I am in a group chat with some of my oldest and dearest friends. We all met in our early 20s thanks to the internet & a friend who had a 200 acre farm in eastern Ontario. I was a relatively early adopter of the internet in 1994 (with my wee 2400 baud modem), when I was 18. It wasn’t that I was particularly good at computers but that everyone else around me was. My farm-dwelling friend had a local BBS and frequented Usenet where she had met all of these other like-minded people.
In the mid-90s she decided to start something called The Freak Family Picnic where she invited all of her internet friends to descend on the farm for a weekend for camping, bonfires, games etc. People came from all over the US and Canada – and pre-9/11, a guy even flew his plane into the local airport. In the end, she hosted a summer Solstice FFP open to everyone and a winter Solstice FFP that was only open to close friends. For years, this was our twice-yearly ritual and of the core group of people, almost no one missed coming.
Sadly, all good things come to an end and the end of the FFP was abrupt and traumatizing. My friend moved away from the farm, got remarried, traveled the world and is now settled in upstate New York. Happily, the core group of people from that time still remain friends to this day even though many of us have moved states, provinces and even continents. Bless you, internet.
When I medically retired from my job in social media I started to pull back and cull my SM accounts but I still wanted to keep in touch with friends. So we all downloaded Signal and started a group chat with 3 other friends who I’ve stayed close to since the FFP days. The timing for this couldn’t have been better: soon after the group chat ramped up, the pandemic set in.
During the pandemic our group chat was a lifeline. We also had our weekly Trivial Pursuit nights and finally last year we were all able converge in Denver for an in-person visit, which is the closest we really got to the “middle” of where we all lived considering we are in Mountainview, CA; Philadelphia, PA; Denver, CO and I am up here in Canada. It was a great visit and we had all missed each other a lot.
I think that outside of my family, I speak to these three other people daily, even if it is only to share our Wordle score. I’ve slowly come to learn that our Wordle score is our love language. Some days we talk all day long, some days we don’t chat at all but almost always without fail, we always share our Wordle score. It’s become a low-stakes stand in for us to say to each other: hey, I am here. I am alive. We’re connected.
I suppose I didn’t really appreciate this connection until recently when we had a power outage. Of course, when mother nature shows you that human technology is no match for her power, it’s always an adjustment. Sitting eating dinner by lamplight I realized just how amazing it was that some of the closest people in my life could be scattered across two countries and coasts. I realized that even that small connection of doing the Wordle daily left a big hole when I didn’t have it in my life.
We’ve talked a lot about what relationships and social activities look like in a post pandemic world. As a disabled person, this has been an ongoing conversation since even before 2020. In a world that isn’t exactly accessible, our social lives can become burdens as we navigate things no one else has to think about. Having been able-bodied previously, I absolutely understand what it is like to just grab your purse and run out the door to meet up with friends. Now, it is a question of making sure that a place is accessible, that the bathrooms aren’t downstairs, that there are hand railings for me to use. It is even more effort for people who are more disabled than I am.
So in one sense, the pandemic just made us all suddenly think about how interacting with others looks like when you actually have to stop and to think about safety. On the other hand, I think we all realized just how having 100% of our social lives online really is lacking. Much of our communication as humans is non-verbal: it’s about the contagious laughter, the look of sadness in a friend’s eyes, it’s about how being around others makes us feel. While words on a screen are a great way to stay connected, it isn’t the most fulfilling way.
So yes, the Wordle is my love language: it lets my friends know that I am here and that I am available to chat about things big and small. But conversely, the Wordle is no replacement for our get together in Denver last year. Words are important but so is being in the same room with friends. It’s about the dumb jokes, the weird thing that happened at the restaurant that we’ll still laugh at 20 years from now. It’s about the connections, shared meals, ridiculous travel stories.
I don’t know what the future will hold but as we edge further away from the worst of the pandemic, I find I crave the in-person company of my friends more and more. It seems that everyone is still in varying degrees of worry about the pandemic as well. Some people believe the worst is over and have gone on with their lives normally and some people are still terrified of catching it and worry about the long term effects. I don’t think there is an easy answer here. If anything, we should all be kind and accommodating to everyone’s needs. With summer on the horizon, I plan a bunch of social events that we can hold outside to ensure that everyone can feel included. Of course, for my local friends that continues to be at least an option. Even with our horrendously cold, dark, long winters spring always comes eventually.
But for my dearest old friends further out, I’ll keep sharing my Wordle score.
Saying goodbye after defeating Blucifer