I sat down at my desk in my bedroom, home for the weekend, my Dell laptop’s bright face inviting me to relax. I idly sipped at my freshly brewed mug of hazelnut-cream coffee, spiked with a packet of Splenda and a few teaspoons of Wal-Mart brand half-and-half. AOL Instant Messenger’s yellow icon flashed and brought up a list of usernames that I recognized all-too-well. As was customary, I clicked my friend’s alias and dropped a hello to wait for a response and proceed to discuss our day’s events. The light chime of the arriving black font rang as she responded, “I saw someone die today”. She proceeded to tell me she’d witnessed a car crash, and that when she’d gone to help the driver of the vehicle that had been thrown on to its back, she’d seen him hanging by his seatbelt—empty, lifeless eyes staring at her in frozen panic. I didn’t have to see her face or hear her voice to know that she’d been shaken and horrified by this experience. I could almost hear her sobbing from over the screen as she typed her short sentences made up of dazed words that hardly made any sense. An hour later, after my friend KC and I had managed to calm her down some, she said that she was going to call my other friend, and sent me to bed with assurances that she would be all right.
I didn’t sleep.
Many people who have not yet discovered Instant Messaging have asked me how I call these people ‘friends’ when I have never before seen their faces in person. But I know when they are happy, sad, angry, or distracted—all without once seeing their face. Pattern, tone, emoticons, and word-choice all say more to me than the sound of a grunt or a roll of the eyes. It is within this world of keyboards that I have found friends that I can count upon just to listen—because when a conversation is strictly made up of letters, colors, and colon-bracket smiley faces, listening is all you have to offer.
Since AIM’s five-minute download on my laptop two and a half years ago, I have both made and lost friends—friends that I know from church and school, and online, via art and pet sites. I have experienced the anxiety of their Finals in Algebra-II, the toll a parent slowly dying of cancer; I have consoled these often faceless-voices when no one else would just take the time to listen, and shared the joy of collaborating novels and art, and of just being there.
Written words have a powerful effect; they say more about a person’s character and beliefs than a face. They express essence and motivation, fears and dreams. I believe in listening to voices without faces. I believe in instant messaging and all its power of influence on another human life, faceless or not.
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