I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I wasn’t popular growing up.
I was a weird, nerdy, obnoxious kid with interests that weren’t exactly popular in the rural town I grew up in. I had a bad habit of holding onto those interests for far too long, and so being a kid who was still into Pokemon and Legos well into middle school was a quick way to get bullied heavily. If I had been born 20 years earlier, I probably would have been forced to adapt to those around me, and I might have even lost my individuality along the way. However, luckily for me, the internet came along at just the right time.
I’m not even sure the first time I ever saw a video on YouTube. By the time I had begun to recognize the site as a brand, users like Ryan Higa and the people behind Rooster Teeth were creating amazing content and acquiring hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Being the young, aspiring computer nerd I was back in the day, I saw a lot of opportunity on YouTube. I created my first YouTube channel on February 13, 2009.
On my channel, I primarily reviewed Lego Bionicle sets. I know that sounds terribly childish, but it was probably one of the bigger “fandoms” I was a part of, back in a time before internet fandoms had really started. I think I had a couple hundred subscribers by the time I shut down my channel and my most viewed video had over 10,000 views. While this was all very exciting to young Chapman, the best thing that came out of my time on YouTube was the community I found.
One day, not long after joining, I set up a Skype account and posted the information on my channel. I eventually began chatting with a subscriber of mine and we found ourselves getting added to group chats with other members of the Bionicle YouTube community. It wasn’t exactly the largest community, but having the chance to Skype with people who had thousands of subscribers that you looked up to and being featured in videos that reached farther than yours ever could were all really exciting moments for me.
I eventually started talking to certain people a lot and we all became the closest thing to a “squad” I’ve ever had. One of these people became one of my best friends, even after I moved away from YouTube, and we recently met for the first time, after knowing each other for six years, when he visited me in Fort Collins.
These days, I spend a lot of time on the Internet, both for work and for entertainment. Websites like Tumblr and Reddit have allowed me to join communities of thousands of people who like the same things that I do, even if I’m not as active as I used to be. While college has allowed me to meet a lot more people who like the same things as me and my interests are much more popular than they used to be, it’s amazing that I can have a discussion about anything with someone I’ve never met who lives halfway around the world.
For awkward kids in small towns with obscure interests like me, the internet was heaven. It still is, really. While there’s always going to be danger and risk, the fact that people are no longer limited to where they live and the people who live there to be able to geek out about literally anything is one of the most unexpected and amazing things about the internet.
Honestly, the internet helped raise me. I felt shunned by the people in the real world, and turned to the then-evolving world wide web to make me feel less alone. Now, spending time on the internet is paying my rent. So, take that, Mom. My internet addiction turned out okay.