Internet Friends

262872_10151055031855698_432420098_nIn the years since my pre-teen fingers hooked the telephone line up to the computer only to hear the garbled static of the dial-up tone, I’ve formed many friendships via the magic of the World Wide Web. It’s like having the ability to pick ‘n’ mix your friends, weeding out the fried eggs from the jelly worms. Instead of situation-enforced friendships with people who you don’t necessarily connect with, you have a whole world of potential friendships that are formed through mutual interests. These friendships don’t occupy a physical space, but a metaphysical one. It is the ideal solution for anyone with introvert tendencies and niche interests. For me, that’s a check and check.

 I came to know my best friend, Hannah, after happening upon some of her creative writing online. It was our own platonic version of love at first sight. A writing crush quickly developed (and has since snowballed), and I shyly reached out to her expressing my respect and admiration for her obvious talent. Having written many different pieces for online publication myself, I know how daunting it can be and how far a kind message can go. That one little email ended up being a life-changer. After exchanging a few messages, we added each other on Skype and kept in contact over instant message, often participating in group chats to live-heckle West Wing episodes together – one of life’s great bonding activities.

 At the time that this all occurred, I was going through a particularly tough time personally. I was deeply depressed at university, facing the reality that after two years of work and a scary amount of money, I hated my course. The idea of accepting that was terrifying, but I knew what I wanted to be doing: I wanted to be writing. When I met Hannah, it felt like the world was giving me a whopping great sign and a best friend to boot.

 We were chatting via Skype instant messenger in the early hours of a Friday morning, still on student sleep schedules, when my finger clumsily hit “call”. It was 3:30am and we had never spoken on the phone before. I assumed her reaction would be to shut the call down and say goodnight. She assumed I was so excited about what we were discussing that I had intentionally called her up to continue. It was 20 minutes before I admitted my mistake as she obliviously extolled the virtues of Donna Moss. At 7am, I heard my brother and parents waking up for their days of school and work respectively but Hannah and I were still going, drifting cyclically between drowsy and hyper.

 We talked about The West Wing, where to find the best cookie recipes, the US election, an obscure miniseries that Bradley Whitford was in once, words for vaginas, our differing accents and a thousand other topics, as though it was all of the utmost importance. And it was. It was urgent that we knew each other inside and out. For me, coming out of the toughest period of depression I’ve ever experienced, it was invigorating. The emotional lethargy that had developed over a number months seemed to lift overnight and every person I knew commented on my immediate shift in mood following that day. I had found the best friend I had always been looking for. That phone call ended at 8pm the following night, lasting a total of 15 hours (ignoring a few connection failures). We slept, we washed, we ate and then we called each other again. The next day, we began bouncing around ideas for my application essay for a new university course. Sometime during our first week of incessant phone calls, I accidentally referred to Hannah as my best friend in what felt like our premature “I love you” moment. Thankfully, she felt the same way.

 Two weeks later, she visited me for the first time – a mere seven-hour journey. The day she arrived, I received notification that my course change had been accepted and I was to start studying English the following September. We celebrated together, my victory sweetened by having shared it with my brand new best friend. Hannah was meant to stay for three days on that trip but it ended up being nine. It would probably have been even longer were it not for her pesky graduation ceremony and the fact that she had to keep buying more underwear.

 Ever since, we’ve spoken a little or a lot (mostly a lot) every single day. We are constantly travelling to see each other, having logged many hours napping on stuffy coaches travelling up and down English motorways. Even without the luxury of time spent together in person, our hours together on Skype ensure that we are, at least metaphorically, inseparable. There will be times where we go long periods on the phone without saying a word, as though casually hanging out in real life. There will also be times when conversations don’t start with a hello, but a “Here’s a thing that happened – tell me your thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams!” Though we live on opposite sides of our small country and are apart most of the time, we aren’t really, aside from those times when Skype refuses to co-operate. The internet giveth and the internet taketh away, I guess. For us, though, it has given most generously.

 When I graduate this year, it will be in no small part thanks to Hannah. From helping me perfect my application, to sending me a “What Would Donna Do” necklace as a ‘first day’ present, to supporting me every step of the way, I owe my best friend an enormous debt of gratitude.

 While meeting friends online is still a taboo, as I know well from the many times people have asked Hannah and I how we met, it has enriched my life immeasurably. It doesn’t matter how you meet people, it only matters who you meet. Having a best friend strengthens every other relationship because you have someone that takes care of the heavy stuff, enabling the best version of you to shine through for everyone else.

 I am my best self thanks to my best friend.

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Timehop is the Enemy.

As you can see, I've undergone a Walter White style transformation over five short years.

As you can see, I’ve undergone a Walter White style transformation over five short years.

Apps are a particularly fickle world of trends, with games and features going from de rigueur to old news faster than your average celebrity. It’s easy to tell which are riding the wave because the notifications will lay siege to any and all of your social network feeds. Recently, the app that seems to be flavour of the month is Timehop, the poor man’s Tardis. Given my penchant for nostalgia, it didn’t take me too much convincing to download the popular time travel app myself. Oh, what a fool. A foolish naive newborn baby. Timehop, as I learned firsthand, is the enemy.

Let's not.

Let’s not.

A few years ago, I abruptly stopped writing status updates on Facebook in the casual manner that I once had, suddenly self-conscious of my own inanity. I had forgotten that I had ever used the social media platform so liberally, but a result of my recent radio silence on Facebook (and the logistical issues connecting up my Twitter feed) has been that the only Timehops I see are five-year-old Facebook statuses. These contain two surprises of note. The first is that more than one update comes up per day. Baby Me is the very person I mock for unnecessary social media over-sharing! Instead of the sparse, amusing anecdotes that I like to pretend I am providing, it is garbage nonsense. It’s not even sparkling garbage. It’s just mundane, weird, pointless excerpts from my day! I wasn’t even dressing it up. Re-reading some of these posts, I imagine this is what people go through when they discover childhood journals. I feel incredibly detached from, and embarrassed by, these posts. I’ve changed a lot since I was 17. I can’t think what right now, but a lot. Trust me. Ooh! I got one, I got one: I don’t have a fringe anymore!

The second surprise has been that many, and yes I’m talking plural here, of these statuses have been about Glee of all things! I don’t even remember ever liking Glee! It was a six week period in a long-forgotten past and I had blocked that shit out. Now, all of a sudden, I’m being confronted by the mistakes of yesteryear. My brain was trying to protect me and now Timehop has undone all that good forgetting. No one wanted this, Timehop. Can’t you develop a filter to protect me from myself?

The worst thing is, while I have the app downloaded, I can’t just avoid it. Timehop sends me emails to make sure I don’t miss out on the entries for each day. I get friendly reminders that, oh, it’s been five years since pointless status #567: “is crying with laughter.” Do you remember when third person statuses were a phase? I hope they were a phase and that wasn’t just me.  Here are some recent updates I’ve had from Timehop, also known as the ghost of my terrible past:

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Firstly, I’d like to point out that I was treating myself before “Treat Yo Self” had even been created. I think maybe you all have me to thank for the sacred occasion. Secondly, this status is so weird and mysterious. Why am I doubting my worth as a Treat Yo Self celebrant? Was I always this whiny? Just treat yo self and own it, Jessica. Get your shit together and wipe your eyes. What is wrong with you, girl? Damn. Honestly, the most interesting thing about this status update is that it was once 7°c on a Wednesday. Share this? Timehop, have you read it?! Why would I want to remind people that I once bought unidentified boxsets five years ago?

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Five years ago, I was clearly clinging to the ailing Myspace because no one had told me that the world was over it. Why was I giving Myspace a second chance? What did Myspace ever do for anybody? To be honest, cringier than my pathetic attempt to gain Myspace friends is the omission of a comma in that sentence. Also, it’s good to see that even though I’m making multiple updates in the same day, they are really worthwhile. I mean, who didn’t need clarification of my feelings for Jim Halpert on January 30th 2010? FYI: they are unchanged.

The only way I think I can move forward now is to delete the app and hope that one day I forget my Glee phase all over again. The only reason I haven’t deleted it yet is a part of me really needs to assurance that I’ve done something – anything! – at some point that is worth remembering with fondness. I want to believe that it’s not all just, “The time has come… GLEE!” Pray for me.

Tumblr Versus the World

xkit vs tumblrIf you were to make a movie out of any dedicated Tumblr user’s life, the site-runners themselves would be the antagonists. Sure, we devotedly sign in every day like we’re checking the morning paper, unable to escape the lure of… well, who knows what, but talk to any content creators and you’ll hear very few words of kindness about the administrators of the platform. They’re Moriarty. They’re Hydra. They’re Scar. They get to know your weaknesses, or rather, they identify the very few functions that actually work well, and they destroy them.

Every time you think that Tumblr itself can’t make Tumblr worse for its users, they think of something. I can’t go back to the beginning of the reign of terror, too much has happened. We’ll begin in the post-‘Missing E’ era. After Tumblr made life so difficult for Missing E (the original corrective add-on for Tumblr) that they gave up trying to fix the website’s mistakes, we entered into the era of fanmail (so flawed it’s funny), “activity” pages and the loss of the traditional tag function in favour of a general search. This week, the site introduced its latest, most radical and unwanted unnecessary update yet: wider posts. That may sound great to you. “Everything’s widescreen now, Kennedy,” you heckle from the back. Sit down, buddy, sit your ass right down. For years, posts on Tumblr have been made to 500 pixel width. Now, the new post size is 40 pixels wider than before. It’s also 40 pixels wider than the size you are actually able to upload in, meaning that all that’s happened is the gifs and images are being stretched. Given that Tumblr is primarily a visual social media platform, having everything look blurry and distorted is maybe not the best idea on paper, let alone in practice. The dashboard looks bad and blog themes look even worse. It’s chaos. Even if Tumblr rectifies the discrepancy between the 540px display and the 500px upload limit, the file size limit will remain and be even harder to keep gifs under if they have to be wider.

I can’t remember the last time Tumblr made an update that people were excited about. With every change, we muddle through with xKit’s superheroic tendency to fix things back to the way they were. Bless xKit guy, a human with all the goodness of Captain America and the godliness of Thor himself. I no longer know how I would use that website without the xKit add-on. He solves problems I didn’t even know I had! It’s a miracle Tumblr’s persistently terrible updates haven’t worn him down, but still he fights back.

Anyway, the newest update seems to have caused the biggest backlash yet – understandably so. It seems only a matter of time before people march on Tumblr HQ and stop the people behind the madness. The trouble is, something about Tumblr stops you from ever breaking free. They push and push at the elastic tying you to it and yet it never seems to snap – not for me, at least. A well-timed funny text post always arrives just in the nick of time, or a genius gif reaction. My relationship with this website can be best described by the poem in 10 Things I Hate About You. The love/hate balance may be (definitely is) slightly skewed more in favour of hate than in the Kat/Pat sitch, but it still sends the message: “Mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you — not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.” WHY CAN’T I QUIT YOU TUMBLR??

Its display of complete disregard for user demands makes clear how little interest the site owners have in user satisfaction. I’m pretty sure that as long as the add-ons and corrective scripts are working, I will stick around, but we edge ever closer to the point of no return. Why must Tumblr make everything so difficult? Just know your audience, T. Know it, own it, satisfy it with a functioning ask and reply system and don’t mess with post sizes. It’s so simple.

Two Weeks Without Wifi

Take my love, take my land. Take me where I cannot stand. I don’t care, I’m still free. You can’t take my wifi from me…

Let me set the scene. It’s a warm summer evening, uncomfortably warm in fact. Aeroplanes thunder overhead as frequent reminders of my proximity to Heathrow. It’s a welcoming place where I feel comfortable, but it holds none of the comforts of home. Not my bed, with my beloved memory foam pillow and that cloud-like duvet. Not the 20 different cheeses that you’ll always find in a Kennedy fridge or my excessive supply of Tunnocks teacakes. My mother’s face, mine in 29 years, is noticeably absent from the picture and the grating strum of my father’s guitar is silent. I feel unconnected. There’s no Internet. What seemed so ubiquitous is now quite achingly out of my reach…

It’s strange to have two weeks offline. I felt off the map. It would never be something I would consider doing by choice. I’m part of that generation, the one they call broken. We’re iPhones and Facebook, can’t hold a real conversation anymore without accidentally letting a “lol” slip out. We came right after the ASBOs one, I think. We’ll be match.com marrieds, with our livetweets and our lazy Sundays. Every room lit up by a screen: computers, phones and those things in between that they call tablets. We have our online footprints. But doesn’t that mean we mattered? We came and we mattered. We made some kind of an impact, even if it was an X Factor live commentary.

I’m an insignificant one in seven billion, average at almost everything and what I’m not average at, I’m just bad at: plumbing, poetry (a sore spot), cooking, running. I fancy myself a writer. But I don’t know how to be a writer without the Internet. Not properly. It is so much a part of the process. It can prompt an idea, it’s my primary source of research, but most importantly, it is my readership.

The two primary functions that I use the Internet for are creativity and communication. While I did feel cut off from people, particularly the friends I have across the Atlantic, it was the creative aspect that left me most frustrated. Every day at home, I’m creating something. Whether I’m writing on this blog or another, attempting to be witty in 140 characters, video editing, working in Photoshop or writing creatively (both original works and fan fiction), I get to create and publish content constantly. It’s encouraged more practice of all those skills than I could ever have had otherwise.

The problem, I guess, is that I’m now pretty good at a bunch of things that have very limited profitability. Whoops.

I’ve not had any moments in particular of being frustrated over the lack of wifi; it just simmers. While I’ve been in London, I have been busy – both socially and professionally. I met up with a bunch of friends: Louise, Hannah, Julia, Sally. But I met them all through social media. Even when I’m offline now, my life is so affected by the Internet. I think there are two readings of this. The first being, GO OUTSIDE and the second, an acceptance of the way things are. It’s alright. Now I get to be friends with the people I get on with best in all of the Internet, which is pretty close to global. These are my people, you know? It’s brilliant, and such a privilege.

I’ve had a really nice two weeks. Work experience was brilliant. Being in the city was brilliant. Taking the time out to miss home and be missed is always good, and necessary. But when people moan of the downsides of the technological revolution, I feel like they’ve missed the point. It’s good to be connected. I can be with everyone in the world while enjoying the solitude I need.

Two weeks out. It’s good to be back. Hello again, world.