Technology creates and technology takes away, shifting human congregations to and away from places at an ever-increasing pace. We often see Detroit cited as a devolving and decaying entity, but now, right from where we sit, places spring up, thrive, and disappear.
For more than a decade, message boards attracted many, including me. I’ve co-hosted boards on iVillage (Friends and Families of LGBTs, Feminism Today, and Politics Today) over several years; only the latter still exists.
For ten years, Technodyke attracted thousands of dykes, mature, young, and in between, as well as those confident and those questioning. It included me for five years of active participation. Over the course of those five years, we discussed, we debated, laughed, occasionally squabbled, helped, consoled, and experienced loss.
A young woman I’d come to know crashed her car just after graduation from college in 2005, after driving a friend home, rolling the vehicle something like six times. That was rough; it ripped at my heart, especially since her last cyber message on the site probably went to my inbox. We bridged a lot, yet we found a lot in common as well. Twenty-two, a world of life ahead of her, and me, two point five times her age, recovering from self-destruction, and I still breathed. Life shouldn’t work this way.
Out of message board activity came people I call friends to this day, many of whom I’ve met beyond cyberspace. We’ve covered a lot of ground over a decade, discussed many private and public things, and I miss it. But wait, there’s more.
Facebook usurped it all. Message boards are not moneymaking endeavours, not as constituted back then. FB found a model capable of generating much revenue, but with its success comes another price, this one to those with needs beyond Facebook sharing. In large part because of the rise of Facebook, message boards are cyberspace ghost towns.
See all the stories of children ten, eleven, twelve who feel they have nowhere to turn from bullying? Bullied in school, bullied in their neighbourhoods, and now, the harassment follows them online. Facebook does not offer a safe haven; message boards did. A young woman, (I never dealt with anyone the age of those who are harming now, the youngest I recall was 17) self-questioning and struggling over what she felt inside could turn to the board, seeking other opinions, seeking to resolve if what she saw without was what she felt within. Many would jump in and offer support, and occasionally we would talk through the private messaging system, where I tried to walk the line between knowing what it feels like to grow up lgbtq and being a parent, with a goal of trying to bridge the divide to explain and work through the outlook of both, toward some equitable understanding.
Now…none of this framework exists. Prior to message boards, there was refuge in the sense no online connections existed. We went from nothing to having a place where someone could get information and support in a safe haven to one where the bullying turns up wherever the person does, and when things approach relentless as this surely does, it strips away hope.
I know what lack of hope feels like, it almost finished me off, and I was damn near fifty. For a child with little life experience, what we see for stories unfortunately has become an alternative, the only way out they sense as viable.
What to do? Well, no one messageboards now, so creating one would collect cyber dust. We could create a Facebook page or group, but it would have to be visible for someone in need to find it, and visible means the person(s) he or she hides from can follow them there, so it would not be safe haven.
This one has me at a loss. The real solution comes with education and respect for diversity, but we have counter-pressure teaching others that being gay is something to look down upon. In the meantime, what the hell do we do for those in crisis right at this very moment?