I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the relationships that we form online, and how they affect our lives. We interact with hundreds (in some cases, thousands) of people online everyday, but rarely do you know more about a person than a first name, handle, or icon. Regardless, oftentimes an emotional attachment is made (for better or for worse) because you know someone through their opinions and words. I’ve been wanting to talk about this for some time, but I don’t know if I can find the right words to express how I feel on the matter, so stick with me.
This past month, two people whom I knew through online communities passed away. The first was Bruce Galloway, a member of my guild. He fell sick very suddenly, and the entire guild banded together to support him. It was a wonderful thing to see at the time, and when he passed away we shared in our grief together. Only a few of us had actually met him in person, but the feelings of sadness and loss were no less painful because of that.
The second person was Ben High, a listener and contributor to ExtraLife Radio, a podcast that I’ve listened to for a long time. He had a great segment that he would send in to those guys almost every week where he would showcase a new indie band. He was only 19, and he also died very suddenly and unexpectedly. When I learned about it, it broke my heart to think that someone so young and with so much potential was gone.
And when James Kim, my good friend and coworker at CNET, passed away this last December it was astonishing to see the outpouring of support from the online community. As the Internet becomes such so intertwined with our daily lives, it seems like we find new ways to share emotion about the loss of someone important to all of us. When someone dies in a community they come together for the wake, to grieve, to discuss the person’s life and accomplishment. Online we do the same thing, but we’re oftentimes separated from one another by thousands of miles.
I’m not really sure what the point of this post was. The internet is a wonderful way to meet new people, but at the same time the reality often hits that there are real people on the other side of the screen who can get sick, or have an accident, or die. Trying to understand how to deal with the feelings of losing someone you know but have never actually met is a task that we’re all going to have to become more familiar with as time goes on, and as we become ever more absorbed in the online world.