How I Grew Up On The Internet

The internet is IRL. It always has been.

I started navigating the internet — really, the earliest versions of social media — early in my life, and before most people even really knew what the internet was. I was 11 when I first logged on in 1993 — I'm 32 now — and I’ve spent the ensuing years invested in online communities at least as much as I’m invested in offline ones. I never understood there to be a clear line between the two. Before I ever even had a cell phone, I used the social web to document and reflect on my offline life. I’ve met wonderful people online, connected in much deeper ways to the friends I had, and I’ve used dozens of networks and platforms to figure myself out. The internet hasn’t been a way to escape, it’s been a creative outlet, a friend, a documentarian, and a tool that has made my real life better, cooler, weirder, and more fun. For me, the internet isn’t some distinct virtual universe, it’s just one part of the real world.

This is the history of my first 20 years online. It’s a happy story.

When I was 9, my parents chose to homeschool my older brother, Mitch, and me out of frustration with public school. I had just finished third grade and he, fifth. We were both doing fine academically, but my mom felt like our personalities were changing. My brother often came home from school depressed, and we started to complain about things like reading that we had loved before. Mom and Dad hated the focus on standardized testing, and felt that our teachers didn’t appreciate the creative curiosity they treasured.

A couple years into the great homeschooling experiment, we moved temporarily from Austin, Texas, a hippie college town with a growing secular homeschooling community, to Arlington, Virginia. I missed home and I had trouble making new friends in the Christian homeschool group there.

That was when Mitch told me about BBSes (Bulletin Board Systems) and saved me from my boredom and social isolation. BBSes were local networks where we could read and write on message boards, chat live, and play games. We were lucky enough to have the magic formula: a PC, a 2400-baud modem, and a second phone line. My dad had always been fascinated by gadgets — he’d bought us our (and the!) first Macintosh in 1984, when I was just two years old. The iconic modem sound that began any trip to my favorite BBSes still makes me feel urgently stoked. That sound means I’m about to arrive at the best party ever, and I still get to wear my pajamas.

I tried a few BBSes, but I quickly became devoted to one in particular called “International House of Kumquats.” IHOK was run by a chill teenager who went by the handle Surrealistic Pickle. I felt at home there. Everyone was young and smart and cool and they immediately became my friends. (Since the BBS was on a local phone number, I knew we all lived in the D.C. area.) I never really thought much about the fact that we had “met online” — the concept was too new to feel dorky or taboo yet.

The average age of people on the board was probably about 16, while I was only 12. “Star Shadow,” my earnest choice of an alias, was a dead giveaway that I was the youngest person on the board. Still, I fit in fine. The kids on IHOK shared my enthusiasm for the band They Might Be Giants and we discussed them constantly, dissecting lyrics and debating best songs. We also talked about our lives and anxieties, we made up recurring inside jokes, we quoted our favorite movies and TV shows, and recommended books. We developed real friendships.

Within a few months, Surrealistic Pickle made me a co-sysop (system operator), the official duties of which were slight enough that I don’t actually remember what they were, but I still listed it on all of my teenage resumes. It was the first time that anyone had put semiprofessional faith in me, and it was done purely because of the value of my contributions, without a thought given to my being a girl, a weird homeschooler, or an actual child.

When my mom first agreed to let me meet my friends in person, she dropped me off at the National Mall but then parked a few blocks away with a stack of books and an eye on our activities. Looking back, I’m amazed that the teenagers from the board didn’t tease me for my mom literally watching over us, and I’m equally grateful she was open to the idea at all. We couldn’t share photos on the BBS, so the first time I met my board mates IRL was the first time I saw them at all. That part seems weird now, but it didn’t feel strange at the time. We already knew each other’s sense of humor, feelings, opinions, and personalities — the rest was just wrapping paper.

A few months later, I went to my first ever show with my BBS buddies: NRBQ and They Might Be Giants (obviously) at Wolf Trap in Virginia. The Kumquat crew were splayed out on picnic blankets on the grassy hills. They were Manic Panic-ed, glasses-wearing, and trench-coated teenagers who probably didn’t fit in at high school. They were all, more than any other quality, ridiculously nice. I thought they were the coolest people in the world.

I was having an awkward adolescence. I liked talking to my parents way more than I liked anyone my own age. I wanted to have deep, intelligent conversations about my interests, which were Disney animated movies (I collected Lion King merchandise), horses, and cute boys. Not, for the most part, things that grown-ups actually wanted to talk to me about.

Luckily, Prodigy existed. Prodigy was a dialup service that predated widespread use of the World Wide Web. Like its competitor, America Online, Prodigy contained multitudes: shopping, news, weather, games, advice columns, and more. I was only interested in connecting with people, so I used the live chat, email, and discussion boards.

I joined a message board where other girls like me had invented an elaborate role playing game for made-up horses — we each “owned” dozens of fake horses, gave them names and attributes, and pitted them against each other in entirely arbitrary competitions that were just decided by whoever was running them. I kept my horse files in a giant binder full of descriptions like this:

People who I tried to explain the game to didn’t understand it at all. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the concept of fantasy sports a decade later that I thought maybe this all wasn’t as strange as I feared.

I was even more involved with the Disney Fans Bulletin Board, which was populated mostly by grown men and women who retained their interest in all things Disney well past the age when most people grow out of it. I loved them. Many of my DFBB cohorts lived and worked in Orlando, just because it meant that they got to go to Disney World whenever they wanted. To me, they were living the ultimate adulthood dream.

I got so involved with the Disney board that I was eventually given a “job.” The job paid me in a free Prodigy subscription and one free t-shirt. My title was “Teens Liaison,” and I did just that: liaised with other teens. Although most of the community was much older , I developed raging crushes on the handful of boys my age. I can still remember, in fine detail, a photo one of them sent me of himself dressed up as Prince Eric for Halloween. I had several Prodigy flirtations before I had figured out the slightest thing about talking to boys I knew offline. We talked about our feelings, which was impossible with the teenage boys I knew in “real” life. I was myself with the dudes of Prodigy — open and honest and weird — and they liked me for it.

I eventually met my Prodigy friends in real life too. My parents planned a trip to Disney World, mostly for my obsessive benefit, and let me bring my best friend, another homeschooler named Kate. I dragged Kate and my mom to a meetup dinner with the DFBB group at a fancy Disney-themed restaurant. Almost all of the attendees were closer to my mom’s age than to mine, but we had fun anyway. I got a purple tie-dyed DFBB staff T-shirt that I wore proudly to the park the next day. Soon after our meeting, people started to leave Prodigy for the wider world of the web, and I followed.

I made my first website in 1995, when I was 13, and it was dedicated to my favorite movie, Lady and the Tramp. It started with a short introduction: “I’m here to provide the major source of Lady information on the World Wide Web.” The page included an archive of tiny photos I’d been able to dig up or scan, random facts I’d strung together from my collection of Disney books, the title of the movie translated into several other languages, a character list, quotes, and the movie’s credits, transcribed from my own VHS copy.

I taught myself HTML to make the page, borrowing books from the library and reading tutorials online. Once I made the Lady and the Tramp page, I was hooked. I started expanding my website to include biographical information about me, terrible things I’d written, pictures of my friends, and more.

By 1999, the earliest date that the web archive has for my site, it was basically a magazine. It included:

  • A 14-part “about me” section

  • Thousands of words devoted to describing each of my friends. Example: “Lots of people will tell you that I’m obsessed with Dorothy and you might say that’s true — I just happen to think she’s one of tha most beautiful, funniest girlies in that whole wide world. :-)”

  • Pages devoted to my opinions on religion, animal rights, curfews, Bill Clinton, and legalizing marijuana

  • A list of reasons that you should go vegetarian

  • A description of my imaginary perfect boyfriend, Jimmy Tony

  • Dozens of poems I’d written

  • My “future encyclopedia entry,” including the career description “writer, artist, entrepreneur, animal handler, actress, philosopher”; the titles of several of my future books about Shakespeare and hip-hop; details of the company I would found someday; the many books I would write; and my partnership with my imaginary husband Jimmy

  • A daily journal cataloguing the mundane details of my life

  • Book reviews

  • Comics I made with Photoshop

  • “Summer’s Spiffy Sendable Celebs,” a collection of about 30 e-postcards I made of my favorite celebrities

  • Capsule reviews of every episode of Dawson’s Creek

  • Commentary on my favorite songs and a list of my favorite CDs

  • A “shrine” celebrating Ani DiFranco

  • A collection of my favorite jokes

  • Desktop photos of celebrities and animals that I’d edited and made available to my “public”

  • An elaborate, multisectioned fan page for the character Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, including artwork, personal essays, historical information, and more

  • A lengthy acknowledgments section that thanked AltaVista, my scanner, my entire extended family, friends, and all of my pets

Making websites was my primary mode of self-expression throughout my teens, and it was also a huge part of my mostly autodidactic education. Over the years, my family’s approach to our education had grown increasingly radical, buoyed by the writings of “unschooling” proponents such as John Holt and Grace Llewellyn. I chose what to focus on and how to spend my time based on my goals, with fairly minimal oversight from my parents. My website became an obsession, and I had all the time in the world to devote to it. Most of the other creative things I did — drawing pictures, writing bad poems, and composing essays — were in the service of making a cool-as-hell website.

Although my site wasn’t part of any specific social platform, there was an informal but intense network of teenage and young adult women doing the same thing I was, and we joined web rings, made link lists, and sent each other fan mail. I kept up with tons of other website makers, almost all of them women: from JenniCam to one gothy girl who I only remember as “Calliope.” I learned from them. I studied their source codes for HTML tips, copied their brooding photography styles, listened to bands they mentioned in passing, started taking moody selfies like theirs, and tried hard to impress them with endless tweaks and new features on my website. To some extent, I lived my life with my website in mind — do it for the dot-com! — but this was a good thing: It made me more creative, thoughtful, and adventurous.

Creating my own elaborate websites about myself was outrageously, hilariously narcissistic in hindsight. But building my own sites gave me the ability to tell people who I was in a way that I could control. It also allowed me to look at myself in a positive way, something that was missing when I looked in the mirror. I liked the me I was on the web. I still do.

I’ve always wondered about the assumption that our online personas are more fake than our physical ones. I often feel awkward and nervous in real-life situations; I almost always feel like I’m saying the wrong thing and am unable to articulate what I really think and feel. Online, I have plenty of time and unlimited space to consider what to say and how to express myself. It’s an advantage that makes me feel more like myself, not less so.

On Dec. 7, 2000, the day I joined LiveJournal, I was 18 years old, living with my parents in Austin, jobless, ecstatically in love with my first boyfriend, and spending almost every waking second with as many of my friends as possible. My crew was comprised of other homeschooled teenagers with the same excess of free time that I had, resulting in us spending so much time together that we complained about missing each other when we were apart for two days. I documented every mundane moment of that life and the years that followed on my LiveJournal, eventually falling off but still occasionally updating until 2007.

My journal is still up, hundreds of thousands of words detailing the first seven years of my adult life, and it’s full of hilarious contradictions. I was clearly leading a blissful adventure, experiencing a new “first” practically every week — my first relationship, my first apartment, my first road trip with friends, my first full-time job — but I constantly write as if the weight of the world is on my shoulders: “Life has gotten so misplaced. I don’t even know what I’m doing, just that it can’t be like this forever.”

I was also so unaware of how dang corny I was being all the time. I would write about “candy magic” and my “yummy” days and being “so full of joy.” I think I’m a pretty earnest and even cheesy person now, but I’ve got nothing on my 18-year-old self waxing poetic about every single silly thing under the sun that day. Some parts of it make me wish I still had the ability to be so sincere, but other parts make me think I must have been the most annoying person on earth.

I shared more on my LiveJournal about my thoughts and emotions than I ever did in verbal conversations. I masked my feelings with humor and being loud in “real” life, but I was able to share my neuroses on my LJ. My best friends were reading my journal, and writing in their own too, so it wasn’t like it was a secret — when we weren’t busy hanging out and having fun in my room, we were talking and fighting and sharing our lives, all through words upon words upon words on our computer screens.

I’d write about politics or religion, about trying to understand people who disagreed with me, about the anxieties and delights of my first relationship, about the bands I was discovering and falling in love with. Most of all, I wrote about spending time with my friends, and about how much I loved them.

“I’ve just had one of the most fun-packed days of my life! This will be a long entry but it may actually be worth reading becuz there was so much weirdness today:

“Rachel and Dorothy and I stayed up ALL night last night, being goofy and bitchy and farting and just being completely delirious and silly. At 8:00 we went to Flips, and soon thereafter down to soccer.

I went to soccer and was loud and delirious and singing, and then we went to Schlotsky’s and had great conversation. Then Rachel left and I almost cried cuz she was so fun and I’m gunna miss her so much. But then I went to Flips and they were funny over there. And then I went to meet Isaac after work! And I was dressed so cool and in such a good mood, and we walked around.”

My friends' journals have largely the same tone: documenting our lives in incredible, mundane, ecstatic detail. This is mostly a practice that seems to have been left behind on the present web, where at least most people are self-aware enough to know that others aren’t interested in an outline of their everyday lives. I guess this is a good thing — I’ve naturally grown up and become smarter and more self-aware since my LiveJournal days, and reading my writing from that era causes my entire body to seize up in embarrassment. I’m also so incredibly jealous. I look back at these entries and I read someone who was completely, 100% unafraid of being herself. I can’t think of anything more remarkable in a teenage girl, and I’m grateful that LiveJournal was a place where I could be me: purely, ridiculously, perfectly.

I was still blogging when I first joined in August 2004. For five years when everything else was changing — I left jobs, moved four times, broke up and restarted relationships, got a cat, and met my best friend — Flickr was a stable and integral part of my life. Flickr was focused entirely on photographs, and those pictures were all there was to it. You were judged not by your cool list of interests or your clever status updates, but by the glimpse into your actual life that photos provide. The present analogue is Instagram.

Still, before I even had an iPhone, Flickr flipped the tables for me. Instead of the internet being a thing I did when I wasn’t ~living~, Flickr became a way to keep track of all the cool stuff I was doing with my time. And there was plenty to keep track of — the time when I started using it a lot was also when I started drinking, dating, and traveling, and met most of the friends who are still my crew today. My Flickr photos are packed with boys I had flings with or unrequited crushes on, parties, late night video game sessions at my ex-boyfriend’s house, my new best friend’s hands folded around a beer at our favorite bar, and lots and lots of elaborately artistic selfies taken with my DSLR’s timer function.

I looked at Flickr a lot. My friends who were on it uploaded all of their photos too, and it was a way to reflect and reinforce all of the things we were going through together. Looking back at my early uploads or my favorites list is as evocative as listening to an old favorite song. It’s easier to remember things that you regularly look at photos from, and as a result, the years after I joined Flickr are genuinely much clearer to me than all of the ones that came before.

When I browse Flickr now — it still exists, but active users have dwindled away since Yahoo started making changes after it acquired the service in 2005 — I’ll come across a photo of an ex-boyfriend hugging a cat or a good friend drinking coffee or a bunch of co-workers dancing in someone’s apartment, and I can hear and smell and feel everything in that frame. Flickr isn’t a window into my “internet life” of yore, it’s a window into my life-life. Maybe they are the same thing.

Although it was preceded by Friendster, which was used by me and a handful of my friends, for me Myspace marks when the concept of “social networking” became mainstream. It was the first time that the energy and excitement I felt for the internet was shared by almost everyone else my age.

There were so many Myspace things that came and went with the platform. The entire concept of having a “top eight” friends will always haunt people of a very specific age and remain completely meaningless to everyone five years older or younger than us.

And the Myspace selfies! I used Myspace photos to exert a control over my appearance that I’ve never quite felt like I had in real life. I’d carefully apply makeup I never wore in public, borrow my roommate’s jewelry, and have an entire selfie session in the sunshine just to achieve the perfect new profile picture.

Most notably, we made music for each other on Myspace. Getting musicians and their fanbases online must have been a strategic push for the company, but it felt completely organic. It felt like one day some band got on Myspace and made it big, and then the next day everyone on earth opened GarageBand for the first time.

Countless friends put music up on Myspace, so after joking that if I had a band I’d call it Premade Bears, I made a profile and I made some songs. For one of them, I borrowed my roommate’s 5-year-old son’s tiny miniature guitar and locked myself in the bathroom, strumming along to my imperfect country-ass voice singing about having a thing for a younger dude. For others, like “Stay Sweet; Don’t Ever Change,” I arranged some generic beats and played some keys on my laptop while sort of lackadaisically rapping about having a crush in the summertime.

There was no future for me in these weirdo amateur tunes, no shows to book or albums to release. Lily Allen made it big on Myspace, but most of us weren’t thinking about scale. I worked at a bookstore, doing events and making displays. I had designs to do something more with my life, but I wasn’t ever going to be a famous musician. Still, I made something I’d always wanted to, and I shared it with my friends. That was cool. Before Myspace, making music and getting people to listen to it seemed hard and complicated. During Myspace, it was the easiest thing in the world. Our old Myspace photos and cliquey top eights were a little silly, but making tunes for each other was a truly sweet, cool thing we got to do and I am grateful.

When I joined Facebook in 2006, it felt at first like the other social networks — a secret club for me and a select few to share our lives together. I didn't quite get the point — most of the action was still on Myspace for the first couple years, and the wonkiness of Myspace's customizable color scheme felt way more me than the clean, boring blue and gray on Facebook. And then Facebook grew. And kept growing. And now it remains the only network mentioned here that's frequented by my entire extended family.

As evidenced by the teens who've left Facebook for other less mom-supervised networks and apps over the last couple years, being on a social network with everyone you've ever known is sometimes less fun than the alternatives. I mean, it makes sense: The last thing I want to do in real life is gather every friend, former co-worker, family member, and ex-boyfriend in one giant room together.

That said, my own mom is by far the coolest part of my Facebook experience. My mom uses Facebook with the same delightful, contagious joy that I used early BBSes with. Every Friday, she posts nature photos from the ranch where she lives with the hashtag #FieldNotesFriday. Rumor of her excellence on Facebook has spread among my group of friends, and I occasionally get a text from another pal asking if it's cool if they request her.

Social networking is associated with youth — naturally, kids who grew up with the internet are more comfortable adapting to new social networks. But in the next couple decades, those same kids will be the parents crashing the party. If my mom is any indication, that could actually be pretty great.

I joined Twitter just about as soon as I heard about it, in early 2008; by that time, I was joining pretty much any social network that came onto my radar. When I first joined, my tweets were approximations of Facebook statuses.

It took months before I started using the actual functionality of Twitter, like to find out I had missed events or, er, comment on the news:

checking twitter for the first time in a day & like a nightmare, last night: "secret okkervil river show RIGHT NOW @ the compound"... Sigh.

I felt like I was talking to a wall, because no one I knew was on Twitter, so I gave up on it for a while. I got the sense that Twitter was never going to catch on, but when a few of my coolest real-life friends started accounts, I quickly returned:

people keep joining twitter. so i'll try to start updating again. i need an omelette.

But I used the platform for desolate personal revelations and song lyrics cryptically referencing my complicated personal life:

Whiskey, i love you with a depth of feeling that scares the shit out of you.

When I first started at BuzzFeed almost three years ago, I stopped using Twitter as a constant stream of my brain and started using it more professionally and strategically to share my articles, comment on other sites’ posts, and interact with writers and editors I worked with or admired.

It felt like Twitter was something I did for work and Facebook was something I did for my “real” friends. Living in New York City, I have now met many of the people whose faces light up my TweetDeck window every day, but my pals back home mostly remain holdouts.

Still, lately my Twitter experience has reverted 360 degrees back to the personal, flirty, ~relatable~ vibe of my early tweets, except people are actually listening. I like to tweet about songs I like, and having crushes, and being up too late at night. I like to post selfies, and look at the selfies of cute dudes and ladies I follow. I like Twitter on the nights and weekends as much as I like it during the day at work. I like to wonder about whether a fav is a flirty fav or just a fav. I try to make people smile, or laugh, or, at the very least, think I am charming. I follow people who I find nice, warm, and smart.

I often describe Twitter these days as the cool room where I hang out with my internet friends all day. Most of my closest “IRL” friends back in Texas still don’t use it, so Twitter still feels in some ways like a throwback to the internet of yore. It’s insurance that my thoughts won’t just disappear inside my brain. It’s a place to test my own ideas and jokes and cute pictures before unleashing them on a wider audience. And it’s an amazing way to maintain mild crushes on the brains of a few hundred other people, a true dream come true for my giant, fickle heart.

In January 2011, I had been using Tumblr for a couple years. I’d given up on maintaining my personal domain name and redirected it to my tumblog, where I posted photos, wrote about songs I liked, and shared links to things on the internet I was into. I had, around this same time, gotten super into drawing again. Art was something I’d been into consistently as a kid and a teenager, but I’d been focusing on writing, kissing boys, and working shitty retail jobs for most of my twenties. I started posting drawings on my blog in 2010 and found that my friends responded super positively to them. There’s so much reblogging and reposting and sharing on the social web that putting something truly new into the world again felt like I was doing something special.

I was also becoming completely obsessed with baseball, thanks to a fortuitous series of events. I’d started dating an obsessive sports fanatic named Brian and we visited the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown together for his birthday. I’d also recently switched from cheerleading to playing in my devoted local co-ed softball league. I’d just binge-watched all of the Ken Burns baseball documentary series. I joined a fantasy league. I had always liked baseball — it was the only sport I remember my dad being really into when I was a kid, and my grandmother was a devoted Astros fan — but this time, I got serious about it. I devoured books about baseball statistics and history, got an MLB season pass for my phone and computer so I could watch all the games I wanted, learned how to keep score, and started reading baseball websites and following baseball writers online.

So, in 2011, I started something that seemed totally natural: I decided to draw every member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame (there are currently 306) and put the drawings up on Tumblr. I thought maybe I could do it in a year. Four years later, I’m up to 258 drawings done. The project wasn’t designed to go viral; I just thought it would get me into the practice of drawing regularly, and that I’d get to learn more about baseball history in the process.

A few months in, an editor for ESPN: The Magazine called my cell phone. I was at my part-time waitressing job when he told me the magazine wanted to pay me to draw some pictures of players who won’t make it into the Hall despite impressive resumes (such as banned baseball player Pete Rose). It was the first time someone offered to pay me to do something freelance, and it blew my mind. After the magazine, I did an interview with ESPN online, Emma Carmichael asked if she could feature some of the drawings on Deadspin, and the project was written up in my hometown alt-weekly, the Austin Chronicle.

I started to become known, not just as an illustrator but also among baseball writers online. I applied for and, miraculously, got a regular paying freelance gig at Fangraphs, a baseball website for mega-nerds like the one I’d become. I didn’t write about stats in any traditional sense, though — I wrote about female pop stars as if they were players, researched the GOP presidential candidates’ relationships with America’s pastime, and crafted a T-shirt with the win probability graph of a crazy playoff game embroidered on it (the latter led my wonderful editor, Carson Cistulli, to email me with an apology for, well, all men).

Writing about baseball on Fangraphs opened up a world for me that I hadn’t fully realized existed, where people got paid to do what I’d been doing for fun my entire life: make stuff for the internet. I did some posts for The Hairpin and started drawing a comic for the newly kickstarted The Classical. I started applying for jobs at websites. And, 16 months after starting Every Hall of Famer, I got an email from a woman at BuzzFeed asking if I could chat with two editors about the part-time weekend editor position I’d applied for. By September of that year, I moved to New York for a full-time position at BuzzFeed.

Though I don’t typically write about baseball for the site, I’m sure I wouldn’t be here without Every Hall of Famer, which I’m hoping to finally finish sometime during the 2015 baseball season. I sometimes miss writing about baseball, but I figure I was never meant to be a specialist.

My latest position at BuzzFeed, Editorial Director of BFF, entails running a new team that makes original content for emerging social web platforms. It’s better than I ever imagined a job could be. It’s also the job I’ve been in training for without knowing it since I first dialed into a BBS at age 12. It reinforces my dad’s decision to introduce technology to me and my brother when we were so young, and it validates my mom’s loose, organic view of education and willingness to let me self-direct in front of a computer screen. I’m grateful for this life, online and off.

One of my first posts on Vine, starring Bobby Sneakers.

I've focused here on the social networks that have had the biggest impact on my life, but there was also the ego-stroking delight of Friendster testimonials, the thrill of experimenting with online dating — or, more accurately, online flirting — on, my brief foray into anonymous message boards on, and countless music message boards and email lists. These days, I use Instagram, Vine, and Facebook daily, in addition to Twitter and Tumblr.

“Social networking” is what I think about all day at my job, but it’s also how I stay connected to my friends back home, make new friends, develop crushes, document my life, and entertain myself. So about this tension between the internet and real life: Maybe while they’re melting together, they can bring out the best in one another.

There are plenty of people who seem to have an easy time being cruel on the web who would crumble if they were face to face with the victims of their abuse. It would be nice if those bullies and trolls could take whatever it is that keeps most of them from being horrible every day in the streets, and bring it with them to online forums.

On the flip side, I often yearn for the texture of my internet life in my “real” life. Sometimes when I’m at a bar or a party these days, I try to summon internet-me so that I can be more open, generous, flirtatious, confident, and tender. A better listener and a nicer person.

Most days I spend a lot of time watching people — some of them friends and some of them strangers — post on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and Vine and Tumblr and TinyLetter and Medium. They are so often honest and vulnerable and breaking my heart, or funny, or creative, or incisive. I heart their selfies, I share their writing, I fav their tweets, and I read about their experiences. I tell them I love and appreciate them in tiny, easy ways, and they do the same for me.

Those moments usually feel like the realest part of my day.

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