It’s a weird place, this internet.
For those of us who live part of our lives online, whether it is through a blog, micro-blogging or social networking, we know how easily bonds can be formed with people we only know through words on a screen. Sometimes maybe a picture is attached, but for the most part, it is just the written word. Yet, we form attachments. We feel like we know people. Should some of online buddies disappear in the ether, we would be affected.
And sometimes it goes even beyond people we directly exchange words with. It could just be online person whom we follow at a distance. We know of them, but they don’t know us. We lurk and we follow their lives, and we come to care about them in a weird, voyeuristic way.
There’s a young man that I follow on Twitter. We are both fans of a popular podcast, and he became friends with the hosts so he was often mentioned or called in on the comment line. I read his blog, and when I joined Twitter, I chose to follow his tweets. Other than the fact that we both enjoy the same podcast, we have nothing in common. He’s a young, newly out of the closet, gay man living in San Francisco and partying like the fresh, young thing that he is. I marvel at how many clubs he seems to go to in a given night. I watch with an old, sad heart as he rides the emotional roller coaster of the dating and mating game. But, lately, he’s seemed pretty unstable. His messages speak more of being lonely, depressed and broke.
Less than an hour ago, one of his Twitter messages said he was going to go kill himself by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. My heart sank even though I don’t really know the kid. My words would mean nothing him. But, I tried anyway and sent him a message. I’m sure dozens of others did also as he is followed by hundreds of people. I don’t know if he was serious, or just being an attention whore. But, you have to take these these threats seriously. I called the Golden Gate Bridge district to give them a description of him and even sent them a picture of him I found online. It was all I could do.
There have been no more tweets from him since the suicide threat. Maybe I’ll never know what happened to him. Who knows? Maybe tomorrow morning he’ll twitter a message “Damn I was drunk and depressed last night. Gotta get to the gym to work off the drinks.” That would be reassuring. I hope the kid gets the help he needs. It’s great to have lots of online “friends”, but we also have to have flesh and blood people in our lives who we can count on to be there when we need them.