Jonah Lewis: The benefits of wading through awkward internet friendships

Admissions season can only mean one thing: The GW Class of 2018 Facebook group is finally here.

Inevitably, at least 1,000 people will join, and an unwarranted percentage of them post embarrassing comments about how much they love House of Cards in the desperate search for their ideal roommate who is just as obsessed as they are about their favorite band or sports team.

It’s easy to think these groups are inconsequential – especially when they quickly devolve into incoming students peddling tickets to sketchy warehouse raves. But in reality, they point to a larger trend about how the internet has shaped our social lives.

Participating in large online communities is the norm for students here and everywhere. From these infamous class groups to “Overheard at GW,” there is no shortage of Facebook groups to unite the community.

As a result, many of us find ourselves part of a strange subculture of internet-only friendships we don’t quite know how to manage.

It is one thing to meet someone on the internet you will never meet. It is quite another to spend four years living only two city blocks away from them, passing them on the street multiple times a week and avoiding eye contact each and every time.

This can, of course, get awkward. I’ve found myself avoiding the line at the Captain Cookie food truck because people I’ve seen standing in line people who I follow on Twitter, but with whom I am not actually friends. Yes, it’s that uncomfortable: Not even freshly baked deliciousness can convince me to deal with that situation.

Even if you do manage to interact with your internet followers in real life, it’s not always a comforting experience. It’s a little strange to realize you only know someone by how funny their Twitter bio is.

Admittedly, this awkwardness is part of the growing pains of new trends. We haven’t yet fully learned how to reconcile our real-life experiences with those on the internet.

But the internet, despite all of its awkwardness and lack of clear direction, has helped us make friends and build better community.

Less than a generation ago, college students had to make and maintain friendships the old-fashioned way: going out, getting drunk and hoping for the best. This method hasn’t disappeared entirely – just look at the number of EMeRG visits to Thurston Hall in the first few weeks of school.

However, I met two of my current roommates not through organizations or mutual friends, but from relationships that started online. Sure, our friendships were strengthened by our later participation in similar student organizations and other activities, but it started on the internet, not the other way around.

For those who have difficulty meeting people in large social settings or cannot seem to find a group that works for them, the internet provides a refuge. We can actively seek out those with interests much like our own, without having to throw ourselves into uncomfortable social situations.

The internet might be awkward and weird, but probably a lot less so than that creepy dude you met at a Thurston party freshman year and can’t seem to shake off.

Jonah Lewis, a sophomore majoring in political science and sociology, is a Hatchet columnist.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.