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"Anyone wanna Cyber?"
J. Kevin Tumlinson

Throw away any assumptions that you will never meet a kook or freak online. It's just impossible to actually be an online commuter/resident (I prefer Netizen) and not run across your average nut-job. Add to these kooks the sexual deviant, or average teenage male if you will, and you have the potential for any number of perverse approaches.

Nowhere in "Cyber Space" is this more apparent than in chat rooms. Here is a forum where anyone with a computer can log on to be anyone or anything they've ever imagined, and yet the most common persona is that of an undersexed, pathetic loser with a limited vocabulary and a porno driven imagination. The constant queries of "Any females?" or "Does anybody wanna cyber?" (as in "cyber-sex") are enough to make you want to hit the exit button and stay out of chats forever.

What is to become of the Internet community when this is the most common creature to roam its roads? Are chat rooms going to become the web equivalent of cheesy disco single's bars? Has "What's your sign?" been replaced by "Do you cyber?" as the sleaze-ball motto of the decade? Sadly it would seem so. It is the downside of the instant and global communication that chat rooms offer. Just when we found a way to express ourselves to everyone at once, we learn that everyone at once wants to express themselves. And express themselves they do, sometimes in the most profane and freakish ways possible.

In a recent experience, I had the opportunity to watch a real cyber-pro in action. I logged on to one of my favorite chat rooms and had a few decent conversations going, when suddenly "sexxxy_guy" logs on. Sexxxy_guy is, for all practical purposes, your average chat room cruiser. There's no real way to tell what he's like in the "real world," but you get the impression of a young, skinny, greasy kid with long hair and a lot of zits. There's the flash of a pale complexion in your mind, and the definite concept of an odor, as if this guy's been sitting in the same cramped, small, dingy room for hours. Whatever, you definitely know right away that this kid is not a sexy guy.

The event went like this:

sexxxy_guy> hey any ladies in the room?
mizz_innocent> yeah
sexxxy_guy> how old
mizz_innocent> 16, from NY
sexxxy_guy> wanna cyber?

As you can imagine, our "hero," sexxxy_guy, was shunned. But it's enough to make one wonder, "How often does this approach actually work?" I just had to ask.

"I get a couple of girls into a private chat," sexxy_guy told me when I pulled him to the side. "Sometimes they do it but sometimes they don't." Do you ever meet these women? "No. Leave me alone, there's a girl in the chat room."

So what's the point? A cheap thrill on the web? It would seem so. What sexxxy_guy seems to be teaching us is that it's better to have a bunch of torrid, imaginary affairs than to go out into the real world and actually meet a real person, and maybe even have real sex. What a wonderful world.

This is not an advocacy against chat rooms. I use them all the time, and I've met some extremely interesting and socially developed people. I've also met more than my fair share of freaks, kooks, and weirdoes. On the whole, though, I'd have to say that my experiences with online life have been gratifying. I've met a new group of friends that, though I've had no "real world" contact with them, have proven to be just as loyal and interesting as any I've ever had. You can definitely meet great people online, if you're willing to wade through the freaks to get to them.

With that in mind, how do you go about wading through the freaks to get to the decent people? It's not easy.

The first step is to start with a more reputable chat room. An example would be the chat forums on Yahoo! at www.yahoo.com. This online community offers several advantages to those who want to chat safely with a minimum of freak interruption. For one thing, you have the complete freedom and power to block anyone you want. If someone is lewd or annoying, you can simply right click on them and instruct Yahoo! to ignore them from that point on. Their comments disappear from your screen and you no longer see any messages from them. As a bonus, they can no longer send messages directly to you.

Yahoo! also has Instant Messenger, which is an Internet "buddy list" that gives you total control over who you talk to. You can add your buddy to your list, see when they are online, and chat privately without interruption from the unsavory types. This is a more controlled environment, which means that you get to skip all of the unwanteds and stick with the socially acceptables.

If you find someone particularly offensive, though, you should do everyone a favor and report him or her to a chat administrator. Most chat sites have a method of reporting, sometimes as easy as a single button click at the bottom of the screen or a specific e-mail address for you to use. Be sure to send as much information as you can about the offender, such as their current screen name (sometimes called their "handle") and any biographical information you can gain (beware, though, that much of what they say or write will most likely be a lie). The administrators are there to play sheriff, so don't feel like you're being a nuisance.

The real lesson that someone like sexxxy_guy teaches us is that you can't take anything for granted. Chat rooms are a useful and entertaining part of the web, but the fun of it can be sucked out in a hurry if someone is playing the part of the local perv. The best defense, in the end, is a thick skin. Don't respond to the bozo, add him to your ignore list, and don't give him the only power that he can truly have your attention.

 
     

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