In my final semester of high school, I joined an online dynasty fantasy football league. We set up a group chat to facilitate league communications, and, after a million on and off-topic messages, a ditched podcast, and a half-dozen new offshoot leagues, the “Dream League” became my steadiest, longest-standing social circle.
I often find myself concerned with the current trajectory of technology—I get little value from my Instagram feed, and I have seen enough episodes of Black Mirror to know where things like Cambridge Analytica lead. But, thankfully, there is at least one positive: The new wave of technological advancement has allowed people the opportunity to access and develop deep, satisfying interactions and friendships entirely on their own terms. As jobs become more precarious and the workforce more competitive, students often prioritize their long-term goals over present-day social lives and require greater flexibility to work around their demanding schedules. While social media has obvious flaws, it also allows people to connect through shared niche interests, and and at their leisure.
It took me 30 minutes to explain to my mom how I grew so closely connected to a group of fifteen 23 to 40-year-old fantasy football degenerates. It took another half-hour to convince her that I probably wouldn’t be abducted. Nonetheless, this crew, as well as a more normal collection of online content channels, has provided me with fulfilling, convenient social outlets that my everyday life hasn’t always offered.
My transition from high school to university opened gaps in my social life that I failed to fill: In first year, I fell out of touch with my high-school friends and struggled to replace them at McGill beyond a single lasting group of three buddies.
An inability to establish a fulfilling social environment is anything but rare at McGill. With an intense, highly-segmented social scene, it can be extremely difficult for anyone to make and maintain friendships on campus. It is even more challenging to find people who share one’s unique, hyper-specific interests. But, the magic of the internet makes it possible for students to fill those voids, and a plethora of social media sites allow like-minded individuals to connect over distance. While most of these connections will probably go nowhere, with time, one can often find a meaningful social circle.
In the past two years, student journalism has ushered a band of new friends into my life. That development came with the stipulation of a hectic weekly schedule that wears me out and, even then, leaves me with little free time before midnight. In turn, I’ve stumbled further into the weird worlds of podcasts and Twitch streams. While most normal people can carve out free time into their afternoons or evenings, anyone can get burnt out. For introverts and extroverts alike, there’s value to the idea of simulating social ‘interaction,’ but without the effort.
Ninety years ago, people would make friends when they went over to see the neighbour’s new 10-gallon hat; today, people can make friends by reacting to Ice-T tweets. This dynamic is new, but it isn’t harmful. It’s hard for friendships to fade with distance when they were forged and exist entirely online. And, after a hectic week of classes, projects, and student journalism, my library of dumb comedy content has allowed me to turn off my brain, laugh, and, most importantly, feel a pseudo-connection to others. Thanks to the internet’s flexibility, that fulfillment can take many forms; for me, it’s talking trades with a web developer from Florida named ‘Sticky.’