Found Family in the Internet Age, a guest post by Amanda DeWitt

I remember when I was thirteen years old, my mom set me up with my own email address. The rules were clear: don’t talk to strangers online.

That was 2007, and the landscape of the Internet was different than it is today, especially as a teenager. You didn’t tell anyone your real name, not even your first name, because if you did they would track you down and kidnap or kill you or something else nefarious but unspecified. You were supposed to be careful, stay on the sites you were meant to stay on and mind your own business. To our parents, the Internet was a new gadget we could grudgingly be allowed to play with, even if they still had concerns about its sharp edges. For us, growing up almost in tandem with the modern Internet, it was like entering a whole new world.

And, well, like most thirteen year olds, I didn’t exactly listen to my mom. I did talk to those strangers online.

Because to me, then, being online was a different world. Back then, real life and the Internet were two different places, where you could be two different people, and you liked it that way. Online you could be someone you couldn’t be in real life yet, or someone you didn’t know how to be, and you could meet people that felt the same. Friendships could form over thousands of miles away.