This is my IndieWeb Carnival post. The main focus of the carnival is to motivate people to write on their personal sites. Each month a different blogger hosts the carnival and they decide a theme. This month is hosted by Manu and if you haven’t guessed from the title the theme is “digital relationships”.

My real introduction to the internet was Neopets. We got non-dial up internet and you could just be online anytime! Neopets had this thing called guilds. And they would be themed around different things. I can’t quite remember all the different ones I joined, but I am sure it was either video game or anime related. And I would talk to people I met on there on MSN messenger. We would chat or play games together. I was like 12 or 13 at the time talking to people who were usually older than me by a few years1.

Over time it switched more towards internet forums or game communities. I spent a lot of time on GameWinners forums in chatting their Megaman Battle Network section. Another big one for me was Forum-N, which was a Nintendo fan-forum. Talked with them a lot over the years. Eventually even became a moderator on the forum. Played hundreds of hours of Team Fortress 2 with people I met through there. They were good friends of mine for that season of my life. Never met any of them.

When I started learning Japanese I made a pen-pal. I don’t even know how we met. Maybe she just messaged me on twitter that she was looking for people to practice English with. I must’ve had something about trying to study Japanese in my bio. We sent emails back and forth. We skyped a few times and I struggled to string any Japanese to her. She sent me some rice crackers and photos from a school trip2. The first time I visited Japan, I got to met her. We attempted3 some sight seeing, and got teased by the okonomiyaki restaurant staff. There was an aspect of relief and excitement of finally meeting her and her being a real human person. Not the scammer-murderer-kidnapper we were warned of as children. Until this point the relationship had the tactility of a salty rice cracker. Our friendship was real. A faith in humanity kind of moment that we can put trust in such things and it’s not nothing. After many years we don’t keep in touch. I hope she’s doing well.

The most impactful digital relationship I had was one that started in real life many years later. I went through and graduated college, I was working full time for a few years. I was attending the local Japanese meetup group. I decided to try out an internship in Japan to see what it was like to actually live and work in Japan. While doing the internship, I was trying to make more Japanese friends because I wanted to practice the language as I was (and still am) bad at speaking Japanese. So, I tried a dating app to try and meet people. Through there I met someone. We go on a few dates4 then the internship ends. We manage to keep in touch. Messaging each other throughout the week. Started skyping once a week. I didn’t want to give up just yet. A month after coming back from Japan I asked her to be my girlfriend over Skype. This felt a bit crazy to do. I didn’t have a job lined up in Japan. I didn’t know when I would see her next. I saw other friends struggle with long distance relationships. The time difference for Japan and Texas is terrible. We can only really talk to each other in the morning/evenings. Someone is waking up early or going to bed late. Why would I do this to myself? Something in me remembered my old penpal. Even though I hadn’t talked with my penpal in a several years at this point. It can still be real. A few more months into our digital dating. She got the time off work and was going to buy a ticket to visit me. I show up way too early at the airport nervous and excited. Giving my mind plenty of time to overthink. Despite having met her before in real life. I am full of worries. Is she actually on this plane? Is this relationship real? But then I saw her come out the gate and knew that it was5.

Our collective attitude towards interacting with people from the internet has hugely changed since my earliest digital relationships. The jump from “do not give personal information to people on the internet” to “yeah, I’ll get in this strangers car” is a wild one I don’t think we expected. I’ve seen surveys saying most people meet their partners through dating apps now. Even local relationships are starting digital. But the lack of tangibility is hard. There has to be an alignment of seasons in peoples lives for them to even be possible. Having experienced the realization of a digital to an in-person relationship, I know it’s not meaningless. It’s a form of trust in humanity. I don’t know what digital relationships will look like in the next 20 years, but I hope technology in the future is focused around improving this growing aspect of our world.

  1. Or they were always 30+ year old men preying on children. If they were murderers why did they send me some of their extra yu-gi-oh cards?! ↩︎

  2. They were sort of moist somehow. She ensured me that’s how they’re supposed to be and she was not trying to poison me via rice cracker. ↩︎

  3. We went to the Tokyo Skytree on a cloudy day. Was a bit funny to walk out of the station and only see the bottom half of the tower. ↩︎

  4. Did things like live house festival in Shimokitazawa, Team-Lab exhibits, okonomiyaki dinner (where you don’t get teased by the staff) ↩︎

  5. We’re still dating. I mean… I married her, but we still date too. ↩︎