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I’m a person who grew up in the era where it was common to meet people online through affinity spaces like forums, blogs, and social media. As such, I have plenty of friends that I met online. Once, I think ‘online’ friends would have been considered a different type of friend – maybe one that knows less about you or only knows certain sides of you – but now, my perception of them has changed. Our lives are increasingly spent online, especially now in this current world health situation, and it’s difficult to think of differences that distinguish ‘online friends’ from ‘real friends.’ These ‘online friends’ are people that I have spent hours with, even if they were spent in two different places in the world. We have played video games, watched movies, streamed concerts, binge-watched television series, and just talked in the same way that I would with a friend that I met at university or knew from childhood. I have also met up with a number of these ‘online friends’ in real life. We have traveled together, stayed at each others’ homes, shared meals, gone to events, and drank together.


Recently, I’ve made other friends online but not in traditional online spaces – rather, I’ve met them in academic settings. Because my graduate school classes have been online since the beginning of my degree, I’ve had to form relationships with my peers in ways that I have not had to before. Normally, I would have been in classrooms with these people, but now our interactions have been limited to those mediated by technological capabilities. Still, humans are resilient and always seek out connections with other humans and we have learned to cope. We have organized game nights, messaged via Discord, watched movies, video-chatted, and more. Many of these people, like the friends that I’ve met through affinity spaces, are still friends to me.


I suppose what I am trying to say is that I don’t believe that people we meet online necessarily belong to a certain ‘online only’ domain of our lives. For me, the friendships that I have with these people are as real as the computer that I am touching as I type or the chair that I am sitting on. Beautiful connections can be made with people that you meet online and often, I find it easier to open up to them emotionally. I think that having the potential to start the relationship with online friends as potentially anonymous or with more control over what they know about me has made me more comfortable with showing them different sides of me – my very best sides but also things that other people might consider strange or weird. I have known some of these friends for six years or even longer and I truly believe that our friendships are ones that will last for a long time. I don’t think that the fact that they are mediated by technology does much to influence the strength or quality of our connections.


However, that being said, I’ve been feeling more isolated than I thought I would be during this pandemic in terms of friendship. Take my graduate school friends for example – in a normal situation, we would be able to eat lunch together, get coffee before class, chat during breaks, or maybe go for drinks after class. But having to know them only online has taken away many of these opportunities to talk, get to know each other, and really understand what other people are going through. This is made worse, I think, by the fact that my classroom is also my bedroom. I don’t have a separate learning space and it’s difficult for me to disconnect in the same way since there’s no leaving school behind – it’s in view always, even when I sleep. As a result, I often feel isolated and overwhelmed when it comes to my schoolwork and experience Imposter Syndrome* without the spaces to decompress and vent about school.

* Imposter syndrome: believing that you are undeserving of your achievements and thinking that you are not as competent as you seem

そうは言ったものの、今回のパンデミックの間、友達関係で私はすごく孤独を感じた。例えば、大学院の友達とは、いつもなら一緒にランチを食べたり、授業の前にコーヒーを飲んだり、休み時間におしゃべりしたり、放課後には一緒にお酒を飲みに行くことだってあったはず。でも、今はオンラインを通してしか知り合うことができないせいで、話をしてお互いをよく知る機会や、相手の近況を理解する機会が多く奪われてしまっている。さらに自分の部屋が「教室」であることも、状況を悪くしたと思う。他に勉強できるスペースはないし、寝るときも勉強スペースが目に入るから、「学校」から離れられずオフモードに入るのが難しい。そのせいで、課題をする中で孤独を感じたり気後れしてしまうことがよくあるし、学校のことで気持ちを落ち着かせたり不安を発散できなくなってインポスター症候群* にもなった。

* インポスター症候群:自分は成功に値しないと信じ、自分の能力は見かけより劣っていると考えること

Furthermore, although many people have been able to find success dating online and through apps, it’s not something that I think is possible for me. It’s not that I don’t understand the potential of these things. I became an adult right when dating apps like Tinder were introduced and I’ve used these apps before. I know many people that have met current or past partners via apps or dating websites so I believe that it is possible in that sense. It’s just that I don’t think it’s possible for me.


I have chatted with a few nice people on dating apps but as for actually dating, nothing ever comes of it. I quickly get bored of these tedious interactions – of checking my inboxes and waiting for replies, of drafting messages, of composing biographies, of selecting pictures that I believe portray me in a way that I want to be perceived. I can’t seem to make connections with people in this way, which doesn’t quite make sense to me given that I’m so open to other kinds of relationships through technology. I am the kind of person who is attracted to someone based on their energy and I think our natural auras get lost in these kinds of situations.


Through technology, we are presenting mediated versions of ourselves. Every aspect of our technological presences is selected by us – from the room divider that I have up behind me during my lectures to hide my open-concept closet to the angle of the camera when I take a picture. We are often so focused on putting our ideal versions of ourselves out there that our authentic selves get lost in the process. This is perhaps also why I still feel slightly isolated from my schoolmates. Though we have connected in an online community, I still feel insistent on showing them the best version of myself.


Strangely enough, though most of my non-immediate relationships have moved online during this pandemic, I find that my relationships with people that I had met online long before this pandemic started have been even more important than ever before. Most nights of the week, I find myself connecting with them in some way. I suppose this situation has intensified these relationships in the same way that it has lessened the intensity of relationships where most of what we would do is out in a world that is inaccessible to us now. I think this may be because in the past, unlike now, socializing online was something that I did as a hobby and not out of necessity. So while I’m still socializing online, the people that I wouldn’t normally have online interactions with feel more difficult to talk to. Being thrust into this situation, we haven’t established ways of being friends online like I have with the people that I met online long before the pandemic. For example, I have no idea their online habits - how often they are online, what kinds of technology they are accustomed to, what they find boring or fun to do through technology. On the other hand, with these other pre-pandemic online friends, since we met through these online spaces, I know approximately when they will be online, what kinds of things we like to do together, and more. Simply, we have more practice interacting and building sustaining relationships through technology so this pandemic has not made much of a difference for us. Curiously, though I feel drained at times conducting my day-to-day affairs through my computer, I don’t seek solace from them. If anything, being online all day has only made me want to seek them out more.


I’m not sure which of my relationships will change again if and when the world ever gets to be some semblance of normal, but for now, I’m grateful that no matter where these friends that once may have been called ‘online friends’ are in the world, I can feel connected to them. It’s reassuring that in this time of unforeseen changes and upheaval, they are able to provide me with consistency and the feeling that even in the worst of times, some things will never change.


Images by Caitlyn

Japanese Translated by Mia, Hikari and Kiara

Edited by Eli and Hikari

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