digital nation - life on the virtual frontier

A story from the Virtual Frontier

April 16, 2009 _ 17:20 / Digital Nation Team / comments (0)

This reader's story in particular caught our attention. It's about finding humanity on the virtual frontier:

I have never considered the internet to be a frontier worthy of exploration. If I had, I probably would have explored chat rooms before the spring of 2001. Since then I've come to see my online life as another way of living my real life - its simply a part of my life and a genuine part of it. In the spring of 2001 I was 32 years old, and my husband had died without warning only a few months prior. Young widows and widowers are not terribly common, but I knew I needed to find someone who understood from first hand experience what I was going through. When I went online, I was looking for a local support group, but instead I found a virtual support group of hundreds of widows and widowers eager to share their lives and struggles and eager to hear my struggles. For the first in my life I found myself spending a considerable amount of time living my life with people I had never physically met. These were the people I "met" at www.widownet.org, and in some ways they knew me better than anyone else did at that point in my life. We posted messages on bulletin boards, chatted with one another, and emailed one another. As the months went by, I found myself becoming more and more engrossed in this online world. In the evening, I couldn't wait to chat with my online friends, and I read the bulletin board religiously. I did begin to worry that in all the time I was spending online, I was just seeking an escape from my real life. But when I finally attended a physical gathering of this group and met some of the people I had come to know online, I realized that I hadn't been escaping real life at all. I had been living it.
This virtual world allowed me to connect with people I never would have had an opportunity to meet, and to realize that my grief experience was not unique. I heard similar feelings expressed by young and old, male and female, wealthy and poor, heterosexual and homosexual, from people of differing races, differing ethnicities, differing nationalities, differing education, and differing affluence. We were all different and unique, but we were living the same horrible reality - learning to live again without the ones we love.
Chat rooms and bulletin boards were certainly nothing new to the online world in 2001, but grief showed me a real human need for that technology. Some people like to moralize about technology and the internet - seeing it as a problem that must be combated because it breaks down relationships and families, separating us from one another and creating undo stress in our lives. But I see another side to such technologies - they widen our families, connecting us in profound ways to people we otherwise never would or could have known, knitting together diverse communities through the common experience of human need. Real life does happen in virtual communities.

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posted February 2, 2010

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