ADVERTISEMENT

A fellow junior at Lancaster High School loves to tell me about her best friend Danny. That's all well and good, until one takes into account the fact that Danny lives in the Netherlands, and my classmate has never been out of the country. In this day and age making a new best friend doesn't require birthday parties and trips to the movies together; it's now as easy as buying a computer.

The Internet, that glorious forum for pretty much everything involved in our daily lives, has also brought us a way to make friends without ever leaving the sanctity of our couches. The sedentary and the shut-ins of the world can now rejoice as they, too, can create meaningful, lasting relationships with faceless strangers.

I'm not talking about the herd of unknown Facebook friends that send you trite birthday wishes or even the relative success of online dating. It is now becoming impossible to find a teen, or a tech-savvy adult, who does not have at least one person with whom they correspond on a regular basis that they likely will never meet in person yet still consider a close friend. It's a relatively new phenomenon, the electronic pen pal you've never met, and it's catching on fast.

Why is this? Well, the wonderful anonymity of the Internet certainly seems to play a part. When it comes to friendships formed outside of social networking sites, most everybody hides safely behind a screen name, allowing them to feel secure enough to be themselves without the horror of having to make eye contact or fill awkward silences. The (actually very unsafe) feeling of untraceability that one obtains from this leads to deciding that it's OK to drop a few personal tidbits, and over time, BAM!, you have a new best friend and he lives on the other side of the planet.

The Internet makes it easy to befriend others. There's no worry about appearances or reputations, no social conventions to uphold. Nobody judges you on what you look like or where you're from. It's who you are, what you say and what you do that defines you and lets you be who you are. That kind of freedom of expression is a blessing to many teens. It's easy to open up to somebody faceless, a sympathetic diary of sorts who can offer feedback and advice as well as a friend when the local peer pool is getting a bit dry.

Admittedly, talking to strangers online isn't the safest of practices, and everybody, teens and adults, should exercise caution in what personal information they share with strangers.

But don't let your fear become so all-encompassing that you completely rule out the possibility of an Internet buddy. You never know. Your new lifelong BFF may be in Bangladesh.

***

Kristen Brown is a junior at Lancaster High School.