The Internet Is My Forever Valentine

I remember that first time. It was raining, and I was an immature 17-year-old. The service was called WebTV and it ran on dial-up, the device equipped with a remote that wouldn’t work unless it was pointed directly at the control box. The connection was instant (except for when it blacked out and the whole apparatus needed to be rebooted, but whatever—worth it).

That night I fell hard for the internet.

Until then, I’d had AOL on my computer, but WebTV was better. At the time, the internet was still a half-empty stadium, full of lurkers and stragglers and curious weirdos. Even so, it was an incredible place for a person who didn’t want to be alone with her thoughts.

Most people have never needed the internet the way I do. But I suspect I’m lonelier than “most people.” I don’t know; I’m not one of them. I’m the first to admit I come from extreme privilege, which is its own differentiator. But even with the advantages that come with that status, I have always been deeply, unquenchably, profoundly lonely.(Blame it on the fact that I’m an only child, on alcoholism, on sheer DNA—I’ve always wanted out.) So it’s no surprise that I love television and books and the prospect of other worlds. I seek escape. The internet was a place where I could be whoever I wanted to be, meet whomever I wanted to meet, at all hours. For a person who never wanted to be with herself, the internet was the perfect antidote.

I’m 41 now, so I didn’t grow up with a phone that I could stare at. I grew up on a diet of landlines, busy signals (call waiting was a revelation). and televisions that stopped broadcasting late at night. It wasn’t until that fateful night that the internet came alive for me. Later, there was MySpace and then Facebook, which was then available only to kids at Ivy League schools. I dropped out of college, but soon we were all on Facebook.

I’ve mentioned Facebook, so now is a good time to mention that a lot of the internet is bad. Social media killed our attention spans. E-commerce killed retail. Amazon knows more about us than our own parents do. Our connectedness is damaged, our thoughts are fractured and fractious in a sea of ever-changing content.

But from a woman whose attention span was never so spectacular to begin with, here’s a rebuttal: The internet is wonderful. I love it here—all of us together, my fellow distracted cyborgs. All the rules about the internet—Twitter is bad!—have a flip side. Sure, the great American novel won’t be written in 280 characters, but Twitter is how I came back to writing after I’d all but given up on a career in it. And fine, each of us has a gazillion tabs open, but I’m reading more diverse voices on more platforms than I ever did before. The canon is disrupted, and thank God. Homer would have loved TikTok.

One of the biggest complaints about the internet is that—like a bad partner—it wrecked us for other relationships. But on Twitter, I found communities that doesn’t exist IRL. Twitter is a StarWars bar filled with all the smartest, weirdest people. And Twitter—for all its questionable policies and possible contributions to the death of our democratic ideals—has introduced me to editors, friends, and sources. I’ve met incredible people on Twitter and watched them find their public voices too. (George Conway, it’s been a pleasure.) Twitter has connected me to a world I never would have known.

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