chains of custody / pre-pandemic internet friendships

(a pre-pandemic reflection on internet friendships, written 03.05.20, a week before san francisco issued the shelter-in-place order, the first city in the united states to do so)

in wake of involuntary distance, my friendships have been maintained through phone, internet, et al. i went to schools outside of the district i lived in until hs, and moved 4 times throughout k-12 (walking to a friend’s house or growing up alongside the same classmates from elementary school? wild). each time meant trying to find some form of magic (gchat, yahoo messenger, google voice, fb messenger, twitter) to stay in touch because i couldn’t rely on seeing someone on the day to day anymore. each time also meant reassuring we wouldn't forget one another, we would remember each other, we would remember the versions of ourselves that we were when together.

who am i if not the people in my life who i allow or can’t help myself to be moved by, seen and to be seen by, known and to be known by? i want to pull circles around these people accordingly. there’s the joke i make about having 24892348 social media accounts for my corresponding personalities, but also, TRUE.

each communication/social technology (using these terms loosely) maps to and occupies a different conceptual place with its range of motion and people who exist within/on that technology with me. sometimes things are less spaces (group interactions) and more protocol (1-1), but even in a text message or email thread, there's place that we create together.

at the moment i want public spaces to meet everyone i can and private intimate spaces for people i choose and adore! it feels special to be able to carve out layers and space in an otherwise shapeless flattened context-switching hellscape of external validation and visibility (for tactical reasons, you know?) alongside heart-to-hearts and vulnerabilities. i get DMs/texts / group versions do this well in carving space too! (maybe i just miss blogspot)

there are internet acquaintances turned friends who have read journal entries from me starting from 7th grade, those who watched me dabble in student media, those who saw dispatches from my conference travels, a high school groupchat that formed to sneak me out for my 16th birthday, friends i have hours-long catchups with every few months, others i simply call without notice.

while these spaces are distinct, i wish they were a distributed interconnected cross-platform network, rather than entities that exist digitally siloed off from one another. this desire comes with recently delightful mixing of friend groups i really appreciate ; i used to be nervous about that partially out of fear the different friends would dislike one another, and by extension, dislike another part of me they maybe hadn’t directly seen before.

there’s a passage about solitary self (or really, the flimsiness of its existence) by briallen hopper i can’t stop thinking about: “you would need to be able to trace the contours of your personality as if they had never meant anything to anyone; to scour your brain of love’s neural traces; to forget where your hands have been.” it felt like to have different distinct personalities, meant to be disingenuous when instead, we get to hold multiple, overlapping, truths with the multitude of people to which we anchor our psyches. rather than being on the run, hiding in fear or self-defense, i'm in near-constant motion, dancing.

*caveat: i recognize now that wanting privacy / intimacy with particular people is different from hiding, but i feel like i’ve also had to hide for pragmatic reasons around professionalism + safety so i assumed they were default interchangeable

**tangent: adulthood has felt even more, than i’m already used to, a continuous stream of joyous reuniting with people i haven’t seen in ages, then mustering the levity of a ‘see you later’ as if you weren’t saying goodbye to each other for an indeterminate amount of time. dancing in timestreams of happenstance and quite frankly, chaos, is an art and maybe the little slice of control we have in the universe

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