As Internet Freedom Day approaches once again, I reflect on how this amazing platform has provided me with a voice I couldn’t have accessed otherwise. And I wonder, “Where would I be TODAY if it wasn’t for the internet and it’s openness?”
I was born and raised in a small town. It was a lovely town, but I always felt out of place. It was difficult to connect with like-minded people. The closest friend I had growing up lived a 2 hour drive away and calling her was long distance, so I was limited in my interactions with her. I met her at a summer camp and for years afterwards, our letters back and forth and all-too-brief visits made me feel like I was sane.
It wasn’t until I was 19 (it was 1992 – don’t do the math!) that I was introduced to the web. I was pregnant and going to night classes to learn some office software skills so I could get a better job after my son was born. A classmate introduced me to IRC and Usenet groups. I was incredibly blown away that there were people all over the world who shared ideas, stories, triumphs and defeats with near-complete strangers. But it felt right for me instantly. I meet dozens of new “friends” online who I felt closer to than most of the people around me.
As the population grew on the web, so did the tools and it became easier and easier for me to find like-minded people as well as people with opposing views who I learned so much from. I learned to do basic coding and built myself web pages. I sent notes of support to people half way around the world. When I started blogging in 2003 (I was late to the game. Most of my friends had started in 1999. I didn’t think I had anything interesting to say.), I discovered a whole new level of camaraderie and connection online.
Every time I was lost, the internet found me. Or rather, the people on the internet did, but without the platform, it wouldn’t have been possible. Because of the internet, I found a voice, I built a career, I wrote a book, I became a public speaker, I travelled all over the world, I met (and meet) thousands of interesting people I wouldn’t have otherwise, I started movements, I joined movements, I met my cofounders, I met the love of my life, I adopted my dog, I keep in touch with my son, I learn and grow every single day…I don’t know if I could even imagine a world without the web. My IRL world and my virtual world are interlinked so deeply that there are no clear boundaries.
So where would I be without the internet? Lost. Still looking for my voice. Probably still feeling isolated and somewhat of an oddball. I remember life before the web and, well, it wasn’t awful, but it certainly wasn’t what it became AFTER the web.
So I salute Internet Freedom Day and everyone who fights to keep it open and accessible and makes sure we focus on what it does for people like me. Thank you for finding me and giving me a voice. xo