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The internet that unites and divides us

/ 05:04 AM July 18, 2019

The internet is a peculiar thing. It serves both as a hub for communication to worlds that are otherwise beyond our reach, but at the same time it reminds us how split up we all truly are. It can appear as a means to interact with people that are far away from us, while reminding us that once we disconnect our phones and laptops, everyone operates in lives that could be as different as possible from one another.

I have always fancied the idea of creating long-lasting relationships over the internet, as it gives me the opportunity to get to know people I would have never gotten a chance to meet otherwise. For the most part, the endeavor tends to be successful, as I’ve “met” some wonderful people along the way.

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Notice how I’ve put the word “met” in quotation marks? That’s because I’m the type of person that’s not entirely sure if I have truly “met” someone unless I’ve gotten to see them face to face. We could have the best chemistry in those late-night chats (midafternoon in their side of the world), but they could be an entirely different person behind the vibrant notification sounds whenever they respond to you.

That’s not to say I automatically view them with cynical lenses. I often get smitten and end up attached to a lot of them and, honestly, these are the ones that make my heart ache the most. It pains me that finances and circumstances hinder me from solidifying a relationship with them outside the glowing screen of my laptop.

As a working teacher in my first year within the workforce, I don’t make enough money to properly travel and visit them as much as my heart desires to do. The general cost will set me back thousands upon thousands of pesos, as single airfare tickets to Europe, which is where most of my internet-based friends are located, range from P50,000 to P100,000. Not to mention the paperwork and visa application for traveling to their home countries can prove to be such an arduous process.

As much as I try to live in the moment, I can’t help but think about the long-term health of my relationships with them. Uncertainty is a mainstay for these kinds of relationships, and as someone who suffers from terrible anxiety, the idea of forming a bond with someone whom you may never meet in person is quite an unsettling thing to think about.

Another thought that pesters my head regarding these kinds of relationships is whether they do see me the same way I see them. The idea of this relationship being just a temporary means of socialization for them is a thought that lingers at the back of my head every time I get closer with them. The idea that this was never meant to last, and that the strength of our bond will never match those they have formed within their daily lives, is something that gnaws at me every so often. The fact remains that once you disconnect from the internet, both parties have no means to communicate with one another — effectively closing the gates to the realm that the internet has provided both parties access to for a fleeting moment.

While I am extremely grateful that the internet provides a very convenient method of communication,  it also blurs the reality of distance just enough to bask in those few in-between moments together, but not enough to close the gaps fully between two completely different worlds. This is entirely useful for the many who wish to reconnect with loved ones who are stationed far away, but it is a completely different ball game for those of us who intend to form meaningful relationships while utilizing the internet as the primary backbone for them.

At the end of the day, the internet remains a conduit for communication that provides possibilities impossible to comprehend just a few decades ago. While it presents itself with an abundance of new solutions for age-old problems, it also carries with it several new dilemmas that are uncharted territories and are specific to our generation. The internet unites us the same way it makes us see how divided we truly are.

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Patrick Owen, 23, is a geology graduate from the University of the Philippines Diliman. He is an associate teacher at the Ateneo de Manila Senior High School.

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