A New Age of Loneliness

A story about how loneliness has changed due to the invention of the internet.

Since the World Wide Web was first introduced, it seems like everything and everyone in the world has been impacted in some way. It is a new advertising medium. It is a storage and retrieval mechanism. It is a new way to deliver digital experiences. The internet is also a way for people to connect.

People can connect on the internet in many different ways with different depths of connection. Close friends can connect on Facebook. Communities can form in niche forums or online games. Strangers can get help using IRC or Slack and maybe get to know each other. Some forums, like Reddit or 4Chan have many people interacting, but it is rare for any of the users to ever form a connection.

These online communities have the capacity to combat loneliness but they require Offline Friends or investment into the community over time. However, there are online platforms that combat loneliness and do not require much investment: dating applications (and lesser so: chat rooms). I think these applications are really interesting and perhaps too quickly dismissed.

I am not an expert on the subject, nor do I think I am the average Tinder user. However, I think that Tinder has become the new loneliness-relief instant-delivery system. I do not know if this is good or bad, but it is something, it is significant, and I think we should be aware of it. If it is bad, we should discourage it. If it is good, we should encourage this interaction and build even more platforms.

Personally, I am on the side that thinks the internet can provide deep human connection, and I say that the revolution of dating applications is a positive change. Furthermore, I think dating apps on your phone are a humble first step toward what is to come. Virtual Reality is on the horizon, and I will eat a shoe if there is not a virtual reality dating app in less than ten years from now. Apparently there are already TV shows featuring this idea. It is going to happen — how do we feel about it?

Last night, amidst a desire for holiday human connection and an unsuccessful swiping streak on Tinder, I decided to get on Omegle for the first time since I was in high school. At first, I was bold and tried to join the video chat rooms. Omegle now has a tags system and tries to match you with people with similar interests. I typed in 'vegan'.

To my surprise, I first matched with a kid who was probably in high school. It was at this point I remembered that there are trolls on the internet and that 'vegan' was a bad choice. However, the kid did not say anything at all for about two minutes, so I rolled the dice again. A dude, near my age. He did not say anything either, so I quickly moved on. I would like to point out at this time that I was feeling quite vulnerable already, a stark difference to the occasional Omegle visits in High School.

This time I landed on a young woman. She was wearing a black shirt and had shoulder-length dark black hair. I thought she was rather attractive — but I was not who she was looking for. Less than two seconds passed before the window went black and Omegle was looking for another user with my one interest. However, it did not find any more.

I decided that I had had enough unexpected vulnerability and moved onto the text-only version of Omegle. This was a disheartening experience, as well. I couldn't keep track of users but I would say that I went through about five bots advertising a cam-show site and maybe ten users that started with just the message: 'M'. This is both a statement and a question. They are advertising that they are male and asking my sex. I respond. I get disconnected.

After several minutes of getting randomly paired with people that do not want to talk to me, I finally matched with one dude in Canada that at least talked for about 10 minutes about random life things until eventually disconnecting. I was feeling a little more optimistic, so I wanted to try video again — this time without any interests set.

The result was a rapid-fire session of people (men) immediately disconnecting when they saw me (must be bad lighting /s). Eventually, someone sticks around for more than a second. It is a young man playing video games on his couch alone. As soon as he sees me, he starts gently fist-pumping in the air with both of his hands, clearly exuberant. I, pretty satisfied with this interaction already, complete the ritual by gently fist-pumping back. He audibly whoops, or at least, my memory wants me to believe that.

I ask what game he is playing. Mumble Mumble, Call of Duty, Rocket League. Rocket League? I love that game. I tell him that I love Rocket League, and that also the audio is a bit distorted. He sticks with me while I diagnose what was wrong (I still don't know, but I fixed it). He tells me he is drunk and we make pretty light conversation. He is on xbox and I am a PC player. He seems pretty content while I spend some time looking at an etsy shop that my friend just sent me.

I eventually tried encouraging my Omegle Friend to get on Twitch. He is gaming and streaming, it made sense to me. To my surprise, he actually starts streaming — after asking me for a title. I don't think he had ever streamed on Twitch before, considering he asked if his Xbox One could even stream to Twitch.

After watching him play a couple games and trying to be a cheerleader, I realize that I could actually play a private match with him. I challenge him to play against me and send him the details. He accepts and we have a match. I will note at this point that I sent the Twitch stream link to my friend. So now there is a match between strangers and a viewer. It may not seem like much, but I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

We eventually played about four games against each other, cheered on by my friend. My Omegle Buddy would curse every time that he got scored on and was incredibly animated throughout each match. I laughed every time he mockingly berated me after being scored on and hung my head every time he managed to score on me.

Eventually, I had to leave to find some sleep. We said goodbye. I don't know if I'll ever interact with this internet stranger again, but I really enjoyed the night and I hope that he did, too.

I think that these spontaneous experiences are a positive. I imagine that for many readers my experience is not surprising — perhaps even dull. On the other hand, I imagine many readers could, like my parents, be quite shocked that experiences like this happen. Maybe it scares you, maybe it interests you.

I liked the experience and I would be happy if it happened again. I want to focus on finding communities and finding connection using the internet. I don't think that connection has to happen locally. That is not to say that I do not want local, Offline friends. I just do not think I am alone if I do not have any at a particular time. As long as I have the internet, I am not alone. It is comforting in a way.

So, what was the point of this article? I wanted to share a story and I want to encourage more online communities. I want it to be even easier to find people with whom I can connect. I am a software developer, perhaps I should shoulder some of this responsibility myself?

If you have something to say, you can reach me on Twitter @NickOnTheWeb or send me an email.