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.
In 2022, things are different. Social media reigns supreme, and most kids have their pictures on the Internet from the moment they’re born. The Internet isn’t separate from real life anymore, it’s an intrinsic part of it, and for teenagers especially, its influence on their lives is greater than ever. There are good, bad, and some really ugly things to it, but in 2022—just like in 2007—it can be a place that allows you to find your friends and your community outside of your physical reality. And for a lot of teens, that’s a huge gift.
When I started writing my book Aces Wild: A Heist, I knew that I wanted the entire friend group to be asexual, but I didn’t know how. I considered having them meet through a club or support group at school, but it seemed unlikely that there would be that many students that openly identify as asexual in one school, or at least enough that it might make the reader pause. Then I realized that the solution was obvious: they met online. It’s the reality for a lot of queer teens, especially those outside of big cities or in unsupportive households. The Internet is where they can find words like asexual to describe themselves—it’s where I did—and where they find other people who have similar experiences. There’s a sense of freedom and exploration to it, and the opportunity to form lifelong friendships with people that you never would have met otherwise.
I’ve had a lot of different friends on the Internet over the years—ever since I got that email address when I was thirteen and could sign up for my own accounts. Not all of them have lasted forever, because there’s an ephemeral nature to the Internet as well, but so many of them have been important to me and who I was at the time. I had no idea that in 2015, as I was graduating college and facing the rapidly approaching real world, that the friends I was making online would be ones that lasted forever. Over the years, they went from my writing partners to my Dungeons & Dragons group to people that I would call my family. Despite living in every corner of the country, they’re people that I can’t imagine living without.
Found family is a popular theme in fiction, especially for young adult fiction, and that’s for a reason. Being a teenager is about figuring out who you are, and that can be lonely, especially when it feels like there’s no one around you that understands. That goes double when you’re growing up in a place that isn’t supportive of who you are, or hostile to it, as is increasingly frequent these days. In books, characters often find family in one another through fantastical adventures and high drama. There’s less opportunities for adventure in real life, but a lot of teenagers are still able to find that unique opportunity for connection online. There, regardless of the distance, people are able to build communities and find ways to define themselves that they didn’t have before.
In 2022, the Internet is a part of many of us and that part only grows with each subsequent generation. Sometimes it can feel like a beast with a mind of its own, and some days it’s more ferocious than others, but more than anything, it’s a tool. It can be used to do harm, and it has, but it can also be used to do good. For many teens, queer teens especially, it’s a place where they can find themselves and make connections to others that mean just as much as any friendship with a person standing right beside them.
Nothing makes this more clear than when you meet an online friend in person for the first time—when you talk to them in person and you realize that it feels just the same, because you’re not really meeting them, even though for a minute it feels like it. You’ve known them the whole time.
Meet the author
Amanda DeWitt is an author and librarian, ensuring that she spends as much time around books as possible. She also enjoys Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons-ing, and even more writing—just not whatever it is she really should be writing. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a master’s in information and library science. She lives in Clearwater, Florida, with her dogs, cats, and assortment of chickens. Aces Wild: A Heist is her debut novel.
About Aces Wild: A Heist
What happens in Vegas when an all-asexual online friend group attempts to break into a high-stakes gambling club? Shenanigans ensue.
Some people join chess club, some people play football. Jack Shannon runs a secret blackjack ring in his private school’s basement. What else is the son of a Las Vegas casino mogul supposed to do?
Everything starts falling apart when Jack’s mom is arrested for their family’s ties to organized crime. His sister Beth thinks this is the Shannon family’s chance to finally go straight, but Jack knows that something’s not right. His mom was sold out, and he knows by who. Peter Carlevaro: rival casino owner and jilted lover. Gross.
Jack hatches a plan to find out what Carlevaro’s holding over his mom’s head, but he can’t do it alone. He recruits his closest friends—the asexual support group he met through fandom forums. Now all he has to do is infiltrate a high-stakes gambling club and dodge dark family secrets, while hopelessly navigating what it means to be in love while asexual. Easy, right?
A wild romp told in a can’t-look-away-from voice, Aces Wild is packed with internet friend hijinks and ace representation galore!
Publisher: Peachtree Teen
Publication date: 09/13/2022
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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