Are friendly spaces making a comeback on the internet?
And what can they teach us about making friends in real life?
It’s hard to make friends. The last time it was truly easy, a fellow four-year-old walked up to me, said, “Hi, I Brian,” and we’ve been friends ever since. But once we’re past the close quarters and easy socialization of playgrounds, dorm rooms, or extracurricular activities, connecting with new people is an effortful task. Maybe it gets easier when you restart the cycle with kids of your own (besides, you know, the effort that goes into to wrangling kids of your own), but if you ask a random 30-something how they’d make friends in a new city, I bet they’d return a blank stare. On the other hand, I bet if you asked them if there’s a topic or a creator that they enjoy daily updates from, they’d have an immediate answer.
That’s why, as we try to regain our appetite for spontaneous socialization and meaningful connection, the internet could be one way out of this late-COVID social malaise. While some online groups only serve to amplify the bad news, I’ve been heartened by a few communities here on Substack that have a small town, mutual aid feel to them. It seems that just as the trolls can find each other, so too can the good ones.
Anne Helen Petersen’s Culture Study, for example, has helpful threads like “Your go-to quick fix meal” and general calls for advice where anyone can put forth a quandary and see if another member of the community can help out. There’s only one rule, as she writes in her intro to each thread, “Don’t be butts to each other…and let’s keep this one of the good places on the internet.”
Maybe Baby is another example where over 1600 people came together recently to talk about where they’re living and their hope for making more local and meaningful connections to combat the “friend recession.” Even better, hundreds of participants expressed interest in actually meeting up. In smaller towns or non-urban areas, a signal boost like this can help locate potential friends who aren’t as close as they would be in denser cities.
If newsletters aren’t your primary source of media consumption, you might have also noticed a similar phenomenon with the proliferation of podcasts and the ensuing live shows and merchandising. Whether it’s My Favorite Murder or Normal Gossip, if you’re interested in getting out of the house to see your favorite hosts, it’s partly due to wanting to be around other people with the same interest.
And that’s the ultimate goal, actually getting out there and throwing ourselves back into the rhythm of being social again. So as we find our footing, there’s no shame in taking a shortcut through the search bar to find people with common interests and good intentions. We’re all here already, why not use it to get from point A to a point IRL?
Or, back in the day, a Jack Neary classic,
”hey guys, you wanna play guys?”!!!!