When I’m not working at the CommUnity Zone as the Social Media and Technology Assistant, one of my main hobbies is playing video games, most frequently online games with friends. It’s a pastime I’ve had since high school: When we weren’t in a position to spend time together in person, several of my friends and I would spend afternoons or evenings together in the digital space, competing or cooperating on a wide variety of games.
In college, I did the same, both maintaining connection to friends from back home – regardless of where they might be at that time – and as a way of spending time with new friends I made at Susquehanna. At the university, it was most often a combined physical and digital affair. We might play a game all together on one console and television, sometimes using the large-screen televisions in the dorms’ public rooms or even “renting” a classroom or lecture hall for an event on the weekends. We’d also often bring our own individual TVs and systems into a shared space and play online games with an in-person presence, joking and talking with each other as we played.
Now, I’m something of an introvert. I’m perfectly capable of putting myself in public situations and performances; I acted in high school and college, and most of my jobs have involved public speaking or social interaction on some level. But I’ve always preferred having a small circle of friends to large gatherings, and I’ve never really been the sort to just go out and try to meet new people on my own, especially in person and in social settings with crowds.
As you might imagine, this means I haven’t made a large number of friends outside of regular interactions like school and work, and in fact most of my friends today are still people I met in high school and college. But the beauty of the interactions I do have, and the pastimes that hold them together, means that I’ve kept in close and regular contact with those friends since we departed from our shared physical spaces.
I’ve also, over the years, met new people through that digital space, and encountered one of the huge advantages it has. Because the interaction is taking place online, through the Internet, anyone anywhere in the world can be part of it. The interaction – the connection – the community – isn’t at all limited by physical proximity. I’m in north-central Pennsylvania, but I have friends from across the country: Alabama, Texas, California, Oregon. I have friends abroad: England, Germany, Romania, even someone who used to live in China.
We are friends in much the same way as any friends who might live down the street from each other would be. We’ve told our stories to each other, moments from our childhood and schooling and everyday lives. We share in our ups and downs, laugh at jokes and discuss more serious topics. We look forward to spending time with each other when we can, and we do plan meeting in person when we’re able; one couple is getting married and has invited us to their wedding, which for some will be our first time seeing each other face to face.
That’s the wonder of the Internet: its ability to allow people to have those connections across hundreds of thousands of miles…
Until it doesn’t.
Last Tuesday night – by that I mean the 29th of June, not the 6th of July – at about 11 PM, I was online with my friends playing a particular game that can take many hours to play to completion. We weren’t necessarily planning to play it all the way through in one sitting, but we’d been playing for a few hours and had no intentions of stopping right away.
Amid the storm that had picked up outside my house, I stepped away while we were taking a break to get a drink and something to eat. When I sat back down at my computer, I was met with silence instead of the sounds of laughing and good-natured ribbing about the game so far. After a minute, my computer finally alerted me of what I already suspected: my home Internet was out.
Thankfully, our modern world supports many avenues for communication, and I used my phone’s data connection to send a brief message to the group that I’d lost my Internet and wouldn’t be back on that night. I encouraged them to continue without me, and said I’d hopefully be able to join them again by the next evening.
Little did I know, that wouldn’t be the case. Instead, my Internet was just restored last night, the 8th, a little after 6 PM. The connection had been down for over a week: over 200 hours of relative silence and inactivity from my home. (I say relative: thanks to the aforementioned data on my phone, I was able to vent my frustration about things in text form.)
The point of this blog post isn’t for me to just talk about my hobby and complain about that incident, of course. During that time – a few days of which were also spent at a family church camp I’ve attended most summers since I was 13 – I became really aware of, and thought a great deal about, the nature of that online connection with friends. It feels almost cliché to talk about how often we take things for granted until they’re gone, but ideas become cliché for a reason, and the reason is usually their universal resonance.
I don’t think we have to imagine what it’s like to suddenly lose your usual connection and communication with others. Since early 2020, we’ve all witnessed that impact firsthand in some way. I think what my recent experience really shows is how important the secondary connections have become, how powerful the Internet can be in allowing for that sense of community and friendship and belonging, and how difficult it can be to lose that.
We live in a world that’s more interconnected than it ever has been, but those connections can be more tenuous than we realize. When we do lose them, if only temporarily, it can be a great opportunity to rediscover just how important relationships and community truly are for our lives.
Hold that feeling, the way I am now, the way I hope to hold it as long as I can. Hold onto how vital connection is. Maintain that connectivity, support those friendships and the community you have, whatever form they might take or whatever medium they might use.
And the next time a storm rolls through, make sure to let your friends know you’ll be back as soon as you can.
Online connections are a huge part of our modern, digital age, and we take no exception to that! Make sure to join us on Facebook by going to facebook.com/lewisburgzone, and you can follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/CommUnityZonePA. We’re always looking for new faces and friends in-person, too, so feel free to contact us if you’re interested in stopping by our office on Market; we’d love to say hello!