but for our lives, and we’ll still be grappling with its effects for years to come.

However, in many senses, it has catapulted us into the future in ways that might have been unthinkable otherwise. Humanity is both adaptable and highly resistant to change. What would we do without technology? Amidst the pandemic, it has become a bigger part of our lives than ever before. A Pew Research study released in April found that over half of US adults polled said that the Internet had been essential to them during the pandemic. Another third of respondents said if it wasn’t essential, it was at least important.

            Now, of course, most of the reasons for that have to do with remote work and learning and so on. In spite of this, the role which technology plays in bringing us together cannot be understated and this is something many more Americans have come to appreciate. According to a study from the National Research Group from April, almost nine out of every 10 Americans said that they’d found a better appreciation for technology’s effect on our lives – in terms of culture or overall society.

            For me, it broadened my horizons significantly over these past few months. I’ve gotten to know all sorts of different people from all over the world and it has given me the chance to listen to perspectives I might never have heard otherwise. Even before the pandemic, having that sense of online community made a world of difference. If it weren’t for those connections I’ve made over the years, I might never have figured out that I was trans or a lesbian. The list of discoveries goes on. In learning more about other people, we learn more about ourselves.

            None of this would have been possible 30 or 40 years ago, at least not to the extent that it’s possible now. Can you imagine being cut off from all of the people who matter in your life, with snail mail and expensive long-distance phone calls being the only way for you to keep in touch with friends and family? Not to mention very little way to get to know people outside of that social circle. We shouldn’t take the progress we’ve made in the world for granted.

            Nor should we take these new friends for granted, either. So many people argue that making friends online is no substitute for meeting people and making friends in person – but in a world where so much of our life is now spent online, is there really any difference between the two? The way I see it, a friend is a friend, no matter where they are in the world.

            I, for one, am endlessly grateful for the connections I’ve made online in these past few months, and I hope to make many more before the year is out. With what’s looking to be a long, cold winter on the horizon, now more than ever, we have to be there for one another. Who’s going to be there for us otherwise?