I've been thinking a lot about online communities recently, and it came home to roost in a very tragic and surprising way today.
About 11 years ago, pre-Facebook and Twitter and even before texting was a common thing, I was part of women's online forum. It was totally old-skool, the kind of static, forum board with multiple threads that people posted on. Everyone had a "handle" (to maintain some kind of internet anonymity), and there were a variety of topics, but mainly relating to getting married and having kids and navigating work-life balance and what to have for dinner and what people were reading and the like. There were a lot of members (over 6,000 when I look at it, though I would say closer to several hundred active at any given time), and I developed a lot of IRL friendships, some of them very close, with local members and those spread across the country and the world.
Time passed, and my needs changed, and somehow that forum did as well. I found myself going to it less and less often. At the same time, I found myself becoming more and more active with several other virtual communities:
- My earliest Twitter friends. When Patrick first showed me Twitter, I was like "So you're friends with them just because they are on this platform and local? That's the stupidest thing I have ever heard." Until I got to be friends with them (virtually and IRL) because they were on Twitter, and suddenly I got it. Some of my extremely important relationships (I'm looking at you, for example, @irishgirl, @swirlspice, and @lindsi) would not have started without Twitter, and we would not have the pleasure of @sweatingcomma's company without it.
And then Facebook groups took over, and when I think of those, there's also a lot of diversity:
- Local BST boards, each with their own personality and sense. I know the Midway-Frogtown group has certain personalities, and the Highland Mac-Grove one another, and the Saint Paul Perennials one yet another sense, and I appreciate them all.
- Several keeshond groups that I got involved with when we were looking for a new dog after Geronimo died. In particular, I found a group fighting to close down an absolutely reprehensible breeder in upstate NY, and now I have keeshond-loving friends all over the country and Canada, some of whom I have met IRL. (And that's also how we got Coya!) In one of those groups, two of the mods are making a pilgrimage to a dog chapel in Vermont this week, and taking pictures of dogs who have passed — Geronimo is included.
- Another group that is working really hard to investigate societal roles and privilege; I'm not going to say a lot about that one because it's undergoing some turmoil and revision right now. But I have met MANY people from that group IRL, and consider them some of the most wonderful, creative, and change-making people I know; I feel so lucky to have them in my world.
- A Saint Paul "mom's group" (but much more than that) that originally spring from a BST board. My 400 "Housies" have each other's backs, whether it's helping out each other, or rallying for a cause, or renting an entire movie theater to see Bad Moms. Beatrix is in awe of my membership in this group.
Today, the original forum came full circle, and (unfortunately due to an incredibly tragic incident) formed a Facebook group. It was like coming back to a close-knot campus after your junior year away, where you have grown so much while apart but still value those people and connections and are so glad to have them in your life.
There's a pattern in these groups, where I have "met" people on the internet, then in real life, then our friendship has deepened in a parallel of internet and actual communication. This is the general pattern, but in some cases, I have met people IRL and not gotten closer to them in cyberspace. In others, I consider them close friends but have not actually met face to face. It's an amazing and awe-inspiring thing, these collections of pixels that lead to relationships, and my life is all the richer for it.