Where the Internet Goes to Be Lonely

Monday, July 14, 2014 - 02:08 PM

If this image is good enough to represent loneliness on Wikipedia, it's good enough for us. (Hans Thoma/Wikimedia Commons)

Ten years ago today an unregistered guest poster using the name “lonely” started a thread on the forums at moviecodec.com, a site usually dedicated to discussing digital video files. The thread was titled “i am lonely will anyone speak to me,” and the first post read:

please will anyone speak to about anything to me

The first response, posted the same day the thread was made, has long since been deleted, but is preserved in a New Yorker article. That post asked the thread’s author, “Are you a piece of pig’s bollok?”

Ten days after the thread was created another guest, wetfeet2000, made the first of what of what would be many similar posts:

dude, i typed in “I am lonely” in google, and your post was the very first reposnse. does that make you the most popular lonliest person on the planet ?

The thread’s place as the top result of a Google search for “I am lonely” meant that for some time many replies had some variation on this tone. People would come in, talk about how Google led them there. Some would talk about why they were lonely or what they were doing that day. In the summer of 2005 the thread was both young enough and had persisted long enough to get attention from a couple of newspapers and magazines, which ran articles that start off a lot like this blog post. It eventually fell from the top of Google's rankings, and people generally stopped talking about it.

“i am lonely will anyone speak to me” didn’t disappear, though. On the tenth anniversary of its creation it’s just shy of 2200 pages long, with 20 posts to a page. It’s also been moved to a different subsection of moviecodec.com, an off-topic forum for those interested in using the site to talk about things other than MP4s and AVIs, a move which may have contributed to it falling from the top of Google’s search rankings for “I am lonely.” Now you have to click to the second page of a search for the phrase if you want to find the thread. New posts appear less frequently now than they did in the heyday of the thread, but they still appear.

I’ve never posted in the thread, but I think about some of the posts in it often. Having spent time as the top search result for lonely people seeking help through Google means that it doubles as a public archive of mostly anonymous human loneliness. Many, if not most, of the posts are by guest accounts, so they’re largely untraceable. There are posts ranging from the short and dashed out, like the first post, to paragraphs long angry screeds. There are kind posts and posts where people say terrible, hateful things, and both are often made in response to what seem to be genuine cries of loneliness. Some of the posts test the limits of how incredulous I can get, but others cause me to worry for the health of the poster with jarring immediacy.

There’s a danger to getting sentimental about a part of the Internet, it always seem liable to end with some element from the past bubbling up to prove that thing is actually awful and you should not in fact remember it fondly. There are definitely bad elements in “i am lonely will anyone speak to me,” but I think of it fondly anyway because for a long time it’s struck me as an enduring example of something the Internet is well suited for: an impromptu place where people can say something out loud, and where doing so might help them a little.

And, for what it’s worth, the thread always seems to return to a conversation with its author, though that’s probably wishful thinking on my part. Nonetheless, yesterday I checked the thread and a guest poster going by “lonly troller” (I said wishful thinking, didn’t I?) had added a three word post:

im lonely too

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Comments [3]

Philip from Brooklyn

There's a book I read maybe 35 - 40 years ago, called, I think, " The Pursuit of Loneliness." I never felt lonely again. . Ever.

Jul. 20 2014 07:58 AM
ben

googled "i am lonely" found the thread at #9 on the first page.

Jul. 15 2014 02:39 PM
Lauren from Philadelphia

Interesting. I've occasionally googled "lonliness," "lonely project," "lonely resources" and the like, looking to see what kind of communities exist for people who are feeling that way. I never found this one, though I suppose it's all in the way you search!

I didn't find much that I felt was satisfying, honesty -- at least not at the top of the search results. So I designed my own Lonely Project. It's a little mobile website that pulls tweets on real time from lonely people on twitter. If you see something that speaks to you, click a button and the project's twitter account will write to that person and let them know that they're not alone. I think it's possible that people are more willing to reach out in an anonymous way, sort of like the posters on the thread in this article.

If you want to use it, the project is at www.laurenhallden.com/lonelyproject

Jul. 14 2014 10:07 PM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. You can subscribe to our podcast here. You can follow our blog here. We’re also on Twitter, and we play Team Fortress 2 more or less constantly, so find us there if you like to communicate via computer games from six years ago.

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