It was almost 1am and I was losing a game of online chess. As far back as I can remember, I hadn’t lost a game of chess to a real person, but then again, I had gone years without even touching a chessboard – real or pixelated. This would be the match that reignited my passion.
My opponent was a 21-year-old (I was 24 then) that I had met in a group chat on Twitter. The discussion was initially focused on discussing the works of brilliant but troubled author David Foster Wallace, but we had moved past that. We were now in the third round of an informal chess tournament I had organized. I was undefeated so far, but as I was methodically beaten, I constantly reassured myself that “it doesn’t really matter” – just as Wallace described himself. when he lost to a precocious 9-year-old on the Zenith cruise ship (which he recounted in his essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”).
Our Twitter group merged in November 2020. I’ve been an avid Wallace reader and reviewer since 2018 and jumped at the chance to join a dedicated group to discuss his work. I expected some kind of book club – one that would entertain me for a few weeks and then die down.
What I hadn’t anticipated was that I would find a small community of friends to care for despite our primary mode of contact being digital messaging. A community whose complex life I would get to know in detail, which would become a social refuge for me in a socially isolated time (even as an introvert, I was bored and claustrophobic), and with which I would always be in touch regular, daily contact still today, almost two years later.
The 20 core members, mostly from the East Coast but some located as far away as Iceland, quickly exhausted the subject of Wallace, but instead of drifting away, we started discussing other things. We created a playlist of all our favorite songs and found that our musical tastes, much like our literary tastes, overlapped tremendously. We recommended books to each other – I was even persuaded to go buy the thousand-page, one-sentence tome by Lucy Ellmann, Ducks, Newburyport. We created a server on the Discord gaming platform and added our own personalized jokes and memes. We stayed up late talking and streaming movies. Watch David Lynch inner empire, we thought about what Wallace, an avid fan of Lynch’s work, would have thought of the new season of Twin peaks.
Two members who live near each other dated and are still together, months later. Someone created a line of funny products based on a joke, and I bought one of the hoodies. When my dad saw me wearing it to dinner one night and asked where I got it, he said David Foster Wallace’s band “looked like a cult.”
This is not the case, but it is a phenomenon that could not have happened in the Before Times. We thrived on our mutual loneliness. On weekends, when going to bars or house parties wasn’t advisable, social interaction was just a few clicks away. Now, despite the efforts many people are making to “get back to normal”, i.e. live in person, the cat remains active regardless of the season – because we were never in the same place physically for begin.
Much has been made of the information age and its potential to hamper social existence. Some of this criticism came from Wallace himself, who foresightedly predicted the rise and fall of video chat in his 1996 novel Infinite Jest, his downfall being that non-face-to-face contact “allowed you to assume that the person on the other end was to give you complete attention while allowing you not to have to give him or her anything even close to complete attention. that you and I are separating.
Hannah Smart is a resident of Brookline and an MFA student at Emerson College. Send your comments to [email protected] Tell your story. Email your 650-word relationship essay to [email protected] Please note: we do not respond to submissions that we will not pursue.