Friday, March 01, 2013

In praise of the internet

Imagine the scene. It is the late 1950s. A small plump boy in grey shorts and too tight school blazer is standing alone, lost, in the playground of a new school. All around him the energetic games of the popular and included swirl noisily. Then, from out of the crowd, a tall boy steps forward. "Would you like to play?" It is from these moments of intrinsic kindness that friendships begin and lives are shaped.

Another boisterous boy is part of the crowd and we three band together, unknowing that friendship had in this case begun even earlier. Our mothers recognised each other at a school sports day and we learnt from them that we had been playmates as toddlers.

And as we grew through the anxieties and earnestness of adolescence and young adulthood, we still played. Sometimes we kicked a football around in the local park, at others the pleasures were more grown-up; drink, parties, girlfriends. But then we drifted, as most do. Adult life and ambitious dreams pulled us in different directions.  Slowly and inexorably, friendship became an island of memories slipping gently over the horizon.

I am tired of reading jeremiads about how the internet is fracturing human relations, leading to isolation and obsession, destroying our concentration spans, and so on - interminably. As a communications tool it is the best humanity has come up with yet. It places a research library on every desk. OK, it is also full of barking mad conspiracy theories, malign politics, masturbatory aids and cats - I'll give you that. Yet there is something special about it too.

A chance conversation elsewhere led to a number of searches and suddenly a whole network of friends has been re-established. It could not have happened without the internet. And then, some thirty or more years after we had last parted, the tall boy stepped forward from cyberspace and said, "would you like to play?". The gang of three, one now living in a different country, are meeting up this weekend. Three sixty-year old children, without the grey shorts but with the same noisy boisterousness, will be wallowing in beer, football and cringe-making nostalgia.

So, just for once, let's celebrate the internet and the way it can bring people together; perfect strangers and old friends. It is a richer world with it. And come on, you would have found another way of prevaricating if it wasn't there, wouldn't you?

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