The meme that 2016 has been the “worst year ever” has certainly had a lot of material to work with in these last days before 2017 arrives.
But while many have found Internet culture in 2016 to be irredeemable, this past year wasn’t all bad on the Internet for us as individuals. So I asked some of my colleagues to send me stories about where, personally, they found the good on the Internet this year, for one last look at some of its small bright spots, before we get on with the task of finding 2017 to be even worse.
In the midst of a 2016 that bombarded us with wave after wave of hate and fear, Tumblr’s self-care master lists were my refuge. Even just seeing the tips in numbered order, helpfully suggesting different self-soothers, felt calming in its own way. “Put on comfy clothes.” “Drink some water.” “Play with a pet.” “My personal favorite: this master list of master lists. Even if you can’t change the world, a bath bomb can. Or more accurately, maybe someone nice on Tumblr can, gently reminding you to indulge in some bath bombs. “You deserve it” — sometimes I wish I could wrap those three words around me forever. — Julia Carpenter
The country of New Zealand
Somehow, among all the churning badness of Twitter culture, I managed to make a friend on the platform. That friend is a dairy farmer in New Zealand, whom I had to contact in February to confirm that he did, in fact, send a picture of his dog to someone to have it rated on a scale of 1-10 (it’s a long story; digital culture is a weird beat). He replied with a beautifully-told email in response to what was, essentially, a random reporter asking him for a couple of fact confirmations.
— Abby Ohlheiser (@abbyohlheiser) February 11, 2016
See all those likes and retweets? Those came mostly from New Zealanders, because what followed was a long-lasting absorption into “New Zealand Twitter,” which has been mostly delightful. For months, Twitter’s algorithm decided (correctly) that those tweets were ones I’d like to see again:
Making a friend on the Internet isn’t a monumental achievement, but for me, in this year where we’ve learned a lot about the real-life consequences of the worst parts of Internet culture, it helped to remind me of what I used to like so much about being online in the first place. — Abby Ohlheiser
Most days, scrolling through my Facebook news feed can feel like an assault on my peace of mind. As has been well-documented this election cycle, Facebook has become deeply partisan, emotional and vitriolic — and yet every day, I return. Yes, it’s partially because it’s my job to be on Facebook. But I’ve also discovered the most wonderful community on Facebook in the form of a public group somewhat inelegantly named “Goldendoodle’s friend and family!!” or GFAF, as I’ll call it.
GFAF is composed of nearly 6,000 goldendoodle owners and lovers who literally post pictures of their dogs cuddling with teddy bears, riding in the passenger seat of cars, or running around the house fresh from a bath. Members also exchange food recommendations, behavioral challenges and tips for combing through doodles’ matted hair.
For the uninitiated, goldendoodle owners are a bit … obsessive. But you can’t blame them. Goldendoodles, a designer dog mix of a poodle and a golden retriever, are truly the most perfect form of animal. They possess the poodle’s intelligence and the retriever’s allegiance. Their eyes are deeply emotive, and they look like giant teddy bears. Also, they’re hypoallergenic.
Doodle owners know this, and in GFAF, they’ve found their people. It’s a full-throated and elated celebration of these dogs who are just so darn cute. GFAF members live all over the country and undoubtedly hold myriad political beliefs, but in this group, they can all agree on this one thing. It’s a welcome break from the rest of the Internet — even for those of us without goldendoodles. — Alex Laughlin
Ron Lehker, the 90-year-old Redditor
Nearly every day this year, a now 91-year-old man living in Washington, D.C., has slowly climbed the stairs to his third floor attic, set his cane aside, and sat down in front of Reddit.com. Ron Lehker’s grandson first got him hooked in January. He posted a photo of his white-haired, blue-eyed grandfather on the “Ask Me Anything” thread. “I Am 90 Years Old — An officer during WWII, a retired educator, and more engaged with society today than I’ve ever been before. AMA!” More than a thousand questions flooded in.
Hi! If you would want everyone to know one thing, what would it be?
How much porn do you watch?
Would you say your love for your new partner is the “same” as the love you had for your wife of 43 years?
Ron carefully reads each inquiry, then leans back in his chair and thinks deeply about what his 91 years have taught him.
“OMG! I love the new social media,” he wrote to the person who asked about his love for his wife. “Such a fascinating way to connect, yet so sterile in its ability for us to get acquainted …”
It’s been nearly a year since people started asking questions, and Ron’s AMAs are buried deep in the mountain of nonsense on Reddit. But all that matters to him is that every person who reached out to him gets a response, even if no one else reads it. Ron provides wisdom on love and loss, religion and politics, living and dying.
He is the Internet in its purest and best form: connecting people who need each other, even if they’ll never meet. — Jessica Contrera
2016 has been a pretty weird year for anyone who likes to spend time online. This year, however, I’m thankful for a corner of the Internet in which I’ve found solace: group chats.
To be clear, there is nothing new about group chats. I discovered them like I discover most popular things: late and then aggressively. There’s a good chance you’ve been in a group chat if you’ve ever used GroupMe, WeChat, Gchat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik or Instagram DMs. They’re actually hard to avoid.
The particular chat that rekindled my love with the Internet happens to be a Facebook Messenger chat with some friends from college.
Some of them still live in our college town, others have moved, and it spans a couple of graduating classes. While we were all friends in college, we weren’t any sort of tightknit group at the time. The chat itself started sometime last February as a forum to discuss Kanye West’s then-new album “The Life of Pablo,” and, well, we never stopped. We still discuss music, but the conversations have meandered into television, sports, employment, unemployment, “graduate school?” and the general aspirations and fears of 20-somethings on the precipice of “real” adulthood. We roast each other. We coach each other up before job interviews. We have inside jokes. We go into the settings and change each other’s display names (in November, they were all Thanksgiving related; this month, they’re all Christmas puns). Mostly, it’s very friendly, and we’re all pretty positive and supportive with each other.
People’s online personas don’t always match with who they are in real life. I’m a reserved person IRL, and I tend to steer toward the more performative, less personal social networks like Instagram and Twitter. It’s been nice to have a closed-off platform, with people I trust, where I can relax and be the big ol’ goofus I am. There’s an element of trust in a closed group, and it’s a stark contrast from virtually every other second I spend on the Internet. — Ric Sanchez
The teens never asked for much.
And yet, they are benevolent bunch, giving us so much when we’ve given them so little in return. Considering what we have gifted them — melting polar ice caps that threaten our way of life and a national debt well into the trillions — you’d think the teens wouldn’t be so generous. But it is their altruism, as evidenced by their ceaseless production of the purest memes, that I am most thankful for this year.
Whether I’m scrolling through my Instagram Explore tab or checking Tumblr, I know the boundless creativity of the teens will always greet me, pulling me out of whatever spiraling sense of despair I’ve found myself in. Be it their PSAT memes, their enthusiastic support of their peers, their ability to create a cultural phenomenon out of a frog on a unicycle that once appeared in a physics textbook or their array of viral challenges, the teens are creating some of the most wholesome content on the Internet.
I — we — need the teens now more than ever. In a country plagued by increasing divisiveness and less-than-wholesome political discourse, I fear that the only people capable of bringing us together are the teens and their memes. — Tanya Sichynsky
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